The Myth of the Coasts

The ‘Myth of the Coasts’ is a guest blog post from Cathy Belk, President of JumpStart, Inc., and is the seventh blog post in the Case Foundation’s Myth of the Entrepreneur series. This series is intended to intentionally examine, and change, the stories our culture tells about entrepreneurship. For more information on the Case Foundation’s approach to the Myth series and Inclusive Entrepreneurship, please check out our introductory piece. We encourage you to join the conversation using #Ent4All on Twitter.

If I say the word “startup,” you probably think Silicon Valley, or maybe Boston or New York City. And that would be understandable, considering that, according to NVCA and MoneyTree PriceWaterhouseCooper Annual 2015 Report, roughly 77 percent of all venture capital investment last year went to either California, New York or New England.

But what these statistics don’t show, is that right now is also a great time to be a startup entrepreneur in the Midwest.

Here are just a few of the common myths about Midwestern entrepreneurship that are being debunked more and more every day. 

Myth One: The Midwest Doesn’t Have Great Talent

One of the founders of modern venture capitalism, the late David Morgenthaler, was fond of comparing entrepreneurship to a horse race consisting of the jockey (team), the horse (product) and the track (market). One myth I hear often is that the Midwest just doesn’t have the jockeys—entrepreneurs with a track record of success and failure, along with all the connections (investors, customers, board members, etc.) and experience that come with both.

But the fact is, we have plenty of great talent. In Cleveland we have successful entrepreneurs like Mark Woodka, Laura Bennett, Steven Lindseth and Charu Ramanathan as well as entrepreneur/investors like Doug Weintraub and Charles Stack, not to mention recent exits from companies like OrthoHelix, TOA Technologies and Explorys, whose cofounder and CEO Stephen McHale is also an active angel investor and entrepreneurial mentor in the community. And that’s just a few examples from one city.

Meanwhile, Midwestern universities are actively working to develop the kind of talent startups need, challenging their students to think more entrepreneurially and encouraging them to start their own businesses. In Northeast Ohio alone, all of the region’s 22 colleges and universities have collegiate entrepreneurship programs, many of which also include experiential learning components, such as Cleveland State University’s Startup Vikes program.

And let’s not forget the rise of Midwestern coding bootcamps such as The Software Guild, TechElevator and WeCanCodeIt; or the many talented young people—from entrepreneurs and web developers to the greatest basketball player in the world—who are boomeranging back to the Midwest and bringing their talents back with them. 

Myth Two: There’s No Capital For Entrepreneurs

Did you know that, according to the 2016 NVCA Yearbook, more than $2.2 billion in venture capital was invested in the Midwest in 2015, the highest amount since 2001? Capital is always a concern for entrepreneurs, but there is money available, and more and more investors are starting to see the potential of tapping into the region’s grossly underserved market.

In the meantime, local investors are stepping up to provide much of the early financial (and intellectual) capital to help local startups grow. In Ohio, 75 percent of the capital prior to Series B rounds comes from local (statewide) sources, and these investors are continuing to ramp up their activity.

Right now my organization, JumpStart, is in the process of investing $40 million dollars into Ohio entrepreneurs over the next three years through three separate venture capital funds. Ohio also has five organized angel groups, including two of the nation’s largest, North Coast Angel Fund and Ohio TechAngel Funds.

Myth Three: There’s No Diversity

Silicon Valley is a diverse place, and accounted for nearly 50 percent of U.S. venture dollars invested in 2015. And yet, less than ten percent of U.S. startups backed by venture capital are led by women, and only one percent are headed by African-Americans. In addition, nearly 90 percent of all venture capital professionals are still Caucasian men and only 7 percent of the partners in the top venture firms are women.

Meanwhile, some in the Midwest—a region often stereotyped as being homogenous—are seizing a valuable opportunity to be diverse and inclusive, building both fully inclusive organizations such as TechTown, as well as targeted programs such as PowerMoves, driving a more diverse pipeline of entrepreneurs and creating a major competitive advantage. At JumpStart, more than 30 percent of the companies we advise or invest in are owned or led by women or people of color, and we recently took this commitment even further by creating the Focus Fund—a $10 million venture capital fund supported by the Case Foundation that focuses exclusively on female founders and entrepreneurs of color.

