Necessity vs. Innovation-Based Entrepreneurs

This article originally appeared in Xconomy.

What makes someone an entrepreneur? Most simply defined, an entrepreneur is a person who identifies a need and starts a business to fill that void. But others will argue that a “true” entrepreneur must come up with an innovative new product or service and then operates their business to sell and profit from that innovation.

Under the broader definition are those people who become entrepreneurs out of necessity – starting their own business after losing a job, to supplement their income, or to gain the flexibility to attend to other demands in their lives.

Take Joanne, for example. Joanne started her holistic health business about eight years ago. Although she doesn’t necessarily consider herself an entrepreneur, the necessity of a family member’s health situation created both a challenge and an opportunity that shifted her path of employment. As a graduate of Boston University with a degree in math, and Syracuse with an MBA, Joanne had been working as a technical engagement director managing large-scale database development projects.

However, she was also managing the special needs of a son at home with learning differences. She was hit with a layoff from her job about the same time that her son required more services. She was doing tons of research to help him in any way possible, including alternatives to mainstream treatment, and she started an unpaid e-mail service to friends and family sharing what she learned. The response was tremendous – several people told her that she had changed their lives and she should make a career out of it. She decided to take the plunge, pursued further education, and then started JBS Holistic Nutrition where she offers health coaching and healing alternatives. The nature of her business allows her to be flexible. She is currently working part-time, which enables her to manage the needs of her family and help take care of an ailing parent. She sees her business as an opportunity to help people change their lives for the better.

Joanne is someone I’d consider a necessity-based entrepreneur. Often, necessity is financially based, but pursuing a passion and work-life balance issues also play into necessity.

One of the first references to “necessity entrepreneurship” was in the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM) report in 2001. This third annual GEM assessment researched entrepreneurship in 29 countries. Respondents were asked to indicate whether they were starting and growing their business to take advantage of a unique market opportunity (opportunity entrepreneurship) or because it was the best option available (necessity entrepreneurship). At the time, the average opportunity entrepreneurship prevalence rate across the 29 GEM countries was about 6.5 percent, while the average for necessity entrepreneurship was 2.5 percent.

Interestingly, GEM’s most recent report for 2017-2018 looks at entrepreneurship through a few more complex lenses, but it states that most entrepreneurs around the world are opportunity-motivated. On average, three-quarters of global respondents stated that they had chosen to pursue an opportunity as a basis for their entrepreneurial motivations, with 83 percent of entrepreneurs in North America falling into this category. Women were more likely to start businesses out of necessity, compared to men, in all regions except in North America.

My guess is that necessity-based entrepreneurs may be somewhat under-represented in these numbers as they may not self-identify as entrepreneurs. Necessity-based entrepreneurs also may be less likely to respond to this type of survey.

Some of the early research on the topic discusses a push-pull analogy. “Push” (or necessity-based) entrepreneurs are those who may be faced with a job loss, dissatisfaction with their current positions, or lack of career opportunities. For these reasons – unrelated to their entrepreneurial characteristics – they are pushed to start a venture. “Pull” (or opportunity-based) entrepreneurs are those who initiate venture activity because of the attractiveness of the business idea and its personal implications. They may seek independence, increased earnings, and opportunities to carry out their own ideas.

A study out of Stanford on Opportunity versus Necessity Entrepreneurship explores the common and seemingly paradoxical finding that business creation increases in recessions. It looks at two distinct motivations, “opportunity” entrepreneurship and “necessity” entrepreneurship (with the simple definition of a necessity entrepreneur as initially unemployed before starting their business). The research found that opportunity entrepreneurship is generally pro-cyclical and necessity entrepreneurship is strongly counter-cyclical – that is, recessions drive necessity-based entrepreneurs to start their own businesses. Opportunity entrepreneurship was also found to be associated with more growth-oriented businesses.

I believe there are many profiles of the necessity-based entrepreneur, and it’s a segment of entrepreneurship that deserves more attention. Not every entrepreneur is the genius superstar with a new technology. Some forms of entrepreneurship are a bit humbler.

An example of this are gig economy entrepreneurs. These “gigs” are often short-term contracts or freelance work as opposed to (or in addition to) permanent jobs – think Uber and TaskRabbit. Although this is an emerging form of entrepreneurship, is it a positive experience for the entrepreneur (and the economy)? Or, is it a necessary side hustle some people need to survive?

