The Startup Movement Is Not About Startups, Actually – Forbes

Victor W. Hwang, Contributor

I’m going to say something that might sound nutty.  But I’ll say it anyways. The Startup Movement is not about startups.

What could I possibly mean, you might be asking?  Did I drink too much eggnog over the holidays?

The Earth seen from Apollo 17.

After all, the Startup Movement appears real enough.  In hundreds of cities around the world, thousands of new entrepreneurs are charging the ramparts, fighting the fights, seeking to build the next great thing.  Leaders like Steve Blank and Brad Feld have inspired the creation of countless startups everywhere.  New vocabulary phrases – like business pivotlean startup, and co-working spaces – have gone mainstream.  Incubators and accelerators have popped up all over, like extra inches on the waistline after the holidays.

I’ve concluded, however, that it’s merely the veneer.  The Startup Movement is just the surface phenomenon.  What’s really happening is much deeper, more profound, and incredibly important.  I’ve arrived at this conclusion after working with thousands of innovators, entrepreneurs, policymakers, executives, investors, and other professionals over the past year or two.  Since my book The Rainforest was published, I’ve been fortunate to get a firsthand snapshot of the world, through speaking and running design labs to foster innovation in places as diverse as East Asia, Latin America, Central Asia, the Middle East, Europe, South Asia, and virtually all corners in the United States.

Basically, I’ve become an accidental pollster of the world’s entrepreneurial economy.  It’s been a revelatory journey.  And a humbling one.

What have I discovered from this voyage?  I’ve realized that, despite outward appearances, the Startup Movement is not just about startups.  It is actually a deeper cultural shift that cuts to the heart of the human condition.  It reflects a dissatisfaction with the way much of the world has gone for the last several decades.  It marks a transformation in how we view our societies, how we convene our communities, how we create value together as human beings.  It’s a counterpoint to the governing economic paradigm – what economists call neoliberalism – which has prized efficiency and productivity above everything else, even when it has corroded relationships that bond us together in our communities and social networks.

The Startup Movement is like a reboot of the human spirit.  Gary Whitehill, who has launched a series of Entrepreneur Weeks around the world, calls the era we are leaving behind the “Age of Efficiency.”  I think he’s right.  We are moving from an economic model that treats individuals as replaceable cogs in an anonymous yet efficient system, to one that recognizes that individuals are the only ones who can make the system better through their innovations, inventions, and creations.

This notion might sound simple, but its impact is profound.  If you examine the scholarly research on what makes entrepreneurship and innovation thrive – whether in Silicon Valley, Santiago, or anywhere else – the conclusions are strikingly consistent.  Innovation is not a solo sport.  It thrives in supportive, diverse, connected, pay-it-forward ecosystems.  It dies in selfish ones.  Building a startup – indeed, bringing any innovation to life – is hard enough already.  The last thing you need is distrust, high social barriers, and cynicism from those around you.  You need people who are willing to believe in you.  Because human beings innovate together in teams.

Therefore, just below the surface of the Startup Movement is a deeper Ecosystem Movement.  That’s why we started Global Innovation Summit+Week, a gathering on how to foster sustainable, systemic innovation across companies, communities, and countries.  It happens again on February 17-21, 2014 in Silicon Valley.  Our vision is to bring together the world’s innovation ecosystems in one place, one time, so that they can learn and share with one another.  Our first event drew 49 countries.  We hope to exceed that in Round Two.

This time, over 20 organizations are joining us and hosting affiliated events.  Attendees can participate in an entire week of multiple activities focused on growing ecosystems.  Or you can even host your own activities.

So please join us!  Let’s create the world’s greatest gathering of ecosystem-makers together.  Let’s build the invisible infrastructure of our communities.  Let’s leverage the core values that drive innovation, namely trust, diversity, connectivity, dreams, experimentation, and paying it forward.

Ultimately, the pulse of the Startup Movement, in whatever form it takes, has a simple message.  You matter.  Your actions make a difference in the world.  And individuals – with their dreams, loves, passions, and even mistakes – can band together to create new solutions and successfully tackle the world’s big challenges.

Victor W. Hwang is a venture capitalist and entrepreneur in Silicon Valley.  He is Executive Director of Global Innovation Summit + Week (February 17-21, 2014), an event focused on catalyzing systemic innovation across companies, communities, and countries.


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