Myth Four: The Lower Cost Of Living Isn’t That Important

Most people already know that the general costs to start or run a tech business in the Midwest are lower than they are on the coasts. This is especially true for real estate—both commercial and residential—where Silicon Valley prices aren’t just high, they are the highest in the entire nation (New York City is right behind). Consequently, average salaries are also much higher.

But to grasp the true entrepreneurial advantages that come along with lower cost of living, you have to think less about dollars and more about time—specifically, how much time you have to make your startup successful before your venture runs out of runway. An entry level programmer salary for a company with fewer than 25 associates in the software industry in the Valley is ~$71K, while in the Midwest the average is ~$58K. That differential (almost 25 percent) is almost three months of time.

As you can see, it’s a very good time to be an entrepreneur in the Midwest. But no matter where you call home, don’t let these kinds of myths keep you from chasing your goals. Focus on whatever key competitive advantages your location offers, and remember that success is mostly determined by hard work and strong business fundamentals—not geography.

The Myth of the “E Word”

The Myth of the “E Word” is the sixth post in the Case Foundation’s Myth of the Entrepreneur series. This series is intended to intentionally examine, and change, the stories our culture tells about entrepreneurship. For more information on the Case Foundation’s approach to the Myth series and Inclusive Entrepreneurship, please check out our introductory piece. We encourage you to join the conversation using #Ent4All on Twitter.

*Special thanks to Calvin Millien, intern with the Case Foundation, for his contributions to this blog.

Our Myth of the Entrepreneur series has taken a hard look at how the mythology of entrepreneurship and the media portrayal of entrepreneurs have created an archetype and “face” of an entrepreneur that are so exclusive that they become barriers to diversifying entrepreneurship, both demographically—particularly women and entrepreneurs of color—and geographically—beyond Silicon Valley.

So far, we’ve explored the Myths of Isolation, Combat, Failure and STEM-only, and tried to bust the myths that may be marginalizing entire classes of entrepreneurs our society needs to help grow our economy and strengthen our communities. And over the past year, as I’ve engaged with women and entrepreneurs of color, I’ve had this nagging thought—what if the term “entrepreneur” itself is a barrier to both expanding and diversifying entrepreneurship? I hypothesize that the Silicon Valley entrepreneur stereotype that has become the go-to brand for entrepreneurs makes it harder for non-male, non-white, non-Silicon Valley based, non-technology based founders to self-identify as “entrepreneurs.”

I’ve accumulated plenty of anecdotal data that suggests that women in particular don’t self-identify as “entrepreneurs” as comfortably and confidently as men do, even when they have a much clearer idea of the problem they are solving for. “Well, I’m no Bill Gates,” is a common refrain. Or “Well, I didn’t invent Snapchat, I’m just running a café that employs at-risk youth.” Women have even come right out and written pieces like, “I’m Not a Real Entrepreneur,” which detail the ways they don’t fit into this stereotypical cultural mold, including how being a woman—especially a woman with children—excludes them from the category.

And then there’s the quantitative research: women are 2x less likely to perceive themselves as able to be entrepreneurs and hold themselves to a stricter standard of competence when compared to similarly situated men. This gender gap in self-assessment explains in part the gender gap in entrepreneurship.

Babson College has identified a multitude of factors that are affecting women’s entrepreneurship, but the codification of this vision of the successful male entrepreneur is a significant hurdle for women. Candida Brush states in Forbes:

“The male-gendering of entrepreneurship has been portrayed in the popular media for decades and even in academic case materials, where the protagonists of entrepreneurship cases are almost always male. The perpetuation of this gender stereotype means that because women do not fit the gender stereotype for ‘entrepreneur’ they face higher hurdles in starting, growing and sustaining their ventures.”

Look, It’s pretty easy to see why it might be hard for the word entrepreneur to feel inclusive. Google “top 10 entrepreneurs.” Here’s your image:

Google Results Entrepreneur

As human beings, we respond to the messages we receive from the world around us about who should take risks, who should assert themselves, who should lead. You can’t be what you can’t see, and so we need to break the mold, rewrite the narrative, Lean In, and change the face of the entrepreneur.

