The Path of the Entrepreneur: 21st Century Hero
by Lianna Wolfson
Jogging in the park, brunching at a café, or sitting in class in 2010 usually entails having a smart phone stuffed into a pouch, resting on a lap, or squished into one’s back pocket. Our generation of college graduates thrives on efficiency. Contrast that with how we’ve grown to see corporations – static, stodgy, old-fashioned – and it is no surprise that our generation is drawn to the calling of entrepreneurship like never before.
Mix that with the heroic successes of the young entrepreneurs behind companies that have shaped our world – such as Google and Facebook – and the draw becomes even stronger. While generations past lionized captains of industry such as Jack Welch and Warren Buffett as heroic company builders and market creators, our generation is drawn instead to young, relatively inexperienced individuals who identify the flaws in the world as it is and seek to improve on them. Better yet, they are inspired to find new, untouched problems and offer solutions.
Abigail Besdin, 24, an NYU Phi Beta Kappa philosophy graduate, recently deferred acceptance to UCLA’s Ph.D philosophy graduate program to take a position in a startup company, Meetup.com, an online platform for local community and grassroots organizing. “Technology is the elusive ‘new frontier’,” Besdin says. “There’s really no other field out there right now that isn’t layered in protocol and systems upon systems, nothing new to be learned or innovated on. Technology, at the end of the day, is about discovery.” Besdin chose to be surrounded by a work environment of entrepreneurs rather than join the ranks of academia since, as she explains, “I admire entrepreneurs because they’re inventors. Because they make something major out of absolutely nothing.”
This act of discovery is central to the identity of the entrepreneurial pioneer. The type of entrepreneur our generation seeks to become engages in social consciousness and recognizes that business is more than just the pursuit of financial rewards.
Manuela Zoninsein, 28, founder and president of AgriGate, came to Israel as a fellow in the PresenTense Global Institute in the summer of 2009 to start up a business intelligence newsletter connecting Israel and China. Its goal is to help China face its food security challenges through connecting the Chinese with Israeli agricultural technology (agtech). This double bottom line drives her venture, and justifies for Zoninsein the risks in not taking a run-of-the-mill corporate job. A roving citizen who spends time in the US, Israel and China, Zoninsein points out, “We are all looking to prove ourselves from the getgo and offer our own innovative paths, so we see the [role of the] entrepreneur as accomplishing that goal.” More, unlike our parents’ generation, which tended to follow one career path, our generation belongs to a world where everything seems possible, because the reach of our communication is infinite. Our generation is thereby flooded by requests on our time and conscience to do something, to impact the world.
Another entrepreneur pioneering the social space is Sivan Borowich Yaari, 32, founder and president of Jewish Heart for Africa (JHA). Yaari’s organization’s goal is to improve rural African access to water and energy through Israeli solar technologies. Yaari finds roots in her work in the actions of Israel’s first female prime minister. “In 1957 Golda Meir created Mashav, to send Israeli experts to developing countries, specifically in Africa. Israel has been willing to do this almost at the very beginning of its existence,” Yaari says. She also points out that Theodore Herzl is quoted to say, “Once I have witnessed the redemption of the Jews, my people, I wish also to assist in the redemption of the Africans.” Inherent in the foundations of the Jewish state, then, is the goal to be a hero using Israeli smarts, talent, and creation. In the recent months, JHA has partnered with the Arava Institute to create a pilot program on water purification, and has brought electricity to 100,000 people in Tanzania, Uganda and Ethiopia.
What unites Besdin, Zoninsein, and Yaari with the other innovators in our generation is that they are unwilling to take a small role in a larger company or nonprofit organization making small and cautious movements forward. Direct impact is more highly valued than complex process. Risks are accepted because they are weighed against the potential reward. As Zoninsein concludes, “In the age of the entrepreneur, the hero takes risks and does not fit himself as would a cog in a wheel.”
Lianna Wolfson is a freelance writer with a BA in English Literature from New York University. Since graduating, Lianna has worked in marketing and strategic development in startup companies and is now working at Better Place in Israel.
images: top – Sivan Borowich with Dr. Joseph Ngamila of the Kidigozero Medical Clinic, Tanzania; middle – Changuruwe water pupmping system in Tanzania. Both images courtesy Jewish Heart for Africa.