The term “urban entrepreneur” has two principal connotations: someone who starts with no resources and builds a company or brand into a success; and someone who uses the perfect blend of book and street smarts to run their business well.
To help me determine the true characteristics of today’s urban entrepreneur, though, I decided to go straight to the source: 100UrbanEntrepreneurs.org, a nonprofit foundation that, along with its sister organization, TheCASHFLOW.com, offers talented urban entrepreneurs — of whom, I humbly note, I am one — $10,000 in strings-free startup financing and eight weeks of business mentoring. Here’s what some of 100UE’s funding-and-mentoring recipients had to say.
1) Urban entrepreneurs stand at the intersection of street smarts and business smarts. We are agile, passionate and inspirational.
Typically, UE’s admire the business moguls who have made use of the skills they learned in the streets to help them run their businesses. One obvious example is Jay-Z, who lifted himself from a rough upbringing in Brooklyn’s Marcy Houses and turned himself into a global icon.
2) To be an urban entrepreneur is to choose a different path — one built on creativity and resourcefulness. When resources are limited, we must create them; when unexpected barriers come up, positivity must kick in; when our peers say we can’t do it, we must continue to climb.
UE’s are loaded with great ideas and concepts for products, but generally have little startup capital to work with. In some cases, though, limited resources can be a gateway to entrepreneurship. One year a man named Michael Kittredge wanted to give his mother a heartfelt Christmas gift but couldn’t afford anything fancy. His problem ended up the greatest thing ever to come from crayon wax and rope: Yankee Candle.
In 1998, Kittredge sold his company to a private-equity firm for $500 million, having along the way inspired many other entrepreneurs — including his son, Mick, who founded his own company, Kringle Candle, last year.
3) To me, urban entrepreneurship means the opportunity, the ability and the desire to do what is needed, where it is needed most.
An aptitude for filling marketplace voids is one thing UE’s tend to have in common. It begins simply, often in childhood — that kid who, in the immediate aftermath of a major snowstorm, is knocking on his neighbors’ doors, offering to clear their driveway for a fee? He’ll grow up to be an urban entrepreneur. Find a void, fill it — lock in and conquer.
4) Urban entrepreneurship means financial independence, creative freedom and being able to inspire other urban youths to follow their dreams.
You’ll find that most UE’s place a high priority on giving back to their community — altruism that stems from knowing the feeling of having a great idea and needing just a little help to get over a hurdle. Why take our word for it, though? A sense of community pervades the comments of many of the other 100 Urban Entrepreneurs:
5) I’ve always enjoyed taking an idea from nothing and turning it into something. The excitement of discussing entrepreneurship with kids and seeing the desire in their eyes makes being an entrepreneur priceless.
6) Urban entrepreneurship is the power of understanding how to bring out the best in people to build an empire that thrives on community and the people who make your idea a success.
7) Urban entrepreneurship means building an empire and leaving a legacy while not forgetting where you came from. Success means nothing if you don’t help others along the way.
8) Urban entrepreneurship means my success is not solely for my benefit — that we have a greater responsibility to reach other young “could be” urban entrepreneurs to illuminate their path with the beauty of our light so that they, too, can delight in the joy of success and pass it on.
Meagan Peace, Hayah Mineral Cosmetics
9) Urban entrepreneurship means investing resources in yourself and that which is directly around you.
And, finally, urban entrepreneurship is about aspiring to reach the greatest heights of economic success — for with success comes freedom, and the chance to pass on your wisdom to those who follow in your footsteps the way you followed in those who came before you:
10) Being an urban entrepreneur means the ability to manifest your fullest potential of the true spirit of the American Dream — to have the freedom to carry on the journey of entrepreneurship, while remembering who you are and where you came from to leave a trace of inspiration and know-how along the trail.
Mychal Connolly, one of 100 Urban Entrepreneurs, is the cofounder of the baby-gift company StinkyCakes.com. In 2010, he was named one of the top 40 entrepreneurs under age 40 by Business WestBoston Herald and on NPR and CBS Radio. He adheres to that classic entrepreneurial mantra: Give a man a fish and feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and feed him for a lifetime.” You can follow him on twitter, @DiaperCakeBoss.
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