The Entrepreneurial Imperative
If you are reading this, there is a good chance you are an entrepreneur, or at least have an entrepreneurial mindset. If you aren’t yet, you hopefully aspire to be. Which is good news, because if you have the mindset of an employee and expect to rely on others for your future income and happiness, you are in deep trouble.
Over the past several decades we’ve come to expect that we could no longer rely on a single employer for our entire career. Not only have we come to expect changing employers, we now expect to be changing careers. Today, it seems likely that the combination of increasing income inequality and increasing life expectancy likely means many will be seeking a 4th or 5th career late in life. Say goodbye to a simple early retirement.
While many may debate the best course of action for our society, I don’t believe we have the luxury for such lengthy discussions. There is only one clear solution. We need to reshape the foundations of our societal system away from expectations of traditional employment and into more accessible and equitable inroads for entrepreneurship. Not only in terms of changing the primary values and expectations, but in regards to shifting our educational systems away from the vocational mindset into an entrepreneurial one.
Thankfully, there are now initiatives like Lambda School, investing in new models for developing programmers outside the traditional and often overly expensive educational pathways. More people are escaping the corporate rat race to become freelancers and entrepreneurs, bringing greater purpose to their work and seizing greater control over their lives. Government entities, organizations like Startup Weekend, community banks, corporate venture funds and universities are launching or supporting startup accelerators such as the Collider program at QUT Creative Enterprise Australia (CEA) with which I am working.
The “Entrepreneurial Imperative” is no longer a consideration for humanity, and especially those privileged enough to pursue their dreams, it is increasingly clear that it is a fundamental set of skills and ways of thinking necessary for society’s survival.
This shift is already happening as Millennials and others pursue numerous side hustles and a large number of older workers turn to Uber, AirBnB, Etsy, Ebay and other “on demand” or “sharing” economy platforms for additional and primary income. Whether it is to make ends meet, or to get ahead, our increasingly connected and digital society already presents more economic opportunities for those willing to put forth the effort. Unfortunately too many still do not have the awareness of these opportunities, or the belief and support in knowing that they too can seize them.
This must change. Not just so an already wealthy few may thrive, but so that many more will survive. So that more humans may find the best path to truly live and give their greatest gift to the world, and receive fair value for their contributions.
Unfortunately, there is still a foundational problem across the globe — our educational programs, government policies and market expectations are still wired to a world ruled by big business, big money and often bigger egos. Even while those of us fortunate to be on the front lines of our socioeconomic revolution clearly see the inevitable demise of the status quo, society simply isn’t preparing people to develop and embrace an entrepreneurial mindset.
To be clear, we must continue to develop vocational skills as well as expertise and talents around both functional and vertical roles. However, given the types and number of jobs about to disappear as a result of automation, we must provide students with a different kind of experiential education. Not only do we need to do a better job of developing critical thinking and communications skills, but we now also need to provide a deeper understanding of the process of innovation. Equally important is teaching them to be life-long learners and set them on the path for self-management, as well as personal, professional and organisational growth. These are core competencies of successful entrepreneurs, always seeking to improve, always adapting to the world and the market based on hypotheses tested and insights gained.
Today, more people than ever have begun to realize that it is imperative for us to provide every human with the mindsets, methods and means to be entrepreneurs. More specifically, given the world in which we expect to live in 2030, we should focus on areas where humans provide a unique and irreplaceable value relative to machines and artificial intelligence. I’m grateful to be working towards this goal now in my role as Entrepreneur in Residence with CEA, an innovation, entrepreneurship and venture company of Queensland University of Technology (QUT).
Based on my 25+ years of experience as a serial entrepreneur and futurist, the creative industries offers the best pathway to entrepreneurship for the largest number of people, leveraging their uniquely human talents. While AI and other technologies continue to provide us leverage that extends our resources and productivity, humans are innately creative and empathetic in a way that no machine can be. The creative industries provides significant but often underappreciated benefits to the Australian economy. The creative industries contribute $45.8 billion to Australia’s GDP generating $3.2 billion in annual exports. The industry also employs over 6.2% of the Australian workforce and is represented by over 123,000 registered businesses. Creative industries is the fastest growing market segment of the Australian economy in terms of its contribution to GDP, more than mining, tourism and agriculture.
QUT research indicates that employment in the creative industries is growing 40% faster than the Australian economy as a whole.
