The Minority Entrepreneur

What will the entrepreneur of the future look like? Very different from the past, given the increase in minority businesses.

Perhaps the biggest change we'll see in the entrepreneur of the future is that 2010's business owner is more likely to be a woman or a minority. According to the Center for Women's Business Research, the number of privately held women-owned businesses in America grew by roughly 11 percent between 1997 and 2002, while privately held businesses as a whole grew only 6 percent. Similarly, the Center for Women's Business Research found that more than half of Asian-American and African-American women small-business owners say their firms have grown over the past three years, a significant feat in a down economy. Indeed, Joel Marks, executive director of the American Small Business Alliance, an industry trade group, notes that the number of minorities and women participating in his organization has grown sharply in recent years.

Several factors may explain why more women and minorities are starting companies. Most obviously, the percentage of women and minorities in the U.S. work force is growing as more women work and immigration increases the population of minorities, so their participation in business ownership is naturally rising as well. "Entrepreneurship is still living the American Dream" and thus appeals to recent immigrants, adds Marks.

But more complex factors also come into play. As an earlier generation of minorities began to go into entrepreneurship in the 1970s and '80s, they provided critical role models like Magic Johnson and Oprah Winfrey, who have sparked many more, younger minorities to consider starting their own companies. "There are more minority role models in entrepreneurship [today, so] entrepreneurship is increasingly seen by minorities as an acceptable way to go," says William Bradford, an expert on minority-owned small businesses at the University of Washington, Seattle.

Women and minority entrepreneurs are not only becoming more visible, but they're also becoming more vocal. As these entrepreneurs become more established members of the small- and midsize business community, says Marks, they "want to take on issues beyond the day-to-day [concerns]"—issues such as health-care reform, for example. Marks says more women and minorities now take part in lobbying in Washington or in their state capitals, pushing state governments and the federal government to address entrepreneurs' concerns.

I think more and more people will become entrepreneurs in the future. Long term there will be a move away from big businesses in some industries to small independent consultants. As knowledge becomes more centralized and easier to access, location and the personalizing touches of a small business will become ever more important. I don't believe in the future Walmartization of the world, or even of other industries. I believe in a future where more and more people work for themselves.

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