Based on chapter 32 of The International Handbook on Responsible Innovation, “Responsible innovation in a culture of entrepreneurship: a US perspective” Co-authored with Elizabeth Garbee.
In the spring of 2013 and for the next two years, I taught a new course on entrepreneurial ethics as a part of the new University of Michigan Master of Entrepreneurship program. The course was unusual on two fronts. First, it explored and developed concepts in a hands-on way that would provide budding entrepreneurs with a practical grounding in socially responsive and sustainable innovation. Second, it was part of a program reflecting a growing trend across the USA of training and empowering the next generation of entrepreneurs as key drivers of economic growth and prosperity. Both the program and the course captured a growing awareness of the importance of translating individual creativity and drive into successful enterprises, and the responsibility that comes from this, particularly given the capacity of the emerging technologies that are so often integral to entrepreneurship to enable great good, or cause great harm.
At the start of the class each year, I asked students what they truly wanted to achieve, and which of their personal goals drew them toward becoming entrepreneurs. Predictably, one or two students each year admitted to wanting to make money. Yet the vast majority of class participants had more pressing aims. They wanted to reduce poverty and suffering, help treat disease, increase health and well-being, improve education, and protect and enhance the environment. To these students, becoming an entrepreneur meant, more than anything else, the opportunity to make the world a better place.
Such aspirations are easy to dismiss as the dreams of the young and naive. Yet among entrepreneurs — even those who are well established — there is often a prevailing drive to do good, using whatever ideas, means and opportunities are available to them. This is a perspective that, in principle, should make the entrepreneurial community early adopters of the…