“What's the best way to empower entrepreneurs?”
Victor Hwang, a vice president at the Kauffman Foundation, posed the question the other day and described his organization's commitment to find answers through research.
I'm glad Kauffman is researching entrepreneurship, but I think the idea of "empowering entrepreneurs" needs revision.
I'm part of an entrepreneurial community in Raleigh, N.C. Sometimes the question "What do you need?" is put to us by well-meaning folks who want to "empower" us. The question stumps me, and I assume it is not easily answered by my peers, because it assumes an orientation that is not congruent with our experience: We're not looking for empowerment.
We have power. Our power includes perspective and skills, resources and relationships. Our power is the energy to do a new thing. What we're looking for are exchanges that leverage the power we already possess.
I think what helps us is education in the oldest sense; from the Latin ex ducere: to lead from, to build upon. We tap our power in exchanges — conversations and demonstrations — that prompt us to make connections to our own enterprising ways.
The other day I was in an audience of entrepreneurs listening to pitches. Many of us were on our phones and laptops. That's habit. No doubt we're easily distracted. Yet we're also accustomed to letting new information catalyze what we already know. So I suspect there were those like me who were inspired by the pitches to work on their own businesses — in that very moment.
That's an example of an exchange that draws out or draws upon our gifts or strengths. This rethinking of “empowerment” has implications for entrepreneurship research, education and support. Kauffman, my community and others committed to cultivating entrepreneurship will find answers in focusing on what's present, the power that entrepreneurs already possess.