We welcome a new monthly column by Victor Hwang, formerly VP of Entrepreneurship at the Kauffman Foundation., who has started an initiative to encourage more people to “start something” and become “starters.” – Dale
Makers are amazing hobbyists and hackers, but they are much more than that. Makers are also “starters” who convert ideas into serious economic value. Thus, makers have a huge potential role in America’s economic recovery that is almost never discussed. There is a critical connection between “making” and “starting” – and that connection needs to be more widely recognized, explored, and celebrated. I look forward to doing that in a new monthly column for Make: – beginning with this column today.
Going to my first Maker Faire years ago blew my mind. It felt as though I were witnessing the Big Bang of human creativity. Since then, I’ve come to believe that makers and the Maker Movement are more important to our economy than most realize. The future seed of America’s manufacturing economy – like an acorn that survives a drought – lives on today in the talent and knowhow of the Maker community.
“Starting” refers to the entrepreneurial endeavor. In the literal sense, that can mean starting a business. But many makers activate their entrepreneurial ambitions without creating a formal business – they often sell inventions, creations, or projects on the side. What makers know, pursue, and create is a vital entrepreneurial resource for America. The Maker Movement is a prized national asset – hidden right under our noses – for small business creation and growth and economic renewal. Now more than ever since the Great Depression almost a century ago, America needs its makers.
As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, 3.3 million U.S. businesses have shut down – more than one in five. Stunningly, 41% of Black-owned businesses have closed. The situation is a national crisis, because the United States is dependent on starters for job growth. New businesses account for nearly all job growth, but entrepreneurship rates – prior to the pandemic – were historically half of what they were a few decades ago. If there was ever a need to step on the pedal and accelerate entrepreneurship, now is the moment.
Some businesses recently closed will reopen, but many will not. Our nation, therefore, needs new businesses to provide missing goods and services, diversify supply chains, and energize communities. We need to draw on all available resources to stimulate new enterprise. That’s why makers are so vital.
Some makers are starters. They have started businesses, and they are often part of the small business community. But every maker – even those who don’t start businesses – can be tapped to strengthen our economy, because every maker has insights, knowledge, talents, and skills that can strengthen a community.
Both making and starting conjure up easy stereotypes. They’re often considered solitary endeavors – think of the myth of the lone individual in the basement or garage. But what the Maker Movement – with its extraordinary growth worldwide – has proven is that the act of creation is a community activity.
Entrepreneurship is a twin sister of the Maker Movement in that way. Makers and starters both thrive when they are surrounded by people who bring advice, expertise, and support to help transform dreams into reality. Entrepreneurial success hinges on what communities do to lift up their starters. But amazingly, the “startup nation” of America has never made starting a civic and policy priority.
That’s why I recently launched – with the support of a community of others – a national movement called Right to Start. Our vision is to transform the nation, so all communities provide entrepreneurial opportunity by embracing the right to start, clearing away obstacles, and creating a level playing field on which to compete and grow.
The Right to Start movement provides a path for makers to contribute to America’s recovery – by supporting entrepreneurship. Makers understand, perhaps better than anyone, that the act of creation is not a solo sport. Makers can help elevate entrepreneurship as a civic and policy priority.
Makers create. They know how ideas emerge, how they are transformed into products, how that transformation is strengthened by collaborating with others.
Makers know the resources in their communities. Those resources include fabrication labs and equipment, spaces where creators can congregate, mentors with specific skills, and networks one can tap for support.
Makers understand the importance of community. The Maker Movement, the Maker Faires, the online networks, the shared information – they all underscore that point.
Makers bring a do-it-yourself mindset – not in the sense of going it alone, but with a knowing confidence that there is always a solution. Whatever problem is at hand can usually be tackled. The tools to overcome almost any hurdle are available, and others are willing to help.
Those qualities of the Maker Movement are literally a modern treasure map for creating wealth in the 21st century. Makers are, therefore, in a pivotal role to help communities nationwide understand a critical message – by lifting up our starters, by making entrepreneurship a civic and policy priority, we lift up everyone.
Every month in America in recent years, three people out of 1,000 started new businesses. Many of those are certainly makers. But all the rest of us – makers and others – are part of the 997. It is the 997 who determine whether the 3 will succeed. It is the 997 who determine whether communities get behind their new businesses.
Everyone in the 997 can help. For instance, call your elected officials and let them know that entrepreneurship should be a priority. Try out newly launched businesses to give them a shot. Or play an even bigger role by serving as a resident expert in your community, applying your skills and knowledge to help people turn their maker inventions into starter enterprises.
Right to Start will do its part in mobilizing and organizing our communities. But we need our makers to help. Makers are our nation’s navigators to a better economic future. They can make the equation “3 + 997 = 1000” complete. That equation should be a national mantra as we help the “3” to grow and inspire the “997” – both makers and starters – to elevate entrepreneurship as a civic and policy priority in every community across America.
The author, a leading champion of entrepreneurship, is Founder and CEO of Right to Start.