Among the many unusual things one learns at a Croatian hackathon: 1. Coders are understood, globally, to be total badasses who thrive on sleep deprivation, and 2. post-hackathon, coders look like high holy hell, espresso-swilling, red-eyed vampires.
There are other, more useful things one learns at a hackathon in Croatia as well. The first of which is that hackathons are anchored on the very principles and idealism of entrepreneurship and are steeped in the traditions of a startup economy. Even if that economy has no idea what is happening. It's all about "creating something where nothing was."
The global appeal of entrepreneurship is newer than you might think. In America, its story arc is well-understood and accepted. Entrepreneurship is the ultimate freedom, a movement that is so deeply ingrained that we sometimes forget how lucky we are. It's what we do (Yankee ingenuity), and it's what we (generally) fight for. It is as much a part of our heritage as cowboys and horses. But it's not everyone's cultural heritage.
In other countries and cultures, the concept of entrepreneurship is so new that it's often misunderstood. In some places, individual freedom is feared. This was driven home to me at the aforementioned hackathon in Split, Croatia. It was a geek-out of epic proportions, but also a pageant of individuals trying to change the cultural fabric of a once-oppressed economy. It was a display of the human spirit.
In Croatia, the young generation is striving to emerge into relevance, create jobs and eradicate reliance on the government. The stories of the nascent startup culture are fascinating. And the energy, like the crystal-blue water of Split, was palpable, authentic and embraced.
Ivan Burazin, CEO of Codeanywhere and founder of Shift Conference, which puts on the hackathon, explained it to me this way: "To our country, a former member of Yugoslavia, the very idea of entrepreneurship is met with a steely eyed look of distrust. It is viewed, by some, as criminal activity."
Not so long ago, we were there, too. Right here in the U.S., entrepreneurship was at one time met with the same distrust as the mafia. Entrepreneurs in this country were judged as jobless, hopeless snake-oil salesmen. It is only within the last 20 years that entrepreneurship has become the aspirational journey and holy grail of bright-eyed, inspired and fearless youth.
And it is with that knowledge that we celebrate our Young Millionaires (see page 50). These are the faces and the inspiration of tomorrow. They are our brightest young talents and minds. Not only are they laying the foundation for greatness in this country for generations to come, but they are also inspiring a movement so important and widespread that global is too soft a description for it. It's a movement of self-reliance, equality and opportunity. It's the ultimate freedom.