It just might be that intention to be inclusive in entrepreneurship may well be hindered by the exclusionary power of the word “entrepreneurship” itself. So, the impending question becomes, what is an alternative title? We’ve been throwing around a few here: Founder, Maker, Hustler. And then there are the more traditional roles that may bring a wider group to the table: CEO, Small-Business Owner.

Or maybe as Noah Kagan of AppSumo recommends, “instead of calling yourself an entrepreneur, focus on what you actually help people do” and let that be your “title.”

Are you an “entrepreneur” or someone who does the job but doesn’t feel the title? Share your ideas on alternates to the “e-word” and join the conversation at #Ent4All!

The Myth of STEM; The Only Way

The ‘Myth of STEM; The Only Way’ is a guest blog post from Johnathan M. Holifield, Co-founder of ScaleUp Partners LLC, and is the fifth blog post in the Case Foundation’s Myth of the Entrepreneur series. This series is intended to intentionally examine, and change, the stories our culture tells about entrepreneurship. For more information on the Case Foundation’s approach to the Myth series and Inclusive Entrepreneurship, please check out our introductory piece. We encourage you to join the conversation using #Ent4All on Twitter.

I can hear my friends now, invoking an old sports adage about winning to insist that “STEM isn’t everything; it’s the only thing!” These champions of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education are made members of the whimsically branded STEM Mafia, fiercely advocating that the path to innovation and entrepreneurship is paved with engineering and computer science degrees.

It’s well-settled that improving U.S. economic competitiveness requires a lot more Americans with high levels of proficiency and expertise in STEM. In fact, STEM is already a national education and economic priority. And for sure, STEM disciplines power a disproportionately large number of job-creating, higher growth enterprises, enable enormous efficiency and productivity gains and represent many of our top employment opportunities. However, as important as STEM is to our economy, a focus on it alone is too limiting. It will be insufficient to generate enough American innovators to create the companies and fill the jobs we’re counting on to fuel U.S. economic prosperity, and particularly limiting in terms of driving inclusive growth and innovation.

Entrepreneurship is fueled by more than just science; it is also fueled by art. So let’s incorporate the “A” for art and evolve STEM to STEAM.

The Innovation Economy demands new education and entrepreneurship models and interdisciplinary solutions that combine imagination and creativity with technological skills. There is growing recognition that to be successful in technical fields, individuals also must be creative and use critical thinking skills that are nurtured through exposure to the arts. By de-emphasizing the role that art plays in entrepreneurship, we may be making it harder for certain segments of the population to see themselves as business owners, changemakers and problem solvers.

Simply put, the increasingly, if not definitively, false choice between “soft art” or “hard science” should be rejected. Recalling the Schoolhouse Rock cartoon of my childhood, Conjunction Junction, it’s clear that the best function to improve entrepreneurship and employment outcomes is to adopt the right conjunction—and. STEM and art; not STEM or art.

STEAM embraces all of the nation’s critical STEM imperatives, while complementing and enhancing them in at least four important ways. STEAM:

  • Addresses employers’ need to attract and retain creative, problem-solving workers;
  • Introduces market applications and entrepreneurship opportunities for STEM-based intellectual property (IP);
  • Connects deep and diverse sources of untapped talent to entrepreneurship and employment;
  • Turns STEM’ers into entrepreneurs.

In terms of 21st century employment, the abilities to work collaboratively across many disciplines, to challenge current practice and develop new solutions and opportunities—clearly more art than science—are highly desired skills. In fact, an IBM global study of more than 1,500 CEOs from 60 countries and 33 industries found that the most important skill needed to successfully navigate an increasingly complex, volatile and uncertain world is creativity.

Art is also vital to higher growth enterprise and job creation. STEM may create a considerable amount of the IP produced by innovators and researchers and builds skills needed to drive Innovation Economy priorities, but by introducing creative market applications, art makes such IP and skills useful across a broader spectrum of our economy, achieving greater positive impact.

By moving STEM-based IP from the laboratories and workshops in our basements, garages, colleges, universities and corporations into markets where they can have the most impact, STEAM is the market application force for STEM. Many skills needed to translate technological innovations into thriving businesses—like design, marketing and communication, executive leadership, collaboration, technology transfer and more—are rooted in art.