Women and minority entrepreneurs are often necessity-based entrepreneurs. The startup rate for businesses created by both women and minorities exceeds the overall rate for new startups. The Minority 2018 Small Business Trends survey by Guidant Financial surveyed 2,600 business owners and aspiring entrepreneurs, and found that 45 percent of small business in the country were owned by minority ethnic groups and 26 percent were owned by women in 2018. What is driving these business owners, and are we measuring their contributions effectively?

While economic gain is certainly one component of necessity-based entrepreneurship, a broader definition includes entrepreneurs who are motivated by their belief that the traditional labor options available are insufficient to meet their non-economic needs and goals as well.

At MIT, we foster entrepreneurship through programs like our delta v student venture accelerator where our students are out to change the world with their innovations. But, entrepreneurship has many forms and there is no one right model or best way to measure success. Necessity-based entrepreneurs are shaping their own success in a way that works and should be included in the broader study of entrepreneurs.

This article was published in Xconomy on November 26, 2018.

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A Discussion on French Entrepreneurship with John Chambers

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I recently had the unique opportunity to join selected MIT faculty, students, and staff to discuss the current business climate with John Chambers, the Executive Chairman of the Board and former CEO of Cisco Systems. He was the guest of honor at a recent MIT Leadership Center luncheon and it was pure luck that I ended up sitting next to him as our meal was served.

My question to John was: what he thinks we should be doing to educate entrepreneurs today (that is currently lacking). Although he didn’t answer that question directly, he did talk about the differences in East Coast and West Coast philosophies. The West vs. East innovation discussion is always a good one (see my blog on Massachusetts being ranked the most innovative state in America) and it was clear that John felt that in Silicon Valley, it is more important to be a founder/key engineer than is to be the CEO of a Fortune 100 company.

Paris conferenceWe then started discussing innovation in other countries, particularly France, in light of my upcoming keynote speech in Paris at the symposium on Entrepreneurial Research: Past, Present and Future. John remarked that the French entrepreneurial ecosystem is actually as large as Boston’s. I was a bit surprised, but also intrigued as I’ve been researching how the French approach entrepreneurship to prepare for my presentation.

Here are some of the highlights of my research I thought I’d share:

  • The French business environment has undergone radical change in recent years. Investment activity in French startups has been on a steady rise. Moreover, it is coming from all sides of French society – the government, the corporations, and the new wave of entrepreneurs. In addition, France has over 100 venture capitalists who invested more than $2 billion in 2016.
  • This activity has changed the general attitude among the younger generation towards entrepreneurship. Up until 2012, France’s best talent was driven to big firms. However, now more than 50% of young people between the ages of 18 and 24 want to start a business, and 1 in 3 of France’s 70,000 Ph.D. students also want to create their own business. At this moment, France has more than 50 startup accelerators, and more than 100 co-working spaces have opened their doors recently.
  • President Hollande’s socialist government has made fostering startups an economic priority with a cohesive policy that has included:
    • Tax incentives for new businesses
    • Government and public sector funding
    • Creation of Special Tech Programs on national and regional levels
    • New crowd-funding legislation
  • The weak point of French VCs is lack of sufficient capital for later-stage funding rounds, forcing many promising French startups to look abroad for their financing needs or get acquired by global multinationals.
  • According to French government, more than 550,000 startups are created each year. More than $2 billion was invested in French startups in 2016. Three startups raised more than $100M:
    • Sigfox (IoT ecosystem)
    • Deezer (Music streaming)
    • Devialet (Sound technology)
  • According to European Digital City Index (EDCI), Paris is the 5th best city for startups in Europe. According to the Compass 2015 Global Startup Ecosystem Ranking, Paris is the 11th best ecosystem for startups globally.
  • Brexit creates excellent opportunity for France to lure best tech startups from UK and transform itself into the #1 European and one of the leading global startup hubs.
  • The presidential elections that will be held in April and May 2017 should be carefully watched. The possible win of Mr. Macron could be a big boost for the French entrepreneurial ecosystem since his tenure as a Minister of Economy was huge boon for the French startup ecosystem.

