Me (in the Grey Shirt) w/ the other Founding members of the PopShop co-working Space, one of the many places where the way we work is fundamentally changing.
Entrepreneurship is a fancy word. It's frequently thrown around and abused, generally being used to refer to anything remotely related to starting something new. More and more, entrepreneurship has become a sexy buzzword, diluting the real meaning and intent of the term. Entrepreneurship is about taking ideas, and thru business acumen and development, turning those innovative ideas into a money making company. In recent years, this has even been somewhat expanded to include exciting new fields like social entrepreneurship, where profit can be measured in social impact in addition to money-making practices. So, why does this matter to engineers?
Maybe you haven't realized it yet, but all engineers are entrepreneurs. The definition is literally our job description: Engineers take ideas and turn them into reality - we are entrepreneurial machines. There have been several posts by some of my fellow bloggers that go into why so many engineers are choosing to devote their skills to things like investment banking instead, but I won't get into that here. What I'm excited about that I'm seeing more and more engineers (at least the young ones coming out of college) pursuing roles in startups, or they are starting their own companies. This isn't because they'll make more money doing it (they probably won't), and it's not because it's glamorous (it usually isn't). Engineers are pursuing entrepreneurial activities more and more because it's what we're wired to do. By nature, engineers are creative, and having the ability to explore your creative passions is what being entrepreneurial is about.
As a case study, I'll examine the microcosm of the startup co-working space that recently launched at Cornell University. Disclaimer: I’m biased about its awesomeness since I just graduated from Cornell and I co-founded the space. This new space, dubbed “The PopShop” has completely transformed how many college students think about their futures. At Cornell, as with many large engineering institutions across the United States, the goal is this: Get good grades, graduate, and go work for an enormous company where you will get paid well. But a storm is brewing, and it’s called The Startup Revolution. While going to work for a massive engineering or financial company is still completely valid (and the right thing for many types of people), more and more recent grads are flocking to entrepreneurial activities that allow them to truly employ the skills they developed during their education. The PopShop serves as a space where young ideas come together to flourish and grow. At first glance, there isn’t anything too special about the PopShop; it’s a long white room with a storefront right off Cornell’s campus. The walls are all white, and the only furniture is a couch, and a really long table with some chairs. But it’s not the furnishing that turns an ordinary space into a co-working space; it’s what happens in the space that matters. At the popshop, we’ve built a community of people who share ideas and collaborate. It’s nothing more than a public space with room to talk and flesh out ideas (and there are lots of whiteboards).
Perhaps most importantly, it’s a space to come hear what you’re are thinking about. In the photo above, there are artists, engineers, economists, architects, business students and apparel designers … and we all work together.
People with all different backgrounds have wandered into the PopShop, frequently fleshing out ideas and nearly always teaming up with engineers to start working at bringing their ideas to fruition. At my last count, about 30 startups had worked in the PopShop. The PopShop opened 4 months ago.
So how does this apply to you? This model is open, and it can be deployed just about anywhere. Great ideas come from collaboration, especially when the collaborators have different viewpoints from your own. By bringing people together in a collaborative environment, you can spark an interest in entrepreneurship that can instantly change a person’s trajectory. Here’s why this is so exciting: this recent resurgence of entrepreneurship, thanks in large part to mobile computing, social networking, and other new consumer technologies, is going to fundamentally change the way we do business and the way students think about what it means to be successful following graduation. Being an accomplished engineer isn’t always about having the most prestigious title; thanks to a new startup mentality being cultivated by co-working spaces like the PopShop, success can be measured by how much you love doing what you do, and what kind of impact you can have on the world with your idea.
Take advantage of the people around you and try to pursue that idea that’s been bouncing around the back of your head for years. Even if you fail, you’ll learn a hell of a lot, and you’ll be glad you did something you really were passionate about. And if you succeed, cut me in with some stock (just kidding …kinda).
How have you directed your engineering acumen into the startup world? I’d love to hear about it in the comments!