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March 07, 2008

It's Morning in America Again - Just Ask The HBS and MIT Sloan Kids

Reading the newspapers and magazines covering the US economy is downright depressing (today's Wall Street Journal is particularly depressing - hammering on both the worsening credit market problems and brain drain away from start-ups).  But meeting with fresh-faced MBA students is downright inspiring.

I had the opportunity to meeet with 100 Harvard Business School and MIT Sloan students over the last few days and was incredibly impressed with their optimism and energy, particularly as it relates to the entrepreneurial opportunities that lie ahead.

We host an event with the graduating students every Spring, inviting 100 of the most inclined to entrepreneurship (as opposed to...gasp...banking and consulting) in order to get to know them and see if there might be opportunities within our portfolio, learn about companies they are starting or joining, and generally build relationships with the next generation of talented entrepreneurs.

What struck me the most this year was that the students seemed oblivious to - no that's too harsh, let's say unaffected by - the global economic turmoil raging around them.  The collapse of credit markets?  Inflationary pressure tying the hands of Bernake's Federal Reserve?  Destruction of trillions in asset value as the real estate asset bubble deflates?  A weak US dollar impacting our competitiveness and purchasing power?  Not even a part of the conversation.

Instead, they wanted to talk about clean technology and sustainability, novel medical devices and sensors, Google vs. Microsoft, the opportunities represented by the emerging mobile generation, the shift of the nearly $1 trillion in global advertising to the Web, the emergence of global perspective on VC and entrepreneurship and many other topics bubbling with possibilities.  Recognize that all of these young men and women have the mission to find a job after business school over the next two short months, yet they didn't seem concerned with "a job".  They were focused on ideas, innvoations and opportunities.  It is no coincidence that the famous MIT $100k Competition - where entrepreneurs submit business plans and get judged by VCs and start-up veterans in the hopes of winning a little seed money and a lot of notoriety - had a record number of entrants this year.

With a nod to John Winthrop (oh, Ronald Reagan as well, I suppose), one can only observe that in the halls of the elite American business schools, it's Morning in America again and our entrepreneurial economy remains a city on a shining hill.  There is still plenty of hope to spread around!

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Jeff,

I believe I attended one of the first one of these as an HBS student, back in 2003 or 2004 at John Harvard's Brewpub. I'm glad to see that you're still hosting the event and hope you find value in it for IDG, as I certainly did in talking with you and meeting some fellow like-minded students, even though I haven't crossed paths with you guys since myself.

Still, the cynic might say that it's always Morning to a batch of folks just a few years into their careers, giving their careers a big shot of adrenaline, borrowing to pay for it at decreasing rates, and knowing that they can eventually pay back the loans with deflated currency!

It is always morning in America.

Let's think about it my way. As long as the laws remain favorable to starting a business, it's always a better idea than to work for someone else.

I see more opportunities than I have the time or inclination to pursue. Change the mindset and you will change the future. I talk with many business students who are in one of the non-profit organizations with which I am involved.

My attitude is simple - it's useless to think about doom and gloom. It's far more useful to find ways to transcend the worries.

The barriers to entry are virtually non-existent. Technology is evolving more rapidly than ever.

We are implementing into reality ideas that only a few years ago were sci-fi staples. Videophones? Electronic newspapers? Satellite radio? Ubiquitous global communication? Ability to synthesize human body parts? Ability to generate energy from the ocean? Maglev trains that fly?

The world will be in real trouble when sci-fi writers will run out of things about which to write. Somehow, I doubt that will happen anytime soon!

The fastest way to limit one's exposure to a collapsing economy is to substantially increase the net worth. The fastest way to increase net worth, outside of inheritance (debatable due to probate process) and marriage (debatable due to pre-nuptial agreements) is to launch a successful business.

They went to school and invested into that goal. It's only in their self-interests to recoup that investment, perhaps with the help of your money. ;)

Jeff,

Your posts are great!! I am sure a terrific guide. And I appreciate the optimism of the graduating classes. One point. Kelsey Advertising reports on Always On today that the total Global Advertising market for 2007 was about $605 billion. They expect the total global market at $707 billion in 2012, and the internet to be 21% of it or about $149 billion. The link is http://alwayson.goingon.com/permalink/post/25115

The "shift of nearly $1 trillion of global advertising to the web" seems a bit overly optimistic.

Question...
Did George H.W. Bush use the phrase,'It's morning in America?" in a speech, or was it Reagan?

Thanks,

Andrew

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