Entrepreneurs key to the future

May 29th, 2009 by Admin

From The Washington Times, Wed., March 11, 2009

As the jobless rate reaches new highs and the economy continues to
founder, many people advocate hunkering down and waiting for the storm
to pass. That may be a smart strategy in some areas, but when it comes
to the federal role in catalyzing innovation and entrepreneurship, we
should be doubling down, not hunkering down.

History has shown that government – when deployed wisely – can play
an important role in funding and stimulating innovation. Industries
such as electronics, nuclear power, aerospace, communications and
computing benefited greatly from federal research and development and
other investments. According to Massachusetts Institute of Technology
President Susan Hockfield, more than half of U.S. economic growth since
World War II has come from technological innovation, with much of it
stemming from federally funded R&D.

In today’s stressed economic climate, we must ask where we get the
biggest bang for our buck. Yes, “shovel-ready” projects stimulate job
creation, but investment in innovation and entrepreneurship should be
pursued with vigor, starting with large-scale renewable-energy programs.

One promising approach, often overlooked, entails investing in the
creation and expansion of entrepreneurship and social innovation
incubators (read more…)

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10 Talks that will knock your socks off

May 28th, 2009 by Admin

Need a shot of inspiration? Then head over to this top-ten collection of last lectures and commencement speeches, which is sure to get you excited, inspired, or maybe both. 

You will not regret it. Check it out here

Many thanks to Kelly Sonora for putting this together.

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Out of uniform, still serving

May 28th, 2009 by Admin

From The Washington Times,  Wed., April 8, 2009

When Troy Crawford graduated from high school in Lincoln Park, Mich., he enlisted in the Marine Corps, became a sergeant and served as an infantry team leader.

He served for six years, including one tour in Iraq, before transitioning to civilian life. After a year, however, he missed the camaraderie of the military and decided to re-enlist. When he was told the Marine Corps was not accepting previous service members, he walked across the hall and joined the Army.

Within three months, He was back in Iraq as an infantry team leader. On March 10, 2006, an improvised explosive device exploded 10 feet from him while he was on a routine foot patrol, knocking him unconscious and piercing his body with shrapnel.

After seven days in a coma, he awoke in a German military hospital. He soon was transferred to Walter Reed Army Medical Center for further treatment. The blast had blown out both of his eardrums, produced a mild traumatic brain injury and scarred his body. In July 2008, he was medically retired from the Army, having been awarded the Purple Heart and an Army Commendation Medal, among other honors.

Recognizing that his days of serving in the military were over, Mr. Crawford channeled his commitment to service into community volunteering, including helping with an outdoor education program for sixth-graders. He recently was awarded a Mission Continues fellowship to serve as a full-time volunteer with Team River Runner, a District-based nonprofit that teaches wounded service members and their families how to kayak and provides mental and physical healing along the way.

The Mission Continues awards fellowships to wounded and disabled veterans who seek to continue serving even though they can no longer do so in uniform. Fellows volunteer full time for up to 14 weeks at a charitable organization of their choice while a grant helps defray cost-of-living expenses. The fellowships are intense, short-term experiences in volunteering, and nearly all fellows continue to serve their community after their fellowship.

The Mission Continues was founded two years ago by Eric Greitens, a Navy SEAL officer, Rhodes scholar, White House fellow and Purple Heart recipient. Mr. Greitens launched the program using his combat pay from Iraq. Two friends chipped in their Veterans Affairs disability checks to help sustain the organization. Today, the program has gained support from across the country and plans to award 36 major fellowships in 2009. (read more…)

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Do your kids have a purpose?

May 27th, 2009 by Admin

Most discussions about the state of our schools are animated by serious concerns about the achievement gap, dropout rate, too many children being left behind, declining international competitiveness and more. Almost all the prescriptions for addressing the concerns involve such issues as teacher training and quality, innovation, standards, accountability, choice, and funding.

One missing link is whether we are doing enough to connect with the students themselves, to reach them in ways that truly engage them and inspire their full attention and best efforts. At the center of this is the question of purpose: Why are the children in school in the first place, and what path will they take after graduating?

In his new book, “The Path to Purpose: Helping Our Children Find Their Calling in Life,” William Damon bemoans the “sense of emptiness that has ensnared many young people in long periods of drift.” A leading scholar of human development and director of the Stanford Center on Adolescence, Mr. Damon has traced this emptiness and lack of purpose to an array of issues that inhibit the healthy development of youths and their successful transition into adulthood and work. Backed up by decades of work and fresh research, his findings “reveal a society in which purposefulness among young people is the exception rather than the rule.”

