The Myth of the Entrepreneur

Entrepreneurship is the bedrock of our country’s economy. In the US, fast-growing, innovation-driven startups represent only two to three percent of all businesses, but they create almost all of the revenue growth in our economy. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, over a recent three-year period 34 percent of all private sector jobs were created by 80,000 high-growth businesses. Beyond the creation of jobs and wealth, entrepreneurship serves perhaps an even more essential function to Americans—it embodies our shared belief in limitless individual opportunity. Our Chairman, Steve Case, often reminds us that America itself represents one of the greatest startup ventures ever. Deeply ingrained in America’s startup business proposition was the belief that any individual—no matter their race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, economic background or geographic location—could bring their entrepreneurial talents to building the kinds of strong and diverse businesses and communities we need to keep our nation prosperous.

Yet today the American dream that any individual has the power to change his or her own trajectory, and in doing so be a part of driving our nation’s entrepreneurship and innovation legacy forward, is fading. The vast majority of today’s celebrated startups continue to be founded and funded by white, well-educated, well-networked males. Women are at the helm of 30 percent of all businesses in the US, and these businesses are leading the way in terms of hiring and growth. However, startups with women CEOs still receive only three percent of venture capital funding. Minority-owned businesses are growing at a faster clip than non-minority owned businesses, but are receiving an even smaller fraction of investments.

Why is that? It’s not that high-potential, high-performance companies founded by women and entrepreneurs of color don’t exist—check out the amazing talent featured at the first ever White House Demo Day this summer. It’s not that performance data isn’t on their side—women-founded ventures are outperforming their male counterparts and companies with diverse executive teams (gender and race) are more likely to have higher financial returns. It might be that unconscious bias permeates—bosses tend to hire people that look like they do, think like they do and come from similar experiences that they do. Investors tend to do the same. Sadly, it might be that men are perceived as “more persuasive” pitchers. Whatever the reasons, it can’t be that leaving half the team on the sidelines is a winning game plan.

In an effort to level the playing field and leverage the maximum potential of America’s entrepreneurial talent, earlier this year the Case Foundation launched a new effort to catalyze a movement around Inclusive Entrepreneurship. We have been inspired by the data that suggest diversifying our entrepreneurial ecosystem is good for business and good for the world. We have been inspired by early pioneers like Forward Cities, PowerMoves and JumpStart, Inc., who have been leading the way in engaging, networking and financing diverse entrepreneurs in their communities. And we have been exceedingly curious about the extent to which the American culture and mythology surrounding entrepreneurship, perpetuated by the media, may be impeding the success of women and entrepreneurs of color.

Unbundling The Myth of the Entrepreneur

Today, when you look at the most highly celebrated entrepreneurs—or look at how entrepreneurs are depicted in pop culture—it’s not exactly a picture of diversity. And typically the story of the entrepreneur casts main characters that appear to be singularly heroic, toiling away in garages and labs until, suddenly, a Eureka Moment! Culture begets behavior, and behavior creates outcomes. So if we want to change outcomes by expanding access to entrepreneurship, we must start with what informs our culture of entrepreneurship: We must very intentionally examine, and change, the stories we tell.

In conjunction with National Entrepreneurship Month and Global Entrepreneurship Week, we are doing our small part to start changing the narrative by launching a new blog series called The Myth of the Entrepreneur. Through this series we will take a critical look at the common stories told in startup culture. We want to distinguish between what stories should be embraced and what stories are holding us back. And to suggest it’s time to reboot and re-focus the narrative on entrepreneurship, and create a message of inspiration and aspiration grounded in inclusivity. The next era of entrepreneurship is about leveling the playing field, expanding participation and scaling the networks of social, financial and inspirational capital that provide the foundation for successful startups and scalable business. The new paradigm of entrepreneurship will replace the myth of isolated geniuses with teams of diverse problem-solvers working hard and collectively to build and scale businesses that make life better for all, not just more convenient for an elite few.

If we can debunk these long-standing and highly influential myths, perhaps we can, together, put a new “face” on today’s entrepreneur. We hope you will join us on this journey—offer up your thoughts, inspiration and new era entrepreneurs you admire on twitter using the hashtag #Ent4All. Check back here next week to learn the truth about one of the most infamous myths of entrepreneurship today—The Myth of Isolation.