The myth of the twenty-something entrepreneur

This article in readwrite confirms something I have suspected for a long time: that most successful entrepreneurs are not twenty-three and worth a billion dollars. In fact, according to the article, "...twice as many successful entrepreneurs are over 50 as under 25. A whopping 75% have more than six years of industry experience and 50% have more than 10 years when they create their startup."

Clean water and cheap power--two for one

Dean Kamen, one of the most innovative inventors in recent times, has designed breakthrough wheelchairs that can go up and down stairs and is the man behind the two wheeled Segway electric scooter.

USDA's Dorr says quality of life a key factor for rural communities

Tom Dorr is one of the most knowledgeable people in the Federal government when it comes to rural issues. At a seminar in Iowa, Dorr discussed a key advantage that he thinks rural communities have when attracting entrepreneurs--quality of life (hat tip to EDPro).

Maryland tech councils merge

Two statewide tech councils in Maryland have merged so that they can provide a clearer voice for technology businesses in the state.

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This Little Light of Ours

Frank Maguire is the cofounder of FedEx, and this article reports on a recent speech he gave about passion, success, and the determination to make things work. Among his comments was this statement.

"There's a light in each one of you and it's bigger than you ever thought and it's on your side," he said. "Turn on your light. You can do it, regardless of your circumstances."

T-Mobile: another IT failure

On another mailing list, I heard about a T-Mobile Web page that would tell you what kind of signal you are likely to get at a given street address in the U.S. Because U.S. Cellular offers nothing but bottom of the bin cellphones (they are not big enough to get deals to sell phones like the Treo 650), I thought I'd check T-Mobile.

The company has never had coverage in Blacksburg, but I thought I'd try again, since I have not checked with them lately. So I went to the page, typed in my street address, city, state, and zip code, pressed the button, and voila.

I got back a message saying "Input zip code is invalid."

Wow. That's interesting. Either T-Mobile is trying to tell me I live in an "invalid" place, or there is a bug in their code, or it's a really awful way of saying they have no coverage in my area.

Pick any one of those three choices, and you get to the same conclusion--somebody screwed up, either by not testing it adequately and/or by failing utterly to do a basic software ergonomics review to make sure the "error" messages made sense.

My guess: This little app was outsourced to a software shop in India, which did a bang up job of banging out the code cheaply and producing a slick little application. But you get what you pay for. Outsourced contractors rarely care much about little details like this; they are under the gun to get the work done quickly and cheaply for the client, and so they don't have the luxury of dotting the i's and crossing the t's.

At the same time that we see big companies getting bigger by relentless costcutting and globalization of production, why is there a parallel rise in small, entreprenuerial enterprises? Because the small entrepreneur has more skin in the game--he or she has to produce high quality stuff to be competitive. A two hundred person coding shop in India just has to get the next job. It's not either/or here....both have their place, and both can provide useful services.

Getting businesses online

One of the best ways to create new jobs in your region is to make sure the businesses that are already in the community have access to good advice, including advice and guidance on technical matters.

The traditional role of the economic developer in the Manufacturing Economy was to recruit jobs from other parts of the country. But that has not been an effective primary strategy for many years. In a global economy, many traditional manufacturing jobs have moved offshore, and no amount of tax incentives are going to change that.

A diversified economic development strategy would put more time and resources into helping existing businesses grow. And there is plenty of simple and effective things that can be done. For example, I still find many businesses have poorly designed Web sites. Why not use some ED funds to pay for Web site critiques and reviews of business Web sites? This could be done on a 50% match basis to ensure that the businesses are likely to take the advice seriously.

As an example of how bad things could be, I just found a business with this statement on their "Contact Us" page:

To email us, order a free catalog, check on an order, etc., please call 1-800-829-xxxx.

I'm not making this up--to email the company, you have to call them first! Here is a business that has apparently been asleep for the past ten years, and still does not recognize that current and potential customers may want to email the company. I find that the majority of small businesses are still not taking the Web seriously, largely because they simply don't know what to do.

Part of the problem is not their fault. Too many businesses have been burned badly with bad advice. There are basically two ways to get help with a business Web site.

