Can-Do Entrepreneurs Move Beyond Our Can't-Do Government

HuffPost is launching, a new blog where entrepreneurs can exchange ideas, get advice, and keep up with the latest small business news. Check it out.
This post was published on the now-closed HuffPost Contributor platform. Contributors control their own work and posted freely to our site. If you need to flag this entry as abusive, send us an email.

The latest jobs report came out on Friday. Overall, another 95,000 jobs were lost in September. Maybe they should start calling it the no-jobs report. Ezra Klein crunches the numbers to explain why the addition of 64,000 private sector jobs is pitifully inadequate:

That's about 35,000 less than the 100,000 or so jobs needed to keep up with population growth. It's about 180,000 less than the number of jobs needed to get back to 5 percent unemployment in the next 10 years. It's about 257,000 less than the 320,000 jobs needed to get back to 5 percent unemployment in five years.

In other words, the economy is not bouncing back any time soon. Even worse, it's clear that Washington is not up to the task of creating the conditions for the job growth the country so desperately needs. And as we find ourselves in the silliest stretch of the electoral silly season, it doesn't inspire confidence that the government that emerges on November 2nd will do any better.

A deep-seated cynicism is not an unreasonable response. But I'm pleased to report that hundreds of thousands of Americans across the country are choosing to react by taking action. As a result, a parallel economy is being created by people who, finding there are no jobs, have decided to create their own.

Of course, this burgeoning parallel economy doesn't mean the government is off the hook. But while millions of Americans are waiting for the government to do the right thing in terms of bold infrastructure spending, a payroll tax holiday, etc, etc, many have decided to stop waiting.

Through the creative use of technology, social media, and a focus on community, this new wave of small businesses is making its mark in a true convergence of left and right. At the moment, our government may be can't-do, but more and more of our citizens are solidly can-do -- and irrepressibly American.

To turn a spotlight on this nascent movement and encourage its continued growth, HuffPost is launching Small Business America, a new blog sponsored by FedEx where entrepreneurs can exchange ideas, get advice, and keep up with the latest small business news. Small Business America's contributors will run the gamut from CEOs to mom-and-pop business owners to policy-makers, business writers, professors, and social media experts.

Some of those we'll be featuring in our first week include:

  • Aaron Patzer, founder of the online personal finance site Mint.
  • William Aulet, Managing Director of the MIT Entrepreneurship Center.
  • Karen Mills, Administrator of the Small Business Administration.
  • Tim Westergren, Founder of the online radio site Pandora.
  • Christopher Hytry Derrington, whose company helps firms outsource their work to rural America instead of overseas.

Small Business America will also feature the first-person accounts of people who have already jumped in and started their own business -- as well as those thinking of taking the leap.

One of those forced by circumstances into creating her own business is Brenda Carter, whose story is featured in Third World America. A grandmother living in Marietta, Georgia, Carter had worked as a manager of information systems at the same company for thirteen years. Then, in 2007, she was suddenly laid off. "Imagine getting up every day for 13 years and suddenly that part of your life just ceased," she wrote. "I cried and cried and cried. I just could not believe it."

She didn't know what she was going to do, but then had an idea. Her mother, to help pay the bills as a single mother in New Orleans, had sold pralines door-to-door. "People would knock on our doors at all times of night asking to purchase these pralines," she said. "So as I was sitting at home I thought 'Hey I can do this too! This is something I can do and am comfortable doing.'"

And now she's the proud operator of a growing praline operation -- except instead of selling door-to-door, she's doing it computer-to-computer. Her online store can be found here. "Times are changing and so must we," Carter says. "We need to be supporters of ourselves, otherwise we will not survive."

Americans have a lot of passion and ingenuity, and there is a clear market in helping bring them to market. Enter and Cafe Press, which have now grown large enough to have a multiplier effect rippling across the country.

Etsy was founded in 2005 by Robert Kalin. Then 25, he was an aspiring furniture designer feeling frustrated by his attempts to sell his work online. So he created a streamlined platform for handmade goods of all kinds, and launched it from his apartment.

The site's mission? "To enable people to make a living making things, and to reconnect makers with buyers. Our vision is to build a new economy and present a better choice." Which is exactly what is doing. And along with creating jobs, this new economy is creating connections, and caring, and community. As Kalin said in a 2009 interview:

One of the most important things anyone can do right now is create jobs. What's important is to empower people to make a living, and I support renting and running a 9,000-square-foot workspace in Red Hook, Brooklyn, that provides other small businesses with affordable studio space. And we have big community dinners there once a week for networking and sharing our ideas.

