At the IBM SmartCamp Global Finals on Feb. 7th, IBM was happy to welcome not only business leaders and entrepreneurs in the audience, but many students as well. Here is a piece about the event written by Mikhail Pozin from CUNY Baruch Zicklin School of Business.
by Mikhail Pozin
Zicklin School of Business, CUNY Baruch
Honors BBA in I/O Psychology ’12
“New York City is where the future comes to audition,” announced Mayor Michael Bloomberg, echoing the late Ed Koch. Responsive murmurs fanned through the Vanderbilt Room. Moments before, a show of hands indicated how many audience members did not live in New York. An audible sports stadium wave passed through the seating sections; the distinctive majority was full of out-of-towners. The hubbub was only momentarily surprising, however. This was, after all, the Global Finals of the IBM SmartCamp entrepreneurship competition.
The Global Finals featured an expert scientist from China separated from her family during Lunar New Year and an idealistic African businessman jocularly chiding IBM for dragging him into New York City’s frost without the company of his wife. Both took the stage, along with representatives of six other companies who took their experience, ingenuity, and guts to task to build a smarter planet. These are the folks who saw a need and made it their mission to provide for it. Luckily, they are not without a supportive ecosystem.
A large corporation can throw a number of shiny pennies at new projects. These projects will be tackled with its respective standard practices, some of which are far better suited to fostering innovation than others. But if they fail, a write-off solves all. Rinse, repeat.
Entrepreneurs lack the shiny pennies. More importantly, they lack the stability to write off any time and any energy expended. Boy, do they have energy; they are busy creating under their own rules, which are nimble and constantly refined. Those who take this route are sustained by those who nurture their ambition—the mentors, the devout supporters, and of course, the financial backers.
Financial backing, however, is not simply about a paycheck. Entrepreneurs were fearless enough to become parents and it is now up to them to choose the best college for their baby, if it will have them. There is probably some irony in this analogy, what with the debatable necessity of college for an entrepreneur and all. There is also no shortage of financing. With no shortage of angel investments, as well as the plummeting cost of backing new ventures, the barrier has never been lower.
So too with the barrier to entry as an entrepreneur. The world over, teenagers and seasoned PhD professionals alike are pursuing an alternative to the yet standard, if not hackneyed, path. As with their numbers, the influence and perception of entrepreneurs continues to swell. With it, they are ushering in a new set of values—one of embracing failure, admitting weaknesses, accepting coaching, sharing freely, challenging convention, solving problems, and dedicating wholeheartedly.
Our browsers have tabs, our personalities have tabs, and our choices have tabs. This is the new paradigm of business—multifaceted, non-mutually exclusive choice. We are this, this, and that. Overwhelmingly mass adoption is less likely than ever before. Just ask a music mogul about his mainstream acts. There is likely an audience for everything, but it is smaller than may be preferred and it is the most dedicated one you could hope for, after the mere visitors fade. Rest assured, they will fade and pick up something new. This is merely cyclical.
A panelist, David Rose of The New York Angel Network, remarked that entrepreneurship is also cyclical, but this time, it is different. An increased capacity to accomplish, coupled with decreased limitations on support and funding, means that the world is a tad smaller. No longer are a brilliant mind and an executed idea restricted by its country of origin. This is how the planet grows smarter. Those who are driven to execute and surround themselves with supporters are beyond elementary financial motivation. Their goals exceed their individual selves. They are out to create, fix, revitalize, disrupt, amend, delight, enlighten, redesign. They are out to dream and to do, because being isolated by their location is no longer a hindrance. The elimination of geography as a limiting factor is the great equalizer—and the bolsterer.
An overwhelming number of ideas will fail. Teams will dissolve, competition will usurp, and hypotheses will fall flat. Let them. This is how the planet grows smarter, with a cycle in which all sides of the new holy trinity—entrepreneurs, financiers, and users—adjust to a landscape of ever-growing options. Some of these options are fueled by existing businesses seeking solutions beyond their capacities, therefore turning to larger institutions who in turn to entrepreneurs. Luckily, IBM has already been prepared for this with its three-horizon company portfolio since Gerstner. Supporting entrepreneurship has now become its premier emerging business opportunity.
At the peak of every cycle lies excess waste, full of me-too drudge and chindogu. These are the pests of entrepreneurship—recurring, costly, and altogether a nuisance. They are not, however, without merit. They are a training ground for both the hard and soft skills so instrumental to traversing the newly redefined paths to success. Some entrepreneurs will bow out of college, perhaps even high school. Others will continue their higher education and take their advanced skill elsewhere. Neither should be glorified or shamed—these are merely alternative paths previously unavailable. Both are needed for balance, just as each team needs its set of “expanders” and “containers.”
The recent upsurge in global entrepreneurship is indicative of more options, bigger appetites, and ample accommodations for our varied learning styles. As it becomes more front-facing, its values will change the business world, and in turn, the planet. That means a smaller planet, a more connected planet, and ultimately, a smarter planet.
As for next year, I reckon IBM should keep its eye out for an Antarctic dark horse.