Beyond Unicorns: Can We Democratize Access to Entrepreneurship?
It's time to pivot from a singular focus on "unicorns" to celebrate and uplift the millions of micro-entrepreneurs driving real growth.
In business, unicorns — startups valued at more than $1 billion — are big news. Record-breaking investments and IPOs make headlines as the media oohs and ahhs over startups experiencing rapid growth.
It’s inspiring to see this kind of business success. There’s just one issue: This focus on the top 1% doesn’t do justice to the large number of micro-entrepreneurs who have built small but vibrant businesses of their own.
Take the example of Ruru, an entrepreneur I met in Taipei a few years back. In her early 20s, Ruru had just finished college and was working full-time in video game design. She was curious about starting her own passion-driven business online. She didn’t have a sales background or business experience, but she did have a positive attitude and a network of fellow budding entrepreneurs to lean on — and, as it turns out, that’s really all she needed to thrive.
All around the world, millions of budding entrepreneurs like Ruru with a growth mindset are seeking new opportunities — and succeeding. The U.S. accounts for 3.7 million microbusinesses alone. Today, you don’t need to be a unicorn or have a pile of venture capital to pursue your passion and build a brand. Through micro-entrepreneurship, countless creators have found success in building a business of their own, largely part-time, with limited background or prior experience.
I think that’s headline-worthy — especially post-pandemic as many people have either been left unemployed or questioning their career goals.
At the same time, previously underrepresented and overlooked groups are being brought into the entrepreneurial fold, including large numbers of women. Chat platform Meesho, for instance, counts seven million entrepreneurs among its user base, 80% of whom are women, all running their businesses with no upfront capital investment. And the economic and social imperative for women’s economic empowerment is clear: Greater gender equality boosts economic growth, which in turn leads to better development outcomes. In fact, a McKinsey Global Institute study found that advancing women's equality could add $12 trillion to the global economy by 2025.
But how did this happen? And how can we encourage even more people to make the leap into this new era of micro-entrepreneurship?
Why entrepreneurship is more accessible than ever
Multiple trends are poised to fuse in a way that will forever change the way we think of entrepreneurship.
For starters, we’ve seen a surge in demand for corporate workplace flexibility. Across the globe, there is strong appetite— particularly among Millennials and Gen Z — for the freedom to work wherever, whenever. People are increasingly willing to walk away from jobs that don’t meet their demands for working on their own terms.
This ties in neatly with the simultaneous rise of the passion economy, in which people are turning their passions into viable businesses using social platforms and technology. By building online communities (through sharing content, tips, products and services around things they love most), these “creators” are now able to monetize their passions and interests like never before, all from the comfort of home, on their own schedule.
Finally, intuitive and easy-to-use technology — indeed, the same platforms we already use for social networking — have democratized access to audiences and enabled the cultivation of communities that mingle personal passions and business interests. Social media lowers the barrier to entry for entrepreneurs of all stripes across the world: No brick-and-mortar shop, no big business loans and no marketing budget required. If you can build a community around your passion, even if it’s just 100 dedicated followers, you’re set up for success.
This demand for flexible work arrangements, the rise of the passion economy, and powerful social networking tools have the potential to unleash micro-entrepreneurship at an unprecedented scale. But there’s one critical missing piece in the quest to truly democratize entrepreneurship.
Mentorship is what micro-entrepreneurs need most
For any new creator, having a mentor to get advice from or bounce ideas off is invaluable. Especially in times of uncertainty, as we are all finding new ways to work and connect with colleagues and customers virtually, mentorship is critical.
In fact, Mentorly, a digital marketplace for mentorship, has experienced a 457% spike in growth since the pandemic started. I’ve seen first-hand at my company that mentorship is often the key ingredient to the success of a new business owner.
This doesn't have to be a formal, top-down relationship. Micro-entrepreneurs today have access to an incredible wealth of free expert insights via platform training programs. YouTube’s Creator Academy, Facebook’s Creator Studio, LinkedIn Learning and offerings on other social platforms provide robust coaching materials for those looking for learning and development on-demand.
These sort of training tools are increasingly personalized and AI-driven, with platforms learning more about a creator with time, allowing them to serve up new lessons, notifications and badges based on individual personalities and passions.
But even in an increasingly networked, virtual world, there’s no tool more important than a patient ear and guiding hand. For someone who’s just starting out on their entrepreneurial journey, with a sparkle in their eyes just like Ruru’s, perhaps the greatest gift an individual with experience can offer are these four words: “How can I help?”
Ultimately, empowerment of entrepreneurs at scale will be critical to the journey toward a more inclusive society and an important driver of global economic growth. It’s time to pivot from a singular focus on “unicorns” to celebrate and uplift the millions of micro-entrepreneurs like Ruru who are achieving success while pursuing their passion and supporting their families and communities.
Entrepreneur Leadership Network Contributor