  • You can go to a Web design shop. These outfits are often expert at building the Web site, but don't always have in-house expertise to help with marketing and business integration issues. So businesses end up with costly Web sites that don't actually have any impact on the business.

eBay and business

There is the old joke that goes like this:

"There are two kinds of people in the world--those that divide people into two groups, and those that don't."

At the risk of self parody, there are two kinds of people in the world (and I'm broadly overgeneralizing, of course)--those that use eBay and those that don't.

For those that don't, the eBay phenomenon is a bit of mystery. From a certain distance, EBay is cluttered with junk, trivia, excess, and silliness. But it also is a terrific business transaction mechanism, for both formal and informal business.

How work gets done: Social networks in practice

The Hidden Power of Social Networks (by Rob Cross and Andrew Parker) is the Book of the Month.

In the Manufacturing Economy (1850 to 1950), where you were located mattered because stuff was heavy. Being near an airport, a highway, or a river was a key part of an economic development strategy. In the Information Economy (1950 to 2000), what you had mattered. What kind of technology you had--computers, networking equipment--often created a competitive edge, especially in the last ten years of that era.

Customer service in the Knowledge Economy

We hear continually about the "problems" of the airlines. I had a few problems with an airline myself yesterday as thunderstorms buffeted the East Coast and snarled up traffic.

I was trying to leave Manchester, Vermont and get back to Roanoke, Virginia. Under normal conditions, the two leg journey (through Dulles in D.C.) takes just four hours. Yesterday, it took ten hours, mostly for no good reason.

Knowing the weather was causing problems, I showed up at the Manchester airport about four hours before my scheduled flight. At the ticket counter, United refused to book me on an earlier flight unless I paid $100 extra. I persisted, and I was told I could try standby for no extra fee, so I opted for that. I went through security and went up to the gate where the earlier flight was leaving, and discovered that the noon flight to Dulles was just getting loaded (four hours late...a bad sign).

I tried getting on, but the gate attendants refused to talk to several of us on later flights that wanted to get out. Talking among ourselves, we decided it was a lost cause, and a couple businesspeople left to go get some dinner. I lingered at the counter for another minute, and a different gate attendant walked up and asked if anyone else needed to go to D.C. I stepped up, and she said, "Oh, you need to go on this flight, because your flight is canceled." Huh? I'd been at this gate for nearly an hour, and no announcement had been made. When did they plan to tell me? She changed my ticket and put me on the plane, which had at least a dozen empty seats. They held the plane a bit longer, and filled all the seats. So far, so good, I figured...I'd get home tonight.

When I got to Dulles, I tried to repeat that. I went to the gate where an earlier Roanoke flight (late) was leaving. They had just started boarding, and I counted only about fifteen people getting on a fifty seat regional jet. Several of us tried to get rebooked on the flight, but the gate attendants ignored us. Finally the flight left, and I was able to get one of them to direct me to the gate where my flight was leaving.

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Where the jobs are

The Thursday New York Times had a fascinating article on the op-ed page (page A27) that is worth chasing down if you can snag a copy. It's a graphic and a couple of paragraphs on data from the Federal Reserve Bank about where the jobs are and are not. The bar graph really helps clarify and make understandable the changes we have been seeing in the job market over the past several years. It's no surprise that in the "Manual Dexterity," "Muscle Power," and "Formulaic Intelligence" categories, steep declines are being registered (Formulaic Intelligence includes jobs like bookkeepers, clerks, and typists--work that technology is shifting).

Steep increases have been registered in "People Skills and Emotional Intelligence" (financial services sales, nurses, recreation workers, lawyers), "Imagination and Creativity" (actors, architects, designers, photographers, cosmetologists), and "Analytic Reasoning" (legal assistants, scientists, engineers).

The authors, who include the chief economist at the Federal Reserve, note that Americans have, many times in the past, adjusted to changing economic conditions and have learned new skills. They also note that whenever these shifts take place, in the long run, people end up with better jobs that pay more. Finally, they note that "trying to preserve existing jobs will prove futile."

Communities need to learn what the jobs of the future are and make sure the training is available for them. The best thing about this--many of these jobs do NOT require four years of college. Two year colleges and trade institutes can pro

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