Ice House Entrepreneurs: Battling Hardship with Entrepreneurship
Thom Ruhe, Director of Entrepreneurship, The Kauffman Foundation
Written for Huffington Post
The market gyrations of the past few weeks, brought on by the avoidable debt ceiling debacle, reacquainted everyone with the risk and uncertainty associated with today's economy. And while policymakers scramble to make sense of the market volatility and rationalize our credit downgrade, many Americans have been left to fend for themselves.
Yet, even amidst this wave of chaos and confusion, opportunities continue to emerge. In fact, some of our country's best entrepreneurial successes were born in times of economic adversity.
Obviously, entrepreneurship is not the easiest of life choices to make, but it is arguably among the most vital for our economy. Supported by tomes of research and policy recommendations from the Kauffman Foundation, it is the activity that produces new jobs, creates wealth and grows the economy -- all things our elected officials would eagerly take credit for fostering, their actions to the contrary notwithstanding.
Surprisingly, though, little is known about how new firms are created. Most attempts to "teach" entrepreneurship have fallen short and, in many ways, entrepreneurial success remains a mystery shrouded by popular myths and common misconceptions. As we all struggle to find our way forward, however, a glimpse into the past may provide some important clues.
In the late 1950s, Glen Allan, Mississippi was a poor cotton community. For many, it was a place where opportunities were limited and few dared to dream of a better life. Yet, it was at the local ice house where one unlikely entrepreneur shared the common-sense wisdom and the entrepreneurial life-lessons that had empowered him.
Today, those same life-lessons have been captured in the Ice House Entrepreneurship Program, a two-part learning project designed to remind us of the fundamental concepts of an entrepreneurial mindset and the opportunities it can provide.
Drawing on eight entrepreneurial life lessons Pulitzer Prize nominee Clifton Taulbert gained from his Uncle Cleve Mormon, Who Owns the Ice House? chronicles Taulbert's journey from life as a young boy in the Mississippi Delta at the height of legal segregation to becoming recognized by TIME Magazine as "one of our nation's most outstanding emerging entrepreneurs."
The Course: The Ice House Entrepreneurship Program is an online learning initiative that features first-hand experiences of real-world entrepreneurs (not Silicon Valley Wunderkinds) who have overcome adversity by embracing an entrepreneurial mindset while realizing the benefits of a self-directed future.
For the next eight weeks we'll examine each of Uncle Cleve Mormon's eight life-lessons on the Huffington Post. Each week, we'll look at the world through the eyes of an "Ice House Entrepreneur" who will describe in their own words the opportunities they found, the challenges they faced and, more importantly, the mindset that enabled them to succeed.
And so it is at a time when unemployment is recoiling to spring back upward, policy makers are gyrating with procedural slight-of-hand to extract their pound of flesh. Washington offers platitudes in protection of job creators, but I suspect most of them don't even know who the real job creators are and, more importantly, the assistance they need in order to create the jobs we so desperately need.
The real job creators in this country are the white noise of our economy, taken for granted, misunderstood, and usurped for political gain. They are the ones currently being neglected by the financial system that was somehow not too socialistic to accept bailouts, but is now somehow too capitalistic to ease credit and access to desperately needed capital.
Ice House entrepreneurs, however, remind us of what made our country great. They are pushing through the most trying times of our generation, not relying on handouts and bailouts, but instead asking for some fair and common sense reform. They are proving that the hottest fire makes the strongest steel, and I count myself fortunate to be helping them in whatever way we can. I only wish our elected masses, red and blue, could join us on this worthy undertaking.
Please watch the video to learn more about the Ice House Entrepreneurs.