Mr. Damon says, “Purpose is a stable and generalized intention to accomplish something that is at the same time meaningful to the self and consequential for the world. … A true purpose is an ultimate concern. It is the final answer to the question of ‘Why? Why am I doing this? Why does it matter?’ Too often, the answer is, ‘I have no idea.’ ”

According to Mr. Damon’s research, (read more…)

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A voice from the grave

May 26th, 2009 by Admin

David Foster Wallace, the inventive and provocative writer, passed away last Friday at the age of 46.

His life, amidst its ups and downs, had deep meaning and contribution. Check out this piece in the WSJ, adapted from a speech that Wallace gave several years ago at Kenyon College. (Thank you to Sadie Moore for bringing this to our attention.)

 Click image to see the piece.

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Does public service pay off? We think so.

May 22nd, 2009 by Admin

Mobilizing our citizenry through national service was a core theme of President Obama’s campaign. Yet that clarion call has been drowned out by the wrenching global financial crisis and its attendant recession. Letting this important initiative fall by the wayside would be a mistake because it presents a real opportunity for dramatic and measurable impact.

Consider this: Last year, 75,000 AmeriCorps members worked with 4,600 nonprofits nationally and, in turn, mobilized more than 1.7 million volunteers in places like New Orleans. These AmeriCorps jobs cost less than $20,000 on average and were so popular that AmeriCorps had to turn down two out of every three applicants.

A bipartisan group led by Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, Massachusetts Democrat, and Sen. Orrin Hatch, Utah Republican, is seeking to increase AmeriCorps to 250,000 members. The increase would cost $5 billion over five years (less than 1 percent of the colossal stimulus bill) and create 8 percent of the total number of new jobs sought by the Obama administration.

These new jobs would help get the underemployed (primarily young people) working in communities badly hit by the recession. They also would help those youths pay for college, the cost of which has been getting increasingly out of reach as tuition increases have surpassed inflation for years.

Importantly, engaging people in service early in their lives pays enormous dividends for their own personal and leadership development and creates a pipeline of agents of social change for decades to come. Take the more than 11,000 alumni of City Year (an AmeriCorps program) who have spent a year in service. Seventy percent of those alumni, called Leaders for Life, still volunteer 10 hours per month and are 65 percent more likely to volunteer than their peers. What’s more, 71 percent of them vote, while fewer than half of 18- to 40-year-olds in the United States do. More than 90 percent of City Year alumni reported that their service experience contributed to their ability to solve problems in their communities.

Another AmeriCorps program, Teach for America (TFA), (read more…)

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Beat the Recession With “Adaptive Persistence”

May 22nd, 2009 by Admin

As we get up to date, we’ll fill you in on our work over the last several months. Here we go…


As the world looks to the titans of capitalism to hit the “reset” button on the global economy, what can we learn from entrepreneurs about the principles and practices needed to survive — or even thrive — in a downturn? How can we keep our heads above water when so many institutions are cratering and so many people are panicking?

One of the key themes that came through in our interviews with 55 leading business and social entrepreneurs worldwide — many of whom started their enterprises during or in the wake of a recession — is what we call “adaptive persistence.”

What marks the successful entrepreneur is relentless persistence, a refusal to give up when things go south. But that doesn’t mean being bull-headed and knocking on the same door over and over. It means going around the back door one day and the side door the next until we find the right way in. That’s all the more essential in a recession.

Persistence is about refusing to give up even in the face of adversity. Adaptation is about shortening the time to success through ingenuity and flexibility. “Adaptive persistence” entails alternating between anticipation, changing course, and sticking with it, deftly navigating that paradox with aplomb.

When Robert Egger, a one-time punk rocker in Washington, D.C., had a vision in the 1980s for feeding the homeless excess food from restaurants — while also training them for restaurant and catering jobs — he was greeted by a chorus of naysayers.

“What I found,” he says, “is that people, just because they’ve never seen it, can’t believe it.” Still he persisted. After countless rejection letters from foundations, Egger finally caught a break — one bigger than he had anticipated: an opportunity to obtain all the un-served food from all of George H.W. Bush’s presidential inaugural parties. With imagination and a lot of hustle, he pulled it off, leading to the creation of the pioneering nonprofit D.C. Central Kitchen.

Today, DCCK serves 5,200 meals a day, seven days a week, and has completed more than 70 job training programs, now with more than 650 graduates. Universities across the country have since replicated the Central Kitchen model. As Egger says, “Our job, our only job, is to make the impractical, the improbable, and the impossible possible, plausible, doable.”

