As you might imagine, Steve Case--the co-founder of AOL and, until recently, chairman of the Startup America Partnership, a White House-led initiative to spur high-growth entrepreneurship--spends a great deal of time thinking about a great many things. What's heavy on his mind lately is the future of entrepreneurship.
As technology costs continue to drop and millions more people gain internet access, entrepreneurs in the years ahead have so much going for them. But it won't be all rock-star product offerings and IPOs in their future. Tomorrow's startups, according to Case, are likely to be more complicated beasts, as founders take on bigger, more intractable problems. That, he says, will have very real consequences for what shape tomorrow's companies will take. Namely, it may well take a village to launch.
"Startups and entrepreneurs have the potential to change the world--to transform learning, health, energy and transportation," Case says. Still, he adds, "one person can only do so much."
While we're forecasting the future, here are more prophecies from a handful of futurists and entrepreneurial luminaries we recently spoke with. Circa 2025, here we come:
Chairman and CEO, Revolution LLC
The one-founder startup will disappear. "The next generation of companies will take longer to achieve [remedies], and they will require more partnerships," says Case, who is also chairman of the Case Foundation, a private family foundation he established in 1997 with his wife. "The entrepreneur of the future will be less able to go it alone."
Problems will get tougher. And solving these bigger problems won't be easy. "The moonshots, if you will, are harder and will take more perseverance." Overhauling highly regulated institutions like education and health care will take significant coordination and manpower, he predicts.
Startup communities will expand. Since it'll be harder to go it alone, entrepreneurs will necessarily require additional assistance. We won't see fewer accelerators and meet-up groups; we'll see more. Similarly, more universities will enter the entrepreneurial fray with added courses and curricula. And the seemingly never-ending conference circuit will only gain momentum.
Entrepreneurship rates will soar. "Today, entrepreneurs have access to the kinds of capabilities and technologies that were only really possible for large organizations or governments before," says Diamandis, a serial entrepreneur and author. Specific examples he points to include artificial intelligence, 3-D-printing technology, and synthetic genomics. That access will lead to nothing short of what he calls an "explosion" in entrepreneurship.
Regulations will intensify. As entrepreneurs begin to tackle tougher, more ingrained problems, giant companies and regulators will clamp down on innovation, Diamandis predicts. That could leave the door open to countries with friendlier business policies, he adds. "Smaller companies that are based in places that have more agile governments will have an advantage, as regulation is going to start to become a hindrance for innovation."
CEO, UP Global
Innovation will quicken. An uptick in entrepreneurship will also juice the speed of invention and reinvention, says Nager, whose Seattle-based nonprofit fosters the growth of entrepreneurial communities. "When you have more people and a culture around you that are more supportive of things like failure, those type of values are instilled in a community," he says. "That will allow us to innovate faster."
Bigger ideas will proliferate. That speedier validation could lead to tackling more ambitious ideas, says Nager. "As entrepreneurship grows [in popularity], you'll be able to get bigger ideas to market quicker because you have entire communities behind them."
Managing director, The Startup Factory
Success (and failure) will come faster. The time it takes to bring an idea to market or toss it in the garbage will shrink. "The feedback loop will be quicker," says Heivly, a Durham, North Carolina-based early-stage investor. "You can get data in three months that is strong enough to find market validation."
Everyone will be a techie. Already, more people in the world have cellphones than toilets. That kind of technological expansion will have tremendous consequences. "Think about what skills muscles you have today that you didn't have yesterday," says Heivly. "If you buy into the idea that every company will be a tech company in the future--if you keep going with that thread--everyone has to understand tech."
Technology will take over. Silva takes Heivly's point a step further: People won't just be conversant in tech speak; entire industries will become subsumed by technology as well. "Tech is swallowing other fields, not just IT," says Silva, a futurist and filmmaker. "Biology is now becoming an information technology," as are fields such as food and fashion. "The whole world is becoming technology."
Borders will vanish. While fluency in technology will be vital, and surely some skills will become more prominent in the future, advances in social communications tools will spark additional opportunities, says Silva. "You can connect with like-minded engineers and designers across the pond; you don't have to be in the same space and same community."
Venture partner, 500 Startups
Silicon Valley (the place) will falter. With the expansion of entrepreneurship globally, Silicon Valley may well remain prominent, but it will lose its edge, says Zavala, a venture partner at the seed fund in Mexico. He adds that, to some degree, the Valley is already losing its dominance. "Before, everyone was saying if you want to start a company you have to go to Silicon Valley," he says. "It's a lot more about solving problems for specific geographies, not just sending all the brain power to the two or three places where there's funding. The entrepreneur of the future will be a lot more international."
Policymakers will listen up. As more people take up entrepreneurship, they’ll become a constituency that policy makers will be forced to heed, adds Zavala. And while asking for permission--and getting it--would seem difficult now, as more people take up the flag of entrepreneurship, policymakers and governing institutions may be more willing to give in. "As it gets easier [to start up]," Zavala notes, "you have to ask for permission less as an ecosystem."