As Americans we tend to critique French capitalism due to issues such as a high level of government intervention, inflexible labor laws, a fear of failure among entrepreneurs, and the lack of innovation.  However, all this is changing.

I look forward to my visit to Paris in the springtime and will share what I learn at the symposium.

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Chasing Unicorns or Planting Trees?

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unicorn12967178What does Entrepreneurial Success Look Like?  

In the business world, privately held companies valued at $1 billion or more are known as unicorns. Like unicorns, the billion-dollar startup was once only a myth. Now, all that has changed.

Fortune now publishes “The Unicorn List” that includes 174 unicorns. Uber tops the list, with Airbnb, Snapchat, and Pinterest also in the top 10. The Wall Street Journal also publishes a dynamic “Billion Dollar Startup Club” graphic that shows unicorns with their current value and region of origin – Uber’s current $68 billion valuation is by far the highest of the group.

Some rankings use just one criterion, such as venture capital funding to measure success. Although not necessarily the best measurement, it is an easy, publicly available figure, and there have certainly been unicorns that have failed. But, should valuation or the ability to raise money be the only measure of success?

What about the important success factors such as profitability, revenue, job creation, and even intangibles such as social good – giving back to the community or the world. The combination of these metrics provide a more holistic view to measure success.

MIT has been measuring entrepreneurial success for years, and our figures take into account job creation and revenues. According to our last update, companies founded by living MIT alumni have created 4.6 million jobs and generated nearly $2 trillion in annual revenues – that’s about the same as the GDP of the world’s 10th largest economy.

While the trajectory of the unicorns is impressive, a great number of unicorns aren’t profitable. Many startups and entrepreneurs have focused on “growth at all costs,” often operating at a loss to grab market share.  It’s not a surprise to learn that some unicorns are terrified when they have to think about profits for the first time.  (For more in-depth analysis, check out this blog post by well-known venture investor Bill Gurley.)

All of these issues are things that we think about deeply here at the Martin Trust Center for MIT Entrepreneurship. We certainly want the startups that we help launch to be successful, not just in venture capital raised or achieving unicorn status. More importantly, we want that success to be sustainable and we want the entrepreneurial skills that we impart to be deeply rooted.

Think about trees for a second. Yes, much less magical than unicorns, but a tree has deep roots, a solid foundation, and branches that grow over time. We believe that with the tools that we provide to our students: from the proven framework of courses; to state-of-the art facilities; to advisory services; to our own delta v student venture accelerator, we are planting the seeds to help that tree grow. Obviously, drive and passion are important characteristics of successful entrepreneurs, but we know that entrepreneurship can be taught with a systematic, disciplined approach.

In fact, learning solid entrepreneurial skills might be even more important than launching a successful first startup on your first shot.

How does MIT produce so many successful entrepreneurs? We believe it’s all about planting a tree, rather than chasing a unicorn.

 

It’s a Wrap: MIT’s Educational Accelerator Demo Day 2016!

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Congratulations to all of the teams that presented at our Educational Accelerator Demo Day! We kicked off MIT’s campus-wide t=0 celebration of entrepreneurship and innovation, which will continue through September 18.

If you couldn’t join us, this post gives a quick recap; and you can catch all of the presentations on video as well. For an overview of the companies presented, check out this BostonInno article – “These are the 17 Startups MIT Kept Hush-Hush this Summer.”

First of all, in my last post I had let you know that our Global Founders’ Skills Accelerator (GFSA) would be changing its name. We are now MIT’s delta v accelerator.  Why the name change? The derivative of velocity is acceleration!  Hence, the MIT Acceleration Program delta v.

delta v literally means a change in velocity, and we believe this truly captures what happens to these students when they join us for MIT’s accelerator program.

The delta v Demo Day is focused on MIT students, and students filled the auditorium and were even sitting in the aisles. Our Managing Director Bill Aulet kicked of the program and explained how these startups have reached “escape velocity” and have been “kicked out of the house” so to speak.

Bill was followed by keynote speaker Dharmesh Shah, the CTO of HubSpot and an MIT grad. He talked about increasing the success for these student startups – how to get started, why you should avoid stealth mode, why speed matters, how to find a co-founder, attract amazing people, and give yourself crazy ambitious goals. He tells students to take advantage of all your classes to hone your skills… and he says he has never heard of a single entrepreneur who regrets taking a shot at a startup (even if it failed).