Two other “adaptive persisters” are Mark Warner and Howard Schultz. Warner, the first member of his family to graduate from college, took his savings of $5,000 as a recent graduate and invested it in a start-up. Within six weeks, (read more…)

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A Millennial Crucible

May 21st, 2009 by Admin

New college graduates of ‘Generation Y’ are facing the toughest labor market in years. Yes, this is intimidating–however, it may also be the beginning of the kind of crucible that defines a generation. Can the “Millennials” live up to their hype as more innovative, entrepreneurial, and socially conscious than those before them? Can they innovate and redefine business models and social work in this fledgling century?

Only time will tell, and life isn’t fair. But their unique talents have never been more needed than they are now.

Here’s hoping they rise to the challenge and give the Millennials a good name.

(Click image to go to an insightful article on the topic, or go here.)

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The Recession’s Silver Lining: A Blank Canvas

May 21st, 2009 by Admin

Internationally known master sushi chef Nobu Matsuhisa got his start in tough times: He spent years learning the restaurant business from the bottom up, endured years of a bad business partnership, and then saw his next restaurant burned to the ground before his eyes, leaving him with nothing but debt. Frustrated and depressed, he refused to give up on his dream of a high-quality sushi restaurant and moved to California. Several years later, he was out of debt and able to buy his own restaurant, leading to an eventual business partnership with actor Robert de Niro and the creation of 22 restaurants worldwide so far, with more to come.

While Nobu is an inspiring example of what’s possible, inspiration is hard to come by these days. In the last few months you may have felt the bite of this recession—by losing a job, suffering anxiety over the potential of losing your job, or realizing that you don’t even want your job and it’s time to make your dreams come true.

The current downturn, despite all its challenges, also has a silver lining: it may actually help you in launching your venture.

Given how tight purse strings are around the world right now, it’s going to be difficult to raise capital or secure loans, forcing you to bootstrap. That means that avoiding classic entrepreneur mistakes and focusing on the truly important things in your business. To borrow from Guy Kawasaki, this means managing for cash flow rather than profitability, getting quickly to market, positioning yourself in a tight niche, and focusing on actions that generate revenues with a short sales cycle and without adding to your fixed costs.

Surprisingly, there are several advantages in trying to start a business in a recession, such as: increased negotiating power, thinning of the herd, and availability of talent.

First, your negotiating power as an entrepreneur has increased. Business is down across most sectors, which means that your vendors and suppliers will likely be more inclined to give you better prices and terms since they are hungry for business. If you leverage this by negotiating well, you’ll keep your costs down and stay lean. Second, the recession has already put many companies out of business. Further, the onslaught of negative media coverage has made the surviving companies and start-ups slower and more cautious. Expansion plans have been put on hold. This gives you a unique opportunity to capture more market share as they wait for the economy to turn.

Finally, in the never-ending “war for talent,” there is currently a fire sale. There are a lot of great people out there with drive, who are looking for direction – your direction. Your dream can become an inspiring vision for others, but only if you get out there and share it. An inspiring idea is even more impactful in bad times because people are thirstier for inspiration (not to mention in need of income). Give it to them, wherever you are. (Or wherever they are—consider going virtual and saving even more on overhead costs, like popular online productivity site Remember the Milk.)

Perhaps the biggest blessing in this recession is that it forces entrepreneurs to go back to the drawing board, to being creative. A recession can be thought of as a failure of existing commercial players to generate sufficient economic value, requiring adaptations in business models. Approaching things with a blank slate will help you see opportunities you may have overlooked. As Jim Collins, best-selling author of Built to Last and Good to Great, said in his recent Inc. interview: “When you paint by numbers, the end result is guaranteed…. it might be good, but it will never be a masterpiece. Starting with a blank canvas is the only way to get a masterpiece.”

Master chef Nobu is an artist who created his masterpiece only after setbacks forced him to build his dream anew from a blank canvas.

And a blank canvas is exactly what the world has handed us. Let’s get painting.

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Learn From a Farming Genius

May 21st, 2009 by Admin

Will Allen, a ‘Genius Fellow’ of the MacArthur Foundation, has been working diligently since 1993 to reform and create opportunity for minority communities through farming. He has created a national movement to re-establish food growing while simultaneously teaching urban youth about the value of work and focus. Even more so, many of the diverse group of workers for ‘Growing Power’ are people who’ve joined the cause not just because of their belief in it, but also because of their desire to craft a life of meaning and flexibility for what they truly value. Read more about this inspiring example of life entrepreneurship here (click image to read more):


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