The "company man" who dedicates his time and energy to a corporation 40 hours a week is likely to have an extra-curricular activity his employer doesn't know about. After hours, he may be a "moonlighting entrepreneur."
Just how many corporate employees own and run businesses on the side is hard to pin down. Often, says Stuart L. Meyer, a professor of management at Northwestern University, "an employee in a large company doesn't want to risk his job until his business is off the ground, so the exact numbers remain hidden."
But the incident of such moonlit businesses is on the rise, reports Meyer, because the economy is not. "When times are bad," he says, "people are wary of leaving their fate in the hands of some corporation that isn't the safe haven it used to be. Layoffs are common; giants like Lockheed and Chrysler have nearly gone under. People start up their own enterprises to put their security back into their own hands."
In addition, Meyer says, many people realize that working for another company while starting their own is a logical way to proceed. "You can fail 99 times while you still have an income and keep on trying until you've got it right," he points out. "It's really a very common way to go into business for yourself."
William Whiston, the director of economic research at the U.S. Small Business Administration's Office of Advocacy, agrees. "Doing business on evenings and weekends is really an old American tradition," he says. "I'd say it's still the most common way businesses in this country get their start."
"Ever since I was a young man I wanted to start my own company," says a 51-year-old corporate employee from a northern Chicago suburb, who plans to leave his job at a metalworking company soon to run a similar business of his own full-time. "But I wasn't the kind of entrepreneur who wanted to start out with only two pennies to rub together. Working for someone else has given me the money and time I needed to get my company to where it'll work."