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Small-business trends: Intuit sees more “mom-preneurs”

Madison, Wis. - Expect the face of small business to continue its transformation over the next decade, as the entrepreneurial class diversifies to an even greater degree, according to a Part I of a report on the future of small business sponsored by Intuit, the California-based provider of business and financial management software.

The report, authored by the Institute for the Future, paints an emerging profile of the nation's 26 million small businesses. Forthcoming installments will examine the technologies that will propel the small business sector and how small businesses will affect society and the economy.

Part I is consistent with trends of more young people, more women, and more immigrants joining the entrepreneurial class - trends that are well underway both nationally and in Wisconsin, according to experts who track small business demographics.

“I think their predictions overall make sense, but I didn't find them mind-boggling,” said Debra Malewicki, interim state director of the Wisconsin Small Business Development Centers.

Among the report's key findings:
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As aging Baby Boomers “unretire” to leverage their lifetime of professional acumen in their own business opportunities, and as their children enter the job market, entrepreneurs will come more from the edges of the age spectrum. The younger generation, which is more adaptable to technology, views entrepreneurship as a way to maintain independence, and it might set the bar as the most entrepreneurial generation ever.

Anne Miner, executive director of the Initiative for Studies in Technology Entrepreneurship at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Business, said the forecast embodies a social movement, aided by technology, which has emerged over the past 20 years. In that time, the thinking has shifted from the importance of attracting large companies to more of an entrepreneurial vision that involves a more diverse mix of people, including the young.

“Today, when you teach a child about entrepreneurial values, you're teaching about autonomy,” she said.

Malewicki said the Baby Boomer piece is driven in part by downsizing and other negative career experiences. “Losing a job can be transformative,” she noted. “People don't want that to happen to them again.”

Women and immigrants

The report also addresses the following trends impacting women and immigrants:

With the glass ceiling blocking the corporate career paths of women, a rich talent pool has been sent to the small business sector. Among them are “mom-preneurs,” or mothers who start part-time, home-based businesses with the help of the Internet.

Depending on the outcome of the immigration debate in Congress, immigrant entrepreneurs could drive a new wave of globalization. This new wave of immigrant entrepreneurs will not only turn to the Internet to launch businesses, they will use their language skills and multi-country contacts to form international partnerships.

According to Malewicki, the forecast on women and immigrants have been “well known in the entrepreneurial literature for a long time.” She agreed that women are starting web-based businesses in response to the glass ceiling, but added that achieving work-life balance is another motivating factor.

"There's a lot of research on women entrepreneurs," she said, "and they are different in terms of motivation from men."

Even though venturing out alone can be time-consuming, she said most entrepreneurs she knows believe they control their own destinies.

Intersection of business, society

Economic, social, and technological change is enabling increasingly flexible work schedules and a more independent workforce. As a result, contract workers and accidental and social entrepreneurs will fuel a proliferation of personal businesses, using entrepreneurship as a way to complement, rather than replace, a corporate career.

Those who choose this path will spend their careers alternating between the corporate and the entrepreneurial worlds, running their own businesses in the free market and at other times running a virtual business within a larger organization.

Miner, noting that Intuit is a key donor to the UW-Madison School of Business, refers to this as “the intersection of business and society” and linked it to the proliferation of social communities on the Internet.

Intuit, for example, uses its influence to support small businesses, Miner said, and Kiva, which offers people the opportunity to make direct loans to qualified small businesses in the developing world, is an example of a business organization driving social change.

“The trend in business is not just to give lip service to investing in that world,” Miner said.

The course of courses

Entrepreneurship education won't just be for business schools anymore, the report said, but it will go mainstream and be a widely adopted curriculum at educational, trade, and vocational institutions. Expect artists, musicians, and others not traditionally exposed to business education to learn business management and trade skills, adding more artistic flair to business districts.

Malewicki said interest in entrepreneurial courses is not only filtering down from universities to technical colleges, but entrepreneurial courses have risen dramatically at four-year institutions. She cited a 2006 report from the Small Business Administration that indicates it's more popular than ever to endow chairs in entrepreneurship. From 1970 to 1980, a new entrepreneurship chair was endowed every 343 days, according to the study; from 1980 to 1990, it was every 46 days; from 1995 to 2003, it was every eight days.

To Malewicki, the self-empowering trendlines are a reminder of what she once learned from an economics professor who was addressing what college students should learn. "He said that in the future, all of our kids will learn to be consultants," she recalled, "even if they work for someone else."

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