Letting go of the myth that all job-creating, higher growth entrepreneurs come from STEM backgrounds and embracing STEAM enables us to connect new talent to new opportunities. Over the past decade, women’s share of undergraduate degrees has steadily increased, representing about 57 percent of bachelor’s degrees awarded by U.S. institutions in 2012. However, the share of women earning STEM degrees has not increased, holding remarkably steady at about 37 percent.

The number of Blacks earning bachelor’s degrees increased by an impressive 41 percent, and the number of Hispanics earning undergraduate degrees increased by an extraordinary 85 percent in the last dozen or so years. Unfortunately, as the rates of Black and Hispanic students earning college degrees have increased, when it comes to STEM, they’re not keeping pace with their peers. By age 24, Blacks will comprise only 2.7 percent and Hispanics just 2.2 percent of the U.S. STEM graduate population.

Together, these groups represent a huge quantity of non-STEM talent—too much talent to remain on the sidelines as benchwarmers merely watching the game instead of performing in the game as dynamic economic competitors and contributors. With today’s relentless competition for jobs and opportunity around the world, sustaining our nation’s global economic leadership will require greater contributions from many more Americans—including these groups.

Without distracting from worthy efforts to improve STEM education attainment of women, Blacks and Hispanics, STEAM provides a complementary means to identify, capture and connect the growing cache of non-STEM talent and creativity to top entrepreneurship and employment opportunities. More people making more contributions as job-creating, higher growth entrepreneurs and higher value, intrapreneurial employees will surely provide our nation competitive advantages.

As for STEAM transforming STEM’ers into entrepreneurs, “lean startup” guru and successful entrepreneur, Steve Blank sums up the role of startup founders and employees by comparing them to artists and composers:

Founders fit the definition of a composer: they see something no one else does. And to help them create it from nothing, they surround themselves with world-class performers. This concept of creating something that few others see—and the reality distortion field necessary to recruit the team to build it—is at the heart of what startup founders do. It is a very different skill than science, engineering, or management.

Blank’s analogy is spot on. Developing supplementary skills that unleash their full potential, STEAM is the conduit through which STEM’ers pass to become entrepreneurs.

Shifting from STEM to STEAM bolsters our efforts to construct new narratives—inclusive narratives—around entrepreneurship, innovation, employment and economic competitiveness. Advocating that STEM is the only thing deprives our nation of the chance to fully engage a diverse array of talent who can be the innovative, job-creating entrepreneurs and top performing employees our economy sorely needs. Nothing more is at stake than our sustained economic prosperity.

Taking a cue from James Brown: All Aboard . . . the STEAM Train!

Our guest author, Johnathan M. Holifield, is Co-founder of ScaleUp Partners LLC and author of a forthcoming book about Inclusive Competitiveness and our country’s unique opportunity for shared economic prosperity. Learn more here: The Future Economy and Inclusive Competitiveness. You can connect with him on Twitter at @TheTrimTabber.

The Myth of Failure

The Myth of Failure is the fourth post in the Case Foundation’s Myth of the Entrepreneur series. This series is intended to intentionally examine, and change, the stories our culture tells about entrepreneurship. For more information on the Case Foundation’s approach to the Myth series and Inclusive Entrepreneurship, please check out our introductory piece. We encourage you to join the conversation using #Ent4All on Twitter.

The Myth of the Entrepreneur series is based on research conducted by Michael Chodos, former fellow with the Case Foundation and currently at the Beeck Center for Social Impact & Innovation at Georgetown University, with contributions from Aaron Coleman, former Case Foundation intern.

Failure is a core part of the story of entrepreneurship. Each year about 6 million new businesses start up, but they don’t last long. By five years, half are gone. By 20 years, almost all are gone.

In most of our discussions around entrepreneurship, the genuine agony, trauma and shame around failure is discussed solely as a learning experience and bump on the road to inevitable success. We promote and analyze the building of a startup, but we leave the failure part untouched until the entrepreneur has been successful with another venture. Then, that failure is lauded as an important part of their journey that made them who they are. But why wasn’t that important moment in the entrepreneurial journey something we cared about when the failure actually happened? What are the immediate learnings that could be shared?

