Reading the newspapers and magazines covering the US economy is downright depressing (today’s Wall Street Journal is particularly depressing – hammering on both the worsening credit market problems and brain drain away from start-ups). But meeting with fresh-faced MBA students is downright inspiring.
I had the opportunity to meeet with 100 Harvard Business School and MIT Sloan students over the last few days and was incredibly impressed with their optimism and energy, particularly as it relates to the entrepreneurial opportunities that lie ahead.
We host an event with the graduating students every Spring, inviting 100 of the most inclined to entrepreneurship (as opposed to…gasp…banking and consulting) in order to get to know them and see if there might be opportunities within our portfolio, learn about companies they are starting or joining, and generally build relationships with the next generation of talented entrepreneurs.
What struck me the most this year was that the students seemed oblivious to – no that’s too harsh, let’s say unaffected by – the global economic turmoil raging around them. The collapse of credit markets? Inflationary pressure tying the hands of Bernake’s Federal Reserve? Destruction of trillions in asset value as the real estate asset bubble deflates? A weak US dollar impacting our competitiveness and purchasing power? Not even a part of the conversation.
Instead, they wanted to talk about clean technology and sustainability, novel medical devices and sensors, Google vs. Microsoft, the opportunities represented by the emerging mobile generation, the shift of the nearly $1 trillion in global advertising to the Web, the emergence of global perspective on VC and entrepreneurship and many other topics bubbling with possibilities. Recognize that all of these young men and women have the mission to find a job after business school over the next two short months, yet they didn’t seem concerned with "a job". They were focused on ideas, innvoations and opportunities. It is no coincidence that the famous MIT $100k Competition – where entrepreneurs submit business plans and get judged by VCs and start-up veterans in the hopes of winning a little seed money and a lot of notoriety – had a record number of entrants this year.
With a nod to John Winthrop (oh, Ronald Reagan as well, I suppose), one can only observe that in the halls of the elite American business schools, it’s Morning in America again and our entrepreneurial economy remains a city on a shining hill. There is still plenty of hope to spread around!