The Influencers

The Influencers

Bill Drayton
An early recipient of a MacArthur "genius grant," Bill Drayton founded Ashoka, a global association of social entrepreneurs who aim to solve the world's most urgent social problems. Among Drayton's innovations is an open source online community for sharing ideas and results.

The man behind a new social movement has advice for everyday entrepreneurs, too: The success of any group depends on the proportion of people in it who are change-

makers. Says Drayton, "You cannot run an 'everyone-a-change-maker' organization [autocratically]."

Ben Bernanke
We've got a sub-prime lending fiasco, troubling results for several financial corporations, and banks are starting to hoard credit. At the center of all this is Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke. His options may be limited, but he'll be powerful in 2008; some experts believe any further interest rate cuts may trigger inflation. Says banking consultant Bert Ely, "The focus is going to be on steering the economy away from a housing-related recession." The focus will also be on Ber-nanke, as he promises more openness on how the central bank makes its decisions.

Software as a Service
Five years ago, you needed a hard drive to access important documents. Now you can have your entire desktop online. Web e-mail accounts were the early versions of this trend, but it's gone far beyond that. Investment banking firm TripleTree forecasts the SaaS market may exceed 40 percent of the total software market, or $50 billion, by 2010. "As [SaaS] proliferates, entrepreneurs will be the biggest winners," predicts Stephen Wiehe, president and CEO of SciQuest, an SaaS provider.

Shrinking Middle Class
Working longer, commuting farther, sinking financially--that's how The Trends Journal described the average member of the U.S. middle class last year. The nation's "barbell economy" with its thinning middle class will only get worse, says publisher Gerald Celente. He points to new IRS data which shows that 1 percent of the population earned 21.2 percent of all income in 2005--up from 19 percent in 2004--while the bottom 50 percent took in 12.8 percent--down from 13.4 percent the previous year. What can entrepreneurs do? Believe that the high cost of oil will have real consequences on buying power, and make it easy for clients to work with you, whether it's with convenient locations or via the internet and other technologies.

Auction of TV Airwaves
January brought a landmark event that could reshape the way you do business: the FCC auction of TV airwaves. "The next innovation leap in mobile media could occur from this [sale], because whoever controls [airwaves] will be able to deliver content, products and services into and out of the home rather easily and quickly," says Barbara Bickham, founder and CEO of TechGenii, a media and interactive strategy provider. These Superman frequencies can cross long distances, penetrate walls and carry loads of information in a single bound. Look for everything from enhanced search on TV and mobile phones to the possibility of new forms of communication altogether.

Mark Cuban and IPTV
Your TV and computer are blending, right in your own living room. If you don't believe it's happening, just consider IPTV, or Internet Protocol Television. That's personalized TV delivered over the internet. IPTV is poised to grow in 2008, and one reason why is Mark Cuban, owner of the Dallas Mavericks and co-founder of HDNet, an HDTV channel. "Cuban is a force," says Ajay Chopra, a venture partner with Trinity Ventures. "He's one of the guys driving the effort. Just because of who he is, he can push developments forward."

Health Care
For years, health care has been a major worry facing business owners. "This is an issue that scares entrepreneurs to death," says Alan Carsrud of Florida International University. You know the dilemma: If you don't offer employees health benefits, some talented prospects will pass you by in favor of companies that do. If you do, you are stuck with a rising expense that feels increasingly out of control. Proposed fixes include eliminating employers from the health-care equation entirely--although that seems a stretch. No doubt the 2008 elections will bring change to our national health-care policy. The question is what kind.

Google
It's hard to imagine a single U.S. entrepreneur untouched by Google. The company that turned into a verb and its web-enabled services have transformed the conversation about what computers can do for us. From its rumored gPhone and potential to run its own network to its investment in renewable energy research and plans in cell phone software, video advertising, audio and video podcasting, web-based storage, maps, satellite images and more, Google will remain essential to entrepreneurs in 2008.

Nydia Velázquez
Few politicians sought to land the unattractive job of chair of the U.S. House Committee on Small Business. But Rep. Nydia Velázquez (D-NY) actively sought the leadership role and has brought great passion to the work. "If you're looking for a true small-business advocate, Nydia Velázquez is the number-one name," says Paul Miller, a small-business lobbyist with Miller/Wenhold Capitol Strategies. In her first year as chair, Velázquez saw the passage of 17 bills through the House. The bills ranged from helping businesses recover from disaster to assisting entrepreneurs in expanding their markets overseas. For 2008, her priorities include promoting small-business R&D and legislation to ease the regulatory burden felt by small firms.

Social Media
You've seen the articles exhorting entrepreneurs to find fame and fortune through social media. We're not sure about the fame part, but social media may help in terms of fortune. "Small-business relationships will become increasingly virtual," according to the "Intuit Future of Small Business Report." As more social networking and community sites focus on local issues, goods and services, it can pay to participate in them to build your professional network. Social media offers business support, too, by letting you connect with other entrepreneurs who understand what you're going through.

Socially Responsible Companies
Consumers care more than ever about corporate social responsibility. The "Edelman Trust Barometer 2007" found that top concerns include employee treatment and open communication about a company's conduct and impact, whether good or bad. Come clean, or your customers may learn the truth anyway through customer comments on blogs or websites. "People are looking for responsible products, and they're willing to pay a premium," says Chris Deri of PR firm Edelman. "Take advantage of your smaller size and be nimble enough to be responsive to those demands."

Mobile Media
"The shift to mobile is accelerating," says Andy Belt of The Monitor Group. "Many major markets, such as India, are growing up wireless." That helps account for the 3.3 billion mobile subscrib-ers expected worldwide by 2010. The revolution brings the promise of highly targeted mobile advertising. Retailers are creating services just for mobile devices. Other innovators are designing fresh ways for search and social media to go mobile. Verizon opening its network to other phones may lead to a broader range of choices from all the carriers. Advances in mobile data services will help business owners communicate more easily with customers. Every entrepreneur needs to think about his or her place in this shift.

Andrea Cooper has written for Time, National Geographic Online and other major outlets.

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