At the Case Foundation, we understand the importance of failure. It is baked into our organization’s culture and a key part of our Be Fearless campaign. Failure is an important tool in the innovator’s toolbox. If we expected everyone to get it right on the first try, we wouldn’t have some of the most important inventions and innovations of our time. Many inventions happen incrementally, and many creative figures don’t have success their first time out. Henry Ford, Walt Disney, Steve Jobs, Oprah Winfrey and Steven Spielberg were all fired or rejected early on. Persistence and the ability to build upon past failure are what make breakthroughs happen. (Provigil) As Robert Sofia, a marketing consultant to the Fortune 500, writes, “The way in which we respond to our failures has the power to shape us. If we sulk, falter, and permanently fail, we risk being shaped in a damaging way. If we take specific steps to overcome our failures, learn from them, and improve as a result, they will make us stronger.”

But what about the downside of failure? Failure deeply affects the lives of the entire team, investors, vendors and customers. When a business goes under there are real, live people who lose their employment, families that lose their seed stage investing and entrepreneurs who can be left with overwhelming debt. The stories of why companies shut their doors can be learning opportunities for other ventures, but only if we have a culture that acknowledges that while failure to some degree is inevitable, it is not glorious and absolute failure is something that many entrepreneurs can’t afford.

When looking at the statistics on diversity in entrepreneurship, we must ask ourselves, “Are we setting up some groups to fail more than others? Or are we judging the failure of some entrepreneurs more harshly than others? And by idolizing failure, are we leaving out an entire class of entrepreneurs?” It’s easy to look at statistics like “failed entrepreneurs are far more likely to be successful in their second go-around, provided they try again” and miss the significance of that last part of the sentence – “provided they try again.” Women CEOs and CEOs of color already receive significantly less venture capital than their peers, yet we expect them to bounce back from failure just the same. But diverse entrepreneurs face additional obstacles. Because of the wealth distribution in this country, many families, particularly those of aspiring entrepreneurs of color, do not have the $20,000-$50,000 in “friends and family” funding to start a first venture, let alone a second. And if women are twice as likely as men to shut down their businesses because of lack of capital, we have to consider that factor when searching for ways to support women entrepreneurs during and after their first ventures.

Social science has begun to shed some light on the disproportionate affects diverse entrepreneurs may experience related to failure. Some researchers have begun to associate the stereotype threat, a phenomenon typically assessed in a classroom or test-taking setting, with success in other areas. Stereotype threat posits that if women entrepreneurs know that they are going to be judged more harshly when they’re pitching, they will have a worse performance. We must begin to assess the external biases that affect how we assess, value and judge all entrepreneurs, particularly those that are struggling or have survived a previous failure. And entrepreneurs must look for ways that they can begin to build up networks, mentors and role models that break down these stereotype threats and show they can survive all stages of growing a business, including possible failure.

Failure is not an enemy; it is a learning tool. At a macro level, it can free up workers to become the new team of newly forming entities that will hopefully be more efficient. It can free up entrepreneurs to pursue new ideas. And it can free up investment dollars for future ventures. However, to trivialize failure as some popular stories of entrepreneurship do or to call it a right of passage, it takes away from the seriousness of the risks entrepreneurs and their supporters face.

So the question is, how do we begin discussing failure in such a way that helps to mitigate disaster, while still celebrating entrepreneurial tenacity to overcome barriers and find success when the odds are stacked against them? And how do we ensure that failure doesn’t close the doors on entrepreneurs from particular backgrounds while leaving those doors open for others? At the end of the day, we still love the grit and determination of our entrepreneurial visionaries like Ford and Jobs, but it has to be a path available to all entrepreneurs with innovative ideas, not just the privileged few.

Join the conversation on Twitter at #Ent4All and be sure to check out the full Myth of the Entrepreneur series!

The Myth of Combat

The Myth of Combat is the third post in the Case Foundation’s Myth of the Entrepreneur series. This series is intended to intentionally examine, and change, the stories our culture tells about entrepreneurship. For more information on the Case Foundation’s approach to the Myth series and Inclusive Entrepreneurship, please check out our introductory piece. We encourage you to join the conversation using #Ent4All on Twitter.

The Myth of the Entrepreneur series is based on research conducted by Michael Chodos, former fellow with the Case Foundation and currently at the Beeck Center for Social Impact & Innovation at Georgetown University, with contributions from Aaron Coleman, former Case Foundation intern.