Supporting creative industries and creative people by encouraging a more entrepreneurial mindset and providing necessary skills training can be an exponential force for our economy. Given the amount of happiness we receive from creating and enjoying creations such as art, music, fashion, design and other creative pursuits such as film, the creative industries provides much more than economic returns. Some would argue that it is one of the leading factors contributing to an increase in “Gross National Happiness”.
In addition to the creative industries, there are growing opportunities for those pursuing a career focused around Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM). Given the combination of scientific advancement, technology and increasing life spans, there is an equally large opportunity in wellness/health, especially in light of human’s empathy that vastly improves patient outcomes and is not easily recreated by robots.
Time is short, and while change can happen in an instant, changing the foundational systems that drive our economy are going to take some time. Thankfully here in Queensland in particular, this effort is already underway in the governmental, financial, educational and social sectors.
Further, from my personal experience, I have found that QUT’s position as “a university for the real world” is more than a branding statement, it is the underlying reality I’ve experienced first-hand. Seeing the many ways in which QUT is strengthening its focus on entrepreneurship, particularly in the creative industries, makes me more optimistic about our potential future. The new QUT Entrepreneurship initiative to support all students across the university develop and strengthen their entrepreneurial competence through study, research and partnerships is particularly promising. Even going so far as to expand the ecosystem to include partnerships with other leaders such as MIT and CSIRO.
I’ve been fortunate to spend time learning about QUT Bluebox and the new expanded efforts for QUT Foundry and how it supports QUT students, alumni and staff to create social and commercial impact from their research, innovation and entrepreneurial initiatives. With CEA, I’ve had the chance to work with many year 2 and year 3 students while delivering entrepreneurial content in partnership with QUT’s Creative Industries Faculty. The Collider Accelerator Program I’m now leading has benefited from the Work Integrated Learning program, another example of developing practical, marketable skills for students.
These programs are all indicative of a leadership that ‘gets it’, but the pioneering work of CEA has been the tip of the spear, and I’m grateful for benefiting from the hard work put in by so many before me. Now there is an incredible group of talented, well intentioned and properly focused leaders who provide early stage venture capital to scalable, high growth creative tech companies; who facilitate startup accelerators such as Collider and Fashion360; who develop soft entrepreneurial skills within the wider community through programs like The Refinery (in partnership with Sunshine Coast Council, Sunshine Coast Creative Alliance and Sun Central — Maroochydore); and who engage with industry partners such as Virgin StartUp, HUBBA, Austrade, DFAT, Creative Business Cup, Advance Queensland and the Brisbane City Council. Then of course, there is the upcoming Creative3 conference on October 3 which will connect creativity, technology and enterprises!
Yet, there is much more to be done, and more innovative ways in which it should be done even further beyond the traditional systems of institutional thinking.
One of my favorite quotes is from futurist Howard Rheingold, author of “Virtual Community”, “Net Smart” and many other important works.
“What it is → is up to us”. — Howard Rheingold
Yes, we are in charge of our own fate as you may already believe. But more subtly and importantly here, is the reference to “US”, as in all of us together.
This is not the work of any one individual, or organization or a set of policies from a bureaucrat or a wealthy celebrity business personality. It no longer takes a village as the popular saying goes.
It takes an enlightened ecosystem, working together to create shared value by rethinking what we do and how we do it. So many of us have long held the belief that anything is possible. That we can do anything if we set our minds to it. I believe this to be true. I am living proof of it. So if we know the world can be better, why not work to make it better. If we know that we are soon facing a massive wave of unemployment, why not work to redesign the system today. Why not work together to create a more entrepreneurial society and develop the mindsets and skills necessary for this new world?
So instead of saying why support the Entrepreneurial Imperative? I invite you to ask why not?
Instead of simply working towards it on your own for your own personal and organisational benefit, I invite you to work together and transform our startup ecosystem into an enlightened one.
Author: Chris Heuer, Lead Entrepreneur in Residence for QUTCEA Collider Accelerator 2019.
1. Creative Industries Innovation Centre. (2013). Valuing Australia’s Creative Industries. Retrieved September 01, 2018 from http://livemusicoffice.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/CIIC-Valuing-Australias-Creative-Industries-2013.pdf
2. Bureau of Communications and Arts Research. (October 2018) Culture and creative activity in Australia 2008–09 to 2016–17, Working Paper. Retrieved 28 October 2018 from https://www.communications.gov.au/file/44131/download?token=4AdACJG9