Etsy's effect is being felt far beyond Brooklyn. Colleen Fields, 54, lives in a remote town in the mountains of North Carolina. Two years ago, she was laid off from her job as a newspaper subscriptions manager. "I must have sent out a thousand or more resumés and applications," she told The Huffington Post. "I applied for a job at a convenience store, and they said they had over 200 applicants. It's just crazy. There are no jobs around this area."

A friend suggested she look into Etsy. Not exactly computer literate, she nevertheless gave it a try. In December 2009 she opened her online store, Gemstones and Wire, selling necklaces, earrings and handmade clay vases. She wrote about how some women pay all their family bills with small businesses started through Etsy. "I'm just not one of them yet. I would love to be one of them," she added.

Several other successful sites have followed in Etsy's footsteps. Among them is Bonanza, which, with its "friendliest social community online," aims to put the human element back into e-commerce, "making people relevant again."

Then there is ArtFire, which started two years ago in Tucson, Arizona. It provides a platform for "handmade goods, fine art, vintage, designed items, supplies and media," and aims to "celebrate the unique individuality of artists and crafters around the globe."

Cafe Press was started in 1999. Based in San Mateo, California, the company provides on-demand printing for mugs, t-shirts and products designed by users, "uniting and rewarding self-expression." It now gets 11 million unique visits a month and, with its 6.5 million users, adds around 2,000 new, independent shops and 45,000 new products every day.

Another great example of making a business out of helping people make a business is Recession Wire. Begun in February 2009 by Sara Clemence and Laura Rich, who were laid off when Portfolio magazine folded, and partner Lynn Parramore, the site aims to "chronicle the 'upside of the downturn' through personal stories, helpful advice and reportage on the changes underway in these hard times."

In its small business section, the site features articles like: "How to Bootstrap Your New Business Wisely," "Don't Close Your Business, Change It," and "A Cool, Free Way to Figure Out a Business Idea's Potential."

At, the website of Inc. Magazine, the editors aim to provide "advice, tools, and services, to help business owners and CEOs start, run, and grow their businesses more successfully." Its start-up section includes advice on writing a business plan, running a home-based business, naming a business, how to incorporate, and financing.

StartupNation bills itself as a "free service founded by entrepreneurs for entrepreneurs." Headed by Jeff and Rich Sloan, two experienced entrepreneurs, who started the site to share their "years of in-the-trenches experience," the site features blogs, forums, advice, and networking tools.

Micro-financing, another entrepreneurship model greatly enhanced by the web, has been around for awhile. But the founders of InVenture Fund wanted to take the model to the next step. It was launched in October 2009 because, as the site says, "traditional microfinance models weren't doing enough to lift communities out of poverty." The problem was that the 75 million or so borrowers around the world were locked into loans they had to repay, sometimes at interest rates of 30 percent. InVenture finds microloan recipients who have good track records and gives them the financing to expand, with no fixed repayment schedule. "Give entrepreneurs an opportunity for real financial and social growth," the site says, "and they'll lift not just themselves but their communities out of poverty." A portion of the site's profits is then invested in responsible community programs, like clean water and education.

Indeed, one of the hallmarks of this entrepreneurial movement is community -- including an emphasis on local food, local agriculture, and sustainable business practices. One of the ironies of this new wave of small businesses is how the global reach of the web has been so pivotal in connecting people to their own communities.

Judy Wicks, the owner of the famed White Dog Cafe in Philadelphia, founded the Business Alliance for Local Living Economies (BALLE), which now has 80 local chapters in the U.S. and Canada. To spread the local food gospel of the White Dog, Wicks also founded Fair Food, which connects local family farms with city dwellers.

In Lexington, Kentucky, Fresh Stop is an attempt to bring the benefits of community-supported agriculture to those who couldn't normally afford it. Forming partnerships with churches, Fresh Stop asks those who can afford it to pay a bit more for what they buy, which subsidizes those for whom the fresh -- and healthy -- food would otherwise be out of reach.

Whether you're directly involved in a small business or not, I hope you'll check out Small Business America. After all, we're all affected by the well-being of the communities we live in. At least for the time being, real solutions are less likely to come from politicians than from the thousands of people in thousands of communities taking the initiative to connect, share, and create.

I love how human this movement is. It's fueled by technology, but at its core is a real person connecting to another real person. As Twitter founder Biz Stone said of his company: "Twitter is not a triumph of tech. It's a triumph of humanity."

Technology is what will allow this very American movement to scale up and begin to have a real impact. But it's in our backyards and basements that it begins. "To be attached to the subdivision, to love the little platoon we belong to in society, is the first principle (the germ as it were) of public affections," wrote Edmund Burke. "It is the first link in the series by which we proceed towards a love to our country, and to mankind."

Click here to check out Small Business America... and let us know what you think.

Go To Homepage

Popular in the Community