Are you tired of hearing that the 21st century is the century of the entrepreneur? Well, get used to it, because the jobs are gone, and if it’s not the century of the entrepreneur, it will be the century of poverty. In my own work, I try to imbue everyone I know with the willingness and capacity to create his or her own job, because at some time in life, that will be a necessity thrust on them.
We all celebrate the tech businesses and job creators in our community, and we lavish attention and praise on them. But as someone who has been lucky enough to work with every kind of entrepreneur from world class scientists and technologists to released felons looking for ways to put bread on the table, during the holidays I want to celebrate those entrepreneurs who operate in the everyday world.
During the past ten years, our company Stealthmode Partners has been fortunate enough to coach over 800 entrepreneurs, the vast majority from low- and middle-income households, under grants from the cities of Phoenix, Mesa, Tempe, and Maricopa in Arizona. While there are always three or four geeks in every program with the potential to create “gazelle” businesses, most of the entrepreneurs we help do everything from carpet cleaning to motorcycle repair to bookkeeping, to veterinary services–all essential businesses, even though they are small.
Each business takes at least one person off the welfare rolls and off the job market. Each business has the potential to expand. Each business takes a person out of poverty into the middle class, makes him or her self-sustaining, and proud. Although they may not create hundreds of jobs (which is how the ultimate grantor, HUD, judges success), they create more jobs than high potential tech businesses that fail, or businesses that never start for lack of resources.
Journalism is the perfect example of what I’m talking about. While the mainstream publishers are struggling, small publishers and content creators can thrive. Nate Silver’s blog, 538.com, was such a success that it became part of The New York Times. Danny Sullivan’s blog, SearchEnglineland, has been self-sustaining for over 10 years. The BlogHer network helps thousands of women support themselves by reviewing and talking about motherhood, products, and recipes–something only they are equipped to write about.
Offline, in what was formerly known as “real life,” my best example is a young entrepreneur I recently met in the dog park. Juan Aguilar, the entrepreneur behind JonnyBeGood dog training, learned to train dogs from his older brother, who learned in the military. A college student, he moved from California to Arizona with his wife, a medical resident, and his Belgian Malinois, Conan.
When he moved to Arizona, he immediately began to hang out at our local dog park, using Conan to demo his training skills. He fostered another dog, Rufus, later adopted him, and began to train him as well. Everyone was impressed, and within two weeks he had enough clients to be self-supporting. Kind, personable, and helpful, he quickly became a favorite in our community.
Nobody funded Jonny. Just customers who saw him and needed his services.
And then something terrible happened. Conan had a heart attack and died suddenly. Read Jonny’s Facebook page, and you can see how he felt. Not only has he lost a dear friend and family member, but he lost his business partner.
And yet, Juan took his finals, graduated, and is back out there training dogs, and looking for a Belgian Malinois puppy or rescue to train. He suffered both a business reverse and a personal tragedy, but he is an entrepreneur, and he goes on.
At this season of the year where we celebrate, reflect, and rejoice, let’s not forget the Juan Aguilars of the world who may not be Mark Zuckerberg but have taken their own leaps into the unknown and unpredictable world of the entrepreneur.
Enjoy your holidays.
[Image: Flickr user Harold.lloyd]