Today’s young adults are interested in becoming entrepreneurs for two main reasons, said Kara Miller, host of WGBH radio’s “Innovation Hub:” one is for the fame that follows the founder of the next big thing, while the other is for the sheer necessity of finding work in a stagnant economy.
“There are more people who are saying, ‘I have to create my own thing because there may not be any open jobs for me. I may have to start something new,’” Miller told a score of students, faculty, and staff who attended the latest installment of the Pathways to Entrepreneurship Speaker Series last week.
The series is sponsored by the Michael J. and Ann Sherman Center for Engineering Entrepreneurship Education, which is designed to arm engineering undergraduates with the appropriate entrepreneurial skills to successfully pitch and commercialize their innovations.
“Innovation Hub” was launched in 2011 and airs on 89.7 WGBH. Miller, who is also the executive producer, noted that the program features today’s most creative thinkers—from authors to researchers to business leaders. For starters, she has interviewed Khan Education founder Sal Khan, Yahoo! CEO and President Marissa Mayer, and Northeastern University President Joseph E. Aoun.
Entrepreneurship is a major focus of Northeastern’s academic mission. The D’Amore-McKim School of Business offers a concentration in entrepreneurship and innovation, while the Entrepreneurs Club helps students build real companies and forge bonds with accomplished entrepreneurs. IDEA, Northeastern’s student-run venture accelerator, helps students and alumni create, develop, and accelerate new businesses through coaching, mentoring, and gap funding.
Miller would fit in. In his opening remarks, chemical engineering associate professor Shashi Murthy characterized the radio host as an entrepreneur for having developed Innovation Hub while teaching English at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, saying she is “well respected in Boston and beyond in the areas of innovation and the frontiers of technology.”
In her hourlong lecture, Miller described two of the biggest factors driving people to entrepreneurship. One, she said, is that more companies are hiring fewer people, many of whom have been replaced by machines.
“One of the things that has really astounded me when I have interviewed people is the degree to which machine learning is changing the job structure,” Miller said. “It is taking over all sorts of jobs that used to be real human jobs.”
The other driving force is the popularity of innovators such as Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, Apple founder Steve Jobs, and Microsoft founder Bill Gates. In Miller’s view, these high-tech entrepreneurs represent the everyman—ordinary people who hatched ideas in their garages or dorm rooms and then turned them into a multi-billion dollar ventures.
“Our media culture has turned people like Mark Zuckerberg and Steve Jobs into celebrities,” Miller noted. “And they are every bit as famous as Tom Cruise.”
As the culture of innovation continues to evolve, Miller wonders whether people will be able to pull themselves away from high tech distractions such as cell phones and the Internet in order to think big—really big.
“There are thought leaders who are starting to think about carving out time for thinking about the big ideas,” she explained. “Having the time and the space to really think as an entrepreneur and innovator may seem like that is the least of your problems…but I think it’s actually a really big challenge.”