There’s no denying the natural draw of drama that comes from a good battle, whether in a sport arena, a courtroom or a theatrical stage — we love to see truth, virtue and value emerge from a defining moment of clash and competition. Think: Monday Night Football, Law & Order, Game of Thrones, The Voice, Hamilton.

So, it’s not entirely surprising that the act of proving worth through this type of “trial by combat” has also become prevalent in the entrepreneurial narrative — largely in the form of the ubiquitous pitch competition. Whether part of mainstream pop culture or down the street at our local accelerator, the dozens of pitch competitions that take place every day deliver one clear message: an entrepreneur’s true worth — and a venture’s true likelihood of success — is proven by how they perform at the pitch competition.

The ultimate example of this narrative plays out on the ever-popular reality TV show, Shark Tank. Contestant entrepreneurs appear in front of world-famous investors who hold the promise of tens of thousands or even a couple million in start-up money. They get the added benefit of face time in front of an at-home audience of nearly 10 million, and if your business and pitch sound right — and you can handle the volley of difficult “gotcha” questions from the investors — you can close a deal right then and there and the audience is left thinking your success is guaranteed.

But in reality, “winning” a pitch competition itself is a small and rare moment in most entrepreneurs’ journeys, and an over-celebration of pitch events runs the risk of perpetuating the myth that it is the only pathway to building a successful, sustainable business. Stories of winning pitch competitions do not ground the success narratives of Oprah Winfrey, Mark Zuckerberg, Lucy Peng or Steve Jobs. In fact, many of today’s most celebrated entrepreneurs would probably tell you that they would likely have lost a pitch competition in the earliest days of their companies (check out Brian Chesky’s Medium post on the many rejections he received on early pitches to raise money for AirBnB).

Building, scaling and sustaining a new business requires more than a “winning” pitch. It requires an entire support system — founders, investors, policymakers, consumers and many others — who can offer the long-term support of the entrepreneur’s dogged pursuit to solve the one problem identified as worthy of immense investments of their own time and treasure. Ecosystem builders like Mara Mentors, Forward Cities, PowerMoves and 1776 understand this; they see the pitch and everything else. For those who have concerns that the pitch competition — and the myth that it is the only path to successfully starting a business — may be disadvantaging women entrepreneurs and entrepreneurs of color, innovations on the model are cropping up. Village Capital has introduced a “peer selection model,” and Springboard Enterprises has its “Dolphin Tank” which, in their words “isn’t… a competition for the best idea, it’s about channeling the expertise of the people in the room to provide connections and advice to help entrepreneurs take the next step.” And crowdfunding platforms are proving to be a more successful onramp for women and minority entrepreneurs. Groups and models like these provide entrepreneurs with access to the collaborative networks and connections they’ll need to scale and solve meaningful problems.

Wins and losses, and the learning that comes from both, are inevitable in entrepreneurship. No doubt pitch competitions can be great forums for showcasing entrepreneurial talent, surfacing new ideas, helping entrepreneurs hone in on their value proposition and generating feedback critical to the constant iteration that is part of building a business — and platforms like Shark Tank are tremendously helpful in raising the profile of entrepreneurs and innovators. My colleague Sheila Herrling and I also recently defended the role of pitch competitions in the nonprofit sector.

But as we seek to broaden the narrative around entrepreneurship it is important that we see beyond the excitement and drama that comes from a no holds barred “business death-match,” to the full scope of developing, nurturing and growing a diverse set of entrepreneurs leading sustainable businesses.

Join the conversation on Twitter at #Ent4All and be sure to check out the full Myth of the Entrepreneur series!

The Myth of Isolation

The Myth of Isolation is the second post in the Case Foundation’s Myth of the Entrepreneur series. This series is intended to intentionally examine, and change, the stories our culture tells about entrepreneurship. For more information on the Case Foundation’s approach to the Myth series and Inclusive Entrepreneurship, please check out our introductory piece. We encourage you to join the conversation using #Ent4All on Twitter.

The Myth of the Entrepreneur series is based on research conducted by Michael Chodos, former fellow with the Case Foundation and currently at the Beeck Center for Social Impact & Innovation at Georgetown University, with contributions from Aaron Coleman, former Case Foundation intern.

