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Ten years ago i was the commencement speaker for the first graduating class of aspiring women entrepreneurs from WEDCO (Women's Enterprise Development Corp., then called AWED). When WEDCO recently celebrated its 10th birthday, it reminded me how far we've come in a relatively short 10 years. Not just entrepreneurial women, but all entrepreneurs.
In 1992 we were suffering from a devastating recession that flung millions of corporate managers out of America's bigger businesses and onto the streets. Desperately seeking employment, many found refuge in business ownership-likely thinking entrepreneurship would tide them over until the recession broke. Eventually, the recession did break. And the economy got much better. But a funny thing happened: Those refugees realized they liked being entrepreneurs, so they didn't return from whence they came. Instead, they invested more energy, money and time in the businesses they'd started. Many of those businesses are still standing, larger and more sophisticated than they were, a testimony to the courage of the entrepreneurs who founded them.
Those of you with businesses today have a lot to thank those entrepreneurs for. They not only helped America escape the recession, they also made it safe for you to enter their world.
As the first WEDCO graduates can attest, entrepreneurial life was quite different 10 years ago. It was far more difficult to start and grow a business. Money was nearly impossible to find; employees didn't want to work for small, untested businesses; and few people had even heard of entrepreneurs.
While that may sound like a case of "the more things change, the more they stay the same," it's not. Yes, money is tight again, and trained employees are relatively hard to come by. But entire industries have been built to cater to entrepreneurs' needs. Credit card companies, banks, technology manufacturers, office supply stores and many other businesses court you. Millions of people respect and envy you. Children yearn to grow up and be like you.
We're experiencing a blip in our prosperity. Maybe it's to remind ourselves that we have to work very hard to succeed (a lesson many in the past few years seem to have forgotten or never learned). But it is only a blip. Hopefully you've learned from the recent downturn-gotten smarter about how you manage your money, tightened your operations, and found cheaper yet more effective ways to market your business.
What I hope you never forget is the hope you had when you started out. Just like that first class of WEDCO graduates, you entered the entrepreneurial world with dreams and aspirations. Most of you have not only achieved what you set out to do, you've surpassed your expectations.
At the risk of sounding like a Pollyanna, let me repeat the words I spoke 10 years ago and still speak today: If you dream and if you persist, all things are possible.