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Role Models -

Role Models

I recently heard someone ask, “Why aren’t there more African American (AA) founders?” I’m no expert in US entrepreneurship history so I listened to the different arguments brought to the table and the most compelling one hit close to home – the lack of role models.

The argument was that the lack of AA entrepreneurs is a vicious circle. If there aren’t many AA entrepreneurs it’s less likely to see a success story happen, and therefore less likely that a role model will emerge. As a result, when an AA kid is dreaming about his future it’s unlikely he’s thinking of becoming an entrepreneur.

A similar problem happens back home in Portugal. Much has been said and done to promote entrepreneurship in Portugal and so far everything has failed. True, the VC industry is practically inexistent and the market is small, but that’s not the entire story. You can still bootstrap, and companies don’t have to limit themselves to the domestic market.

The lack of role models, however, is a huge barrier. There are not enough entrepreneurs that I can look at and say, “I want to be like him”. Most of the (few) stories of “the person who started with an idea and became a millionaire” involve some sort of shady business and/or practice.

I believe we have a deal flow problem (i.e. not enough stories to tell about) but it’s possible that we’re just not publicizing properly the good stories that do exist. That would be a much easier problem to solve.

How to solve this problem? As usual, there’s no short-term solution. If we do have success stories and real role models, we should be publicizing those, inviting those people to schools to talk about why/how they became entrepreneurs. If we don’t have many of those stories, use the few we have and over-publicize them. I know we have some. Go beyond that, use stories and role models from elsewhere. It might be less effective but it’s better than nothing. Create an aura around the entrepreneur in a way that people will want to become one.

I’m not saying that entrepreneurs will take Portugal out of the hole it’s in now, but in a country so dependent on government spending, having a strong entrepreneurial community would help a lot.

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