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Makers Point the Way for Economic Recovery

Makers are fascinating people. They take on multiple identities, based on multiple roles. Their many roles weave a tapestry of interrelationships – as makers combine skills, ideas, and resources to generate dynamic innovation, business activity, and even jobs. More than ever, America needs those qualities of makers for economic recovery.

Recovery starts with new businesses. They account for nearly all job growth. And growing new businesses requires environments that support “starters” – those starting entrepreneurial businesses of all kinds. I believe those supportive environments can and should exist in every community in America. But to achieve that vision, all of us – makers included – must take on multiple identities and play multiple roles.

Some makers define their own identities. Others have identities defined for them.

For example, a maker is an inventor when she creates a new gadget. No customer needs to buy the gadget for it to be considered an invention. On the other hand, a maker can only be a mentor if someone else wants her to be, lest she end up giving advice that isn’t welcome.

[photo courtesy of Ben Hider – World Maker Faire 2018 ] A Maker Can Be both the retailer and the customer, and more.

A maker is also a customer, who buys materials. Or a parent, training a next generation maker. Or a resident of a particular city. Those are all self-defined roles. However, that same maker might also be a retailer, who depends on others to buy her products. Or a leader in a local civic association. Those are roles defined largely by others.

The many identities we have – whether self-defined or defined by others – are important for our well-being. That’s especially true today. We need all of us to take on different roles to build entrepreneurial environments in local, state, and national recovery efforts.

Roles, of course, are shaped by relationships. And relationships vary. Some are stronger, others weaker. But they are all vital.

The importance of weak relationships was emphasized in 1973 in a paper titled “The Strength of Weak Ties” by Mark Granovetter, now a professor of sociology at Stanford University. In the paper, he showed that mere acquaintances can be more influential than close contacts. Although close friends and family members (“close ties”) are important, Granovetter found that close ties tend to involve similar people, and are therefore not as powerful as acquaintances (“weak ties”) for accessing new information and perspectives.

That concept has huge implications for us today. Creating local community environments that support entrepreneurs requires both strong and weak ties. Those environments depend on the multiple roles all of us play – whether as makers, starters, or those who support entrepreneurs as customers, suppliers, employees, contractors, advisors, mentors, or others.

We typically think of close “family and friends” providing the initial boost for entrepreneurs starting businesses. Without those strong ties, it’s really hard to start. But weak ties are what bring fresh ideas, added expertise, new introductions, new markets, and serendipitous ingredients to grow early ideas into prosperous, job-producing businesses. Our weak ties are as essential as our strong ones.

[photo courtesy of Ben Hider  – World Maker Faire 2018] – Every community has great potential, because every individual plays multiple roles and every social network contains strong and weak ties.

When a community activates everyone to play multiple roles – it leverages strong and weak ties – and it maximizes the potential of the social network. That is how a community supports starters. Every community has great potential, because every individual plays multiple roles and every social network contains strong and weak ties.

The old model of economic growth asserted that a community was hamstrung without a great research university, everyone needed a college degree to compete, and every startup needed an incubator or accelerator to win. While those are still helpful to have, they are not prerequisites anymore in this age where every individual possesses technological tools with vast power. However, technology without people is inert. What communities need – and have – is the dynamism of their multifaceted people and their complex relationships, interwoven in a myriad of beautiful ways.

I know this truth firsthand. I’ve traveled across the country in past roles advancing entrepreneurship. More recently I’ve visited – virtually – many communities in my new role leading the nonprofit campaign Right to Start. In every community, I’ve been struck by the possibilities.

That doesn’t mean every community has got everything already in motion. We are a long way from that. But the raw potential everywhere is obvious, enormous, and universal.

Fortunately, there are free tools available for every community. Right to Start recently published a “Field Guide for Policymakers” that proposes specific steps for governments to advance entrepreneurship across our land: nine for federal, nine for states, and five for local. In addition, “America’s New Business Plan” – created during my tenure at the Kauffman Foundation – offers a fuller analysis and blueprint. And there are programs like 1 Million Cups that gather communities to support entrepreneurs in 169 communities and growing.

Makers are pointing the way, as America seeks to rebound from Covid-19. Learning from makers provides a model for every community to create entrepreneurial environments that grow businesses and jobs.

The author, a leading champion of entrepreneurship, is Founder and CEO of Right to Start.

[header image: The Maker Faire crew from New York 2018 – Jun Shena]

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Victor W. Hwang

Victor W. Hwang is an economic growth expert whose ideas have shaped the economic lives of millions of people worldwide. He is founder and CEO of Right to Start, a campaign fighting for the rights of entrepreneurs. Previously, he was Vice President of Entrepreneurship at the Kauffman Foundation, the world’s leading philanthropy supporting entrepreneurs. At Kauffman, he led initiatives that impacted over 200,000 entrepreneurs in 200 cities, including efforts in catalyzing capital formation, transforming economic development practices, launching a national policy roadmap, and breaking barriers for underserved entrepreneurs. Victor was CEO and co-founder of T2 Venture Creation, a venture firm that built startup companies and designed ecosystems that fostered entrepreneurial innovation in dozens of countries and cities. Victor was co-founder and CEO of the startup Liquidity, a Silicon Valley venture-backed firm making safe drinking water filtration based on nanotech manufacturing. He was President and Chief Operating Officer of Larta Institute, an organization commercializing technology from key government agencies, such as the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health. He was chief strategy officer of Veatros, a video startup where he led the company’s acquisition by a public company. Victor practiced corporate and technology law with the firms of Mayer, Brown & Platt and Irell & Manella. He has been a contributing columnist to Forbes, The Wall Street Journal, TechCrunch, and Entrepreneur, and his opinions have been cited in The New York Times and the Los Angeles Times, among others. National Public Radio named his graduation address to Austin Community College one of “the best commencement speeches ever.” His book, The Rainforest, was awarded Book of the Year, Gold Medal, by ForeWord Reviews for “a big idea that defines a way of thinking.” Victor is a graduate of Harvard University and the University of Chicago Law School.

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