Governor Charlie Baker also joined us at Demo Day, and spoke about the amount of wizardry that comes out of MIT and the staggering contribution that MIT has made to the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, the country and the world.

It was then on to the student presentations. Fourteen startups made it through to Demo Day, and their company ideas covered topics from mental health to virtual reality.  We saw compelling videos from farmers whose lives have been changed because of MIT students, transportation in Rwanda and Mexico that will reduce costs for carriers, a way to make freight transportation more efficient and increase the income of truck drivers, and several ways to improve the environment.  We learned about innovations could change the lives of families dealing with cancer treatment and students in Africa.

Interested in learning more? Check out the companies that presented. They are listed below, in alphabetical order, along with links to their websites.  And, if you have a bit more time, check out the teams presenting in our Demo Day video recording.

Alfie
Armoire
Deepstream
dot Learn
Emerald
Factory Shop
FleteYa
Hive Maritime
kiron
Kumwe Logistics
Lean on Me
Leuko Labs
perch
Rendever
ricult
Solstice Initiative

I think everyone who attended Demo Day was inspired and impressed by the power of entrepreneurship at MIT. Now, we’re onward and upward, with t=0 this week with a full schedule of activities every day. Later this month, the delta v teams will be heading to New York City and San Francisco to meet with alumni and investors.

We hope you are inspired too!

Join us September 9th for MIT’s Educational Accelerator Demo Day!

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I’m wrapping up “boot camp” with this year’s MIT Global Founders’ Skills Accelerator (GFSA) cohort this week, and wanted to let you know about our Educational Accelerator Demo Day on September 9th! As Associate Director of the Martin Trust Center and the Director of the GFSA program, it’s been an amazing summer for me, helping to shape our teams of entrepreneurs and guiding them as they prepare to present their companies.

Sign up Now

On Demo Day, each of the groups that have been working in the accelerator will reveal their company to a live audience. This event is free and open to the public – just register here and then join us at MIT Kresge Auditorium; the program runs from 4 – 7 pm, and Dharmesh Shah, founder and CTO of HubSpot will be our keynote speaker.

Demo Day is the culmination of three months of intensive work and focus by our student teams in the educational accelerator. It’s the first chance to present their world-changing products and services to an audience of MIT students, mentors, friends, investors, and potential customers.

Who are this year’s Entrepreneurs?

Our 2016 cohort is bigger than last year with 86 entrepreneurs on 17 teams. We can’t reveal the companies or their concepts until September 9th, but innovative ideas will be presented by the fantastic teams – in vertical industries from healthcare to energy to logistics. To give you an idea of what Demo Day involves, here’s a round-up of inspiring startups from Demo Day in prior years.

As the premier university student accelerator in the world, the MIT GFSA provides a capstone educational opportunity for MIT student entrepreneurs and prepares them to hit “escape velocity” and launch their companies into the real world. We hope you can join us for this amazing event.

We’re Live Streaming too!

Can’t be there live? You can still watch the live stream. (Visit now and mark your calendar.)

After the Boston event, we’re on to New York on September 15 and San Francisco on September 22 to present Demo Day in those cities as well.

 

P.S. We’ll also be announcing a name change for the GFSA program at Demo Day … stay tuned.

Exploring China Accelerators

china startup imageIn my role as Entrepreneur in Residence at MIT and Program Director for MIT’s Global Founders’ Skill Accelerator (GFSA), I’ve been researching accelerator programs worldwide, and I thought I’d share some of that research in a series of blog posts. This is the fifth post in the series; you can read the other posts starting here.

While startups are emerging in thousands all over China, the local startups should realize that an accelerator program does not guarantee success—it simply provides the means to success. As most accelerator programs end after a few months, the knowledge and business wisdom that participating startups carry from the program are believed to last for a long time. For understanding how an accelerator program works in China, new startups can review the following article: Where are the startup incubators and accelerators in Asia? Here’s 100 of ‘em. This exhaustive list comprises accelerator programs in the entire Asia Pacific region, so readers are advised to selectively review the ones located in China.

