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Jousting 6Before large multi-national corporations, big box retailers, and fast food franchises, the U.S. economy was powered by entrepreneurs and small business owners—an observation Alex de Toqueville noted in his 1835 book Democracy in America:

"What astonishes me in the United States is not so much the marvelous grandeur of some undertakings as the innumerable multitude of small ones."

That was 176 years ago. And although entrepreneurship and small business has continued to play a vital role in our social, political, and economic landscape, until the recent economic downturn both had taken a back seat to "big corporate" on the national and global stage. Now things are starting to change. We're on the cusp of an entrepreneurial renaissance that's been decades in the making. But what's really fueling the shift?

Access to low-cost infrastructure

Enterprise-quality phone systems are now available for as little as $20 per month. "With readily available cloud-based Unified Communications and VoIP solutions, the playing field has been leveled, so companies of all sizes can interact to share information faster, smarter and more effectively than ever before. This technology is now purpose-built for small businesses to change the way they communicate, and we are doing it at a price point they can afford" said Wes Durow, chief marketing officer of Fonality, North America's fastest growing business communications company.

Sites such as AppSumo are making it possible for startups and small businesses to promote and/or find great deals on tons of apps. Now anyone with a solid idea, basic technical skills, and an entrepreneurial mindset can create a website or fan page for next to nothing and do so in 30 minutes to an hour—something that would have been impossible without the likes of Wordpress or Facebook.

Gen Y

Gen Y represented a societal shift of seismic proportions—a group of individuals who want more from their jobs and their careers than sitting behind a desk doing mindless busy work eight hours a day for the next 30-40 years. When they found themselves unemployed in the aftermath of the recession or otherwise looking for something more meaningful out of work, many opted to start their own businesses.

"With youth unemployment at nearly double the average unemployment rate of the general population in the U.S., now more than ever, entrepreneurship must be validated and promoted as a viable career path," says Scott Gerber, serial entrepreneur, Gen Y'er and founder of the Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC). This trend was validated by a recent survey conducted by the YEC and Buzz Marketing Group which found 21% of the 1635 respondents started businesses because they were in fact unemployed.

Staff shortages

To counteract reductions in headcount, companies are now realizing they have to tap into the freelance world. "Increasingly, companies are wanting to buy deliverables on a project basis. They're looking to tap into a whole new world of independent specialists," said Gene Zaino, CEO of MBO Partners, a company that offers tools and resources to help independent consultants thrive in their careers. As a result, Zaino's group has seen record growth over the past year with a 40% increase in enrollment.

Flash in the pan or a sign of things to come?

Technology has vaporized the chasm between big corporations and small businesses. Gen Y has flipped the way we think about work and our careers on its ear. The economy will continue to have its ups and downs and its recessions. In other words, it looks like the entrepreneurial renaissance might be here to stay.

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[flickr user davharuk]