David Harkins

David Harkins

Dr. David L. Harkins is a social scientist researching the human experience in systems and culture. He is an experienced executive coach and consultant, passionate educator, and keynote speaker. Through his teachings, inspiration, and guidance, he helps individuals and organizations identify and connect with their potential to make a meaningful difference in their communities.

It is Time to Think Differently about Entrepreneurship

Research by the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation suggests the number of new startups grew slightly from 2014 through 2016 after hitting an all-time low in 2013 (Fairlie, Morelix, & Tareque, 2017). An upswing in activity looks promising, but the data also suggest greater challenges may lie ahead considering America’s demographic and cultural shifts. Immigrants, for example, are almost twice as likely to become entrepreneurs as those born in America, yet it appears the failure rate may be similar to native-born (Fairlie, Morelix, & Tareque). These failures might suggest the absence of a clear business plan, insufficient knowledge of basic business operations, the lack of education and training in support of entrepreneurship, or a combination of all of these factors that might be preventing ongoing sustainable businesses. The small number of established businesses started by Asian, African American, and Hispanic entrepreneurs, the declines in startup activity among those under 34, and limited startup activity by women are just a few of the challenges to America’s economic growth in the coming years. It is time to think differently about diversity in entrepreneurship.

America is becoming increasingly multi-ethnic and multi-cultural. Demographers suggest the country’s racial and ethnic makeup will shift the thinking and direction of our society (Taylor, 2014). Today there seems to be an older, more conservative, more religious cohort struggling to maintain the status quo at odds with a somewhat younger, more liberal, and more secular group where diversity is paramount (Taylor, 2016). Arguably this ideological and cultural divide that influences our country’s politics also transforms all aspects of our society. These ideological differences seem to make many less tolerant and, perhaps encourage others to cocoon or cluster around those most like themselves.

The cocooning and clustering of Americans appear to create a  level of unintended segregation that has more to do with cultural fit than it does with skin color (Cowen, 2017). In a society that, for the most part, endeavors to be more diverse, there is an increasing “cultural segregation.” This unintended segregation, then, inadvertently creates a lack of diversity among our peer groups and affects how some think about the world, including where to live, what to do, and how to consume products and services. When surrounded by those who believe and act similarly, the result can be a staleness in thought and ideas.

This cultural segregation also limits entrepreneurial opportunity and ultimately impacts the American economy because the lack of diversity in our peer groups may well reduce exposure to those who pursue an entrepreneurial life. Unfortunately, reduced exposure to entrepreneurship typically begets reduced entrepreneurial activity (Cowen). Given the rate of startups today, it seems fewer people are exposed to entrepreneurial activity and sustainable small businesses than those who were in the 1980s. There may not be a sufficient number of successful role models for young adults, women, Asian, Hispanic, and African Americans on which to model startup activity and long-term sustainable small businesses.

The 2017 Kauffman Index of Startup Activity indicated that startup activity in 2016 merely returned to 2006 activity levels. The rate of new entrepreneurs—those non-business owners and adults starting a new business—has declined slightly from 2015 (Fairlie, Morelix, & Tareque, 2017). Moreover, the gain in entrepreneur activity seems to equate to single-employee companies (i.e., a “job” for the entrepreneur), and not to the job creation activity necessary for overall economic growth and stability. While the data is not presented in a cross-tabulation to allow for further analysis, it appears the greatest number of new startups in 2016 may be native-born white men, age 45+, with college educations (Fairlie, Morelix, & Tareque).  The Index reports increased entrepreneurial activity among the Asian and Hispanic populations and to a smaller degree African Americans. Although this entrepreneurial growth may be keeping pace with America’s changing demographics, it is important to remember that higher rates of startups do not necessarily translate into ongoing mature businesses (Kelley, et al., 2016). A good many startups fail. While there seems to be a slight growth in startup activity in the last year, this should not suggest that increased entrepreneurial activity will necessarily translate into long-term economic growth related to such activity.

It is important to keep in mind that a modest increase in startup activity does not always translate into sustainable business ventures that provide jobs and opportunities within their communities. The lack of sustainability creates challenges to entrepreneurial activity across the board. For example, the lower number of startups among women and those under 34 might suggest a lack of opportunity and training, rather than a lack of interest (Kelley, et al., 2016). The lack of established businesses, particularly among Asian, Hispanic, and African Americans might suggest the need for training and support in ongoing business operations. For example, training might include courses on how do to identify a market opportunity, fundamentals of business operations and management, how to price products and services, how do develop a market, and much more. Support might come in the way of hands-on mentors who are interested in helping the entrepreneur achieve success or perhaps more start-up incubators designed specifically to educate, serve, and support those classes of entrepreneurs not well served at present.

It seems clear that targeted support and intervention are necessary to ensure the long-term viability of entrepreneurial ventures. The vicious cycle of creation and failure of startups suggests the entrepreneurial approach that Americans have deployed for more than two-hundred years may not be as efficient as it could be. This applies in particular to younger adults and women, where startup interest is lagging, and to Asian and Hispanic entrepreneurs where sustainability seems underperforming when compared to the immigration rate.

It is essential to create a foundation for greater entrepreneurial success as the country evolves culturally. This new foundation requires different thinking and approaches to encourage stronger startups and enable growth and sustainability for the nation’s small businesses. America’s long-term economic viability may depend, in part, on the long run growth and success of all of its entrepreneurs.



Cowen, T. (2017). The Complacent Class: The self-defeating quest for the American Dream. New York: St. Martin’s Press.

Fairlie, R., Morelix, A., & Tareque, I. (2017). 2017 Kauffman Index of Startup Activity. Kansas City: Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation. Retrieved June 17, 2017, from http://www.kauffman.org/kauffman-index/reporting/~/media/c9831094536646528ab012dcbd1f83be.ashx

Kelley, D., Ali, A., Brush, C., Corbett, A., Daniels, C., Kim, P. H., . . . Rogoff, E. (2016). Global Entrepreneurship Monitor: 2015 United States Report. Babson College. Retrieved from http://www.gemconsortium.org/report/49562

Taylor, P. (2014). Next America: The New Us. Retrieved January 14, 2016, from pewresearch.org: http://www.pewresearch.org/next-america/#Immigration-Is-Driving-Our-Demographic-Makeover

Taylor, P. (2016, January 27). The demographic trends shaping American politics in 2016 and beyond. Retrieved June 17, 2017, from pewresearch.org: http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2016/01/27/the-demographic-trends-shaping-american-politics-in-2016-and-beyond/

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