The major accelerator activity has developed in the Chinese capital of Beijing—in a localized environment known as the “Silicon Valley in China.” The Zhongguancun Science Park showcases all the elements needed to boost a hungry startup business. This science park offers countless accelerator programs as well as venture capital funds. The startups in China have quickly taken advantage of vertical accelerators that offer highly specialized mentorship and support based on deep domain knowledge.

American Giants Offering Accelerators for the Asian Region

US accelerators are also seeing the global potential for their services. The basic elements of innovation, like as capital, information, technology and talent, are increasingly integrated across national territories. The Microsoft Ventures Accelerator in Beijing serves as a strategic partner for Chinese startups to broaden their global reach and develop these startups into world-class enterprises. In spite of having only been established recently, the Microsoft Ventures Accelerator has already been recognized by local governments, enterprises, and the investor community.

This unique program partners with visionary entrepreneurs to help startups flourish in China and Asia-Pacific at large. Since its inception in China in July 2012, this accelerator has provided participating startups with modern workspace, free cloud services, and direct market contact. The core elements of this accelerator program are leading technology, teambuilding, development of business skills. Through its access to the capital market, marketing and HR compliance services, the program develops the entrepreneurial capabilities of all participating startups. To date, the participants of this program have each received an average of RMB1-1.5 million worth of resources (approximately $230,000 USD) Visit Microsoft Ventures for more information.

Accelerators for Specialized Markets

According to Edtech Accelerators in Asia Gain Popularity, the growing popularity of entrepreneurship has propelled the rise of specialized accelerators for industry verticals such as health, finance, energy, or education. The greater diversity of verticals in accelerator programs has also motivated accelerator facilitators to include enterprises that use specialized accelerators services like outsourced R&D.

If you want to read my next post in this series check back here on my blog or follow me on LinkedIn or Twitter.

Exploring India Accelerators

India

In my role as Entrepreneur in Residence at MIT and Program Director for MIT’s Global Founders’ Skill Accelerator (GFSA), I’ve been researching accelerator programs worldwide, and I thought I’d share some of that research in a series of blog posts. This is the fourth post in the series; read the other posts starting here.

Most startups in India, irrespective of the apparent strength of their products, realized that they needed external support in the form of incubators and accelerators to grow and mature. At the early stages of incubation, most of these ambitious startups simply received funding, but as business complications began to surface, the need for mentorship, expert guidance, training, even technology-enabled office space became necessary components of accelerator programs. Though differing in operational models, the accelerators and incubators share one common goal—to provide an impetus to a brilliant business idea so that the idea succeeds and sustains as a commercial venture in this competitive world.

The accelerators provide mentors, guides, and a platform to raise issues ranging from venture capitals, legal problems, to technology enablement. Most accelerators in India expect equity in a startup in return for the valuable support system they provide. The accelerator program in some cases can charge a fixed fee and no equity for all the rendered services, and considers the startup success to be their biggest reward.

Here are some future predictions for the Indian accelerator program market as outlined in the Indian media platform YourStory:

  • To expand their global reach, accelerators will launch both online and offline programs.
  • The funding will shift from early-stage companies to late-stage companies. In 2014, and 300+ Indian startups have received over $5 billion.
  • As more corporate like Microsoft, Coca Cola, or PayPal continue to set up their own accelerator programs, the corporate giants will increasingly focus on funding startups.
  • Some accelerators will experiment with venture building models.
  • More vertical accelerators will surface in the advertising, medical, and food industries.
  • Investor networks and non-profit networks will collaborate to provide support and resources to startups.
  • Under-funded or direction-less accelerators will shut down.

A recent byproduct of this growing trend of “boosted entrepreneurship” is the growth of specialized accelerators for vertical markets, such as education, finance, or health. More and more, industry-specific accelerators are filling up the Indian accelerators landscape.

There has been a sharp rise in the number of Indian accelerator programs in the last few years. The best part is that this growth has come pretty much equally in all spheres. The rising wave has left its undercurrents in all spheres of Indian business, beginning with colleges with their own incubator cells, and global accelerators like Kyron Global Accelerators have turned to the Indian market for expansions. This particular accelerator aims to fund 300 Indian startups by 2020.

This article on the Top 50 Incubators & Accelerators in India, by Truelancer, lists the top India-based incubator and accelerator programs by region, and is a great resource.

If you want to read my next post in this series check back here on my blog or follow me on LinkedIn or Twitter.