Why 'Knowledge Entrepreneurship' Is Taking Off

A new class of entrepreneurs has emerged with technological advances in online learning and connectivity.
Why 'Knowledge Entrepreneurship' Is Taking Off
Image credit: Oscar Wong | Getty Images
Entrepreneur Leadership Network Writer
CEO of Thinkific
6 min read
Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

If this year has taught us anything, it’s how quickly things can change. As much as we’ve seen the way we live and work upended over the last six months, we’ve also seen new opportunities emerge, especially in the realm of entrepreneurship

One promising area for those looking to start a is sharing, and selling, skills and knowledge online.

In early 2019, the online course market was forecast to be worth $300 Billion by 2025, and the coronavirus has only accelerated that timeline. Layoffs, furloughs, and changes in work structure have prompted more people than ever to take their careers into their own hands. Increasingly, many are realizing the promise — and profits — in building a business based on their most valuable assets: the skills and knowledge they already possess. 

With a low barrier to entry, advances in that make creating courses easier, and a growing spotlight on , a new class of entrepreneurs is surging during the crisis.

Related: COVID-19 Will Fuel the Next Wave of Innovation

The rise of the knowledge entrepreneur 

Crisis demands creativity. In the early days of the pandemic, fitness studios, hair salons, health and wellness coaches and other businesses reliant on in-person services faced a choice: Close their doors, wait out the storm, and risk permanent closure, or reinvent themselves. While many brick-and-mortar businesses struggled to maintain revenue streams through lockdowns and social distancing, others found opportunity by moving their expertise online. 

From the proliferation of at-home workout classes to professional development courses for everyone, the pandemic has prompted many businesses to recognize the inherent benefits of selling skills, not just in-person services or products. Aveda, Orangetheory, and Hootsuite are just some of the household brands that have leaned into online instruction in recent months, but the opportunities are by no means limited to established organizations. 

Part of the growth of knowledge entrepreneurship is the fact that it’s open to anyone. A knowledge entrepreneur doesn’t have to be an expert, a celebrity or have the backing of an established business. They simply have a skill, knowledge, or passion that they want to share as part of creating or scaling a business. This is particularly appealing at a time when people who may have previously been afraid to take the plunge into entrepreneurship are more emboldened to do so with their current job security in question. 

These newly minted solopreneurs account for the majority of courses we support, which more than tripled in March alone. Whether it’s turning a passion for guitar into passive income or building an empire on teaching the ins and outs of Excel, we’re seeing real, everyday people start viable businesses grounded in their own interests and expertise.   

Related: 10 Golden Rules for Digital Entrepreneurs of This Decade

Democratizing entrepreneurship 

Between investment, product, and distribution, starting a business was challenging even before the pandemic. Now, at a time when supply chains are disrupted and capital is even harder to come by, creating businesses that can be launched with little to no start-up costs and relatively no reliance on third-party suppliers has broad appeal. 

In contrast to the way traditional institutions have struggled to adapt educational models to our current era — contending with everything from technical glitches to clunky and impersonal instruction — knowledge entrepreneurs have been able to offer a seamless alternative. What’s allowed them to deliver great content, without the tens of thousands of dollars in overhead needed to launch a traditional business, is technology platforms. Thinkific and others like it are stepping up to do for knowledge entrepreneurs what tools like Squarespace and Wix did for web design and development, or Shopify has done for makers and retailers by removing the barrier to entry for people to create online courses. 

When the most optimistic projections assume 34 million in global job losses this year, knowledge entrepreneurship’s accessibility is an attractive hedge against economic uncertainty for people thinking of entering into entrepreneurship or pivoting their existing business. More than that though, online courses are serving an important social function, as well. 

Related: Democratizing Entrepreneurship

Fostering connection amidst uncertainty

It’s no surprise that internet usage surged in the early days of the lockdown, and as we brace for winter and a second wave, it’s likely to spike again. But the crisis hasn’t just altered the amount of time we spend online, it’s also changed what we do with it. Data collected this past spring shows that increased internet usage wasn’t due to more people mindlessly scrolling their phones or diving into in search of passive entertainment. Rather, it was the result of more people seeking genuine connection through video chat, interactive portals, and online learning. 

Those enrolling in online courses aren’t just seeking self-improvement through upskilling or exploring passions, they’re seeking as well. Knowledge entrepreneurs have stepped up to the task with responsive course designs that build community among subscribers and students. phenomenon Adriene Mishler already had a loyal following, but her Yoga with Adriene classes became a cult sensation in the early days of quarantine, amassing nearly 1 million new followers as students turned to her series. 

The draw wasn’t just due to her on-demand courses but to her carefully curated content that responded to the collective stress of the global health crisis and individual student feedback. Beyond that, Mischler made her students aware they’re connected to a wider community of millions, all practicing together. Unlike the detached celebrity instructors typical of platforms like Masterclass, knowledge entrepreneurs are uniquely positioned to give their students an experience more akin to mentorship, welcoming dialogue over one-way instruction. Gordon Ramsay won’t hop on a Zoom call to coach you through your crème brulee, but a knowledge entrepreneur’s DMs are open for feedback, suggestions, and questions.

As plugged in as we were before the crisis turned society upside down, this year has pushed our lives even further online. The disruption to our face-to-face interactions, coupled with existing trends has contributed to a perfect climate for knowledge entrepreneurship to grow. 

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