In our first deep dive into prevalent entrepreneurship myths in our culture, we’d like to tackle one of the biggest of them all – that all successful companies emerge from some solitary “moment of inspiration” in some solitary place. The idioms and the imagery – “light bulb moments” and garages where “it all started” – are deeply seeded in the narrative of what it takes to be an entrepreneur. Take a minute and think about the classic tales. It was in the garage that Steve Jobs invented the personal computer. It was in his basement that Alexander Graham Bell uttered those famous lines upon inventing the phone, “Watson, come here! I want to see you!” And Isaac Singer toiled away alone as he built the sewing machine from scratch.

All white men. All idolized for their solitary contributions to society. And all seen as having a stroke of genius while working by themselves in complete isolation. In our nation’s version of entrepreneur mythology, this magic takes place in the garage where the lone inventor works.

This myth is not only talked about in entrepreneurship circles, but even marketers have started using the “great things happen in a garage” sentiment to sell products. For a good example of this, watch the Cadillac ad below:

But it turns out the myths of the garage inventions and the lone inventors are more fiction than fact. Steve Jobs didn’t invent the personal computer in his garage – nor did he start Apple alone. Steve Wozniak pulled the first Apple computer together by tinkering with circuit boards along with a group of friends at the “Homebrew” computer club run out of a bicycle shop in Palo Alto; Jobs convinced him they could sell it.

And what we don’t hear about Bell’s invention of the telephone is that he built his version of the first telephone based on decades of similar designs from others. There was a wealth of knowledge and work on behalf of other brilliant individuals that contributed to Bell’s truly remarkable invention that altered humanities communication forever.

Singer has a similar entrepreneur experience with the invention of his sewing machine. While he’s credited with the invention, he built his work off of decades of incremental inventions by other engineers and designers. At least eighty patents for designs and working machines existed before his first patent was filed. In fact, he was successfully sued for infringing oth­ers’ patented designs.

This “teamwork disguised as individual successes” phenomenon is rarely talked about in mainstream entrepreneurship stories. It leads us to idolize the individual instead of analyzing the team and process that made the idea come to fruition. Steve Johnson, in his book How We Got to Now, takes a deep dive into six innovations that were highly collaborative and involved in how they developed. He discusses inventors like Bell and Thomas Edison, who we think of as lone innovators who had a stroke of genius, and breaks down the real life process that led to inventions that changed the course of history. Thomas Edison gets the credit for inventing the light bulb, but his “light bulb moment” was actually a much more common iterative process of building off the successes and failures of others in the space.

Entrepreneurship requires work, drive and guts; however, what these four changemakers’ stories reveal is that developing the idea and building the product or service requires the knowledge and contribution of both present and historical peers and networks. It requires the diversity of ideas and perspectives of many pioneering men and women who come together to build on both past and current work, while creating a support system that uplifts an entrepreneur and propels a business.

As research shows, the most successful ventures involve teamwork. A 2013 report published in the Harvard Business School Review (HBR) found that companies with leaders who possess both inherent diversity (gender, ethnicity and sexual orientation) and acquired diversity (robust and varied business and life experiences) were, “45 percent more likely to report that their firm’s market share grew over the previous year and 70 percent more likely to report that the firm captured a new market.” And HBR isn’t alone. Forbes, McKinsey and Company and Scientific American have all published articles and studies that reinforce the theory that greater inclusivity breeds innovation and growth. When we look at the historical facts of great innovations like Apple and the telephone, we see that their success was based on teams. And we see that diverse teams produce greater returns for their investors.

So why do we keep lifting up tales of solitary entrepreneurs from privileged backgrounds working in suburban garages as the ones to emulate? And why do we hold so dear to the idea of lone rangers having singular moments of discovery?

The history and the future of entrepreneurship are full of interesting and diverse characters and stories of great teamwork – and much more interesting than the myths and the models that continue to dominate the narrative. The most powerful ideas are really borne out of a “village”, more than they are happened upon in a rare “aha moment” by a single entrepreneur working in the isolation of their garage, dorm room or basement. Changing that narrative to better reflect reality has the potential to actually make it a reality for more people, in more places, from more backgrounds.

Join the conversation on Twitter at #Ent4All and be sure to check out the full Myth of the Entrepreneur series!

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.