NEW YORK — Since moving to New York City last summer, I’ve organized a monthly gathering of Yale alumni entrepreneurs in swanky locales around Manhattan. Some of the attendees are running their own startups and small businesses. Others are working day jobs, bootstrapping fledgling companies by night. Still others come simply to mingle with like-minded peers, poised to take their idea into reality with the right cofounder or investor.
But the culture at these evenings in New York is something special. You can sense it in the tone of people’s voices, the ease with which they connect and share with each other. It’s a deliciously positive energy, a tingling of hope and passion and creativity, a fierce belief in one’s self and one’s peers to create magnificent things. And in the midst of this recession, with so many Yalies still searching for that high-paying, ladder-climbing corporate job, it’s inspiring to see so much zeal in independent-minded alumni who are simply saying no to corporate America and realizing control of their own means of production.
But of course, despite my monthly soirees and receptions intended to connect all these entrepreneurs (and inspire more to join their ranks), there are hordes of coffee shops and libraries overflowing with unemployed New Yorkers toiling away on laptop job searches. For many, entrepreneurship seems too risky, too off the beaten path, too out of the ordinary. Better to play it safe and join the great, “infallible” pinnacles of yesteryear — after all, they’ve gotten us this far, right?
To be sure, entrepreneurship is fraught with risk. Indeed, the vast majority of start-ups fail. But not all of them do. My latest venture is something called Superconductor, a collaborative effort to create a new kind of incubator for technology startups in New York City. It was started from scratch and has progressed at blazing speeds in only a few short months, driven by a group of people dedicated to the principles and values of something greater than themselves.
Though time will tell how Superconductor will ultimately fare, we must also be cautious in our trust of the aged institutions we’re used to relying on to provide us our lives and livelihoods. Within the last year and a half alone, we’ve witnessed the meltdown of whole industries we thought were steadfast, viewed the gaping cracks in some of the most respected corporations of our time and seen the forlorn “leadership” of the president so many had hoped would positively change the system from within.
I can only hope that you are at least as angry and embittered by all this as I am. We have hoped for far too long that the old guard will create the world we want to see. We have trusted other people’s ideas to save us, and now we are suffering. If we continue to follow blindly in the footsteps of those who walked before, decades from now, we will awaken to realize we never got around to changing the world.
The future is in desperate need of brave, handcrafted institutions forged of raw ambition and creativity in a sea of mass-produced, corporate driftwood. And don’t let lack of economic capital get you down: I promise you, there is tangible potency in social networks, real electricity coursing through tightly integrated groups of smart, capable people with a common vision seeking to churn out something awesome. Money is a commodity — it can, and will, find you.
The era of the entrepreneur is now, and it’s not just for technology startups. It’s for everyone. And it will be led by the innovators who seek opportunity at every course, tired of watching the world shuffle and spasm and ache under the weight of the lumbering, ill-equipped establishment.
As a fellow Yalie, I urge you to realize the opportunity this unique time in history has presented to us and to take heed.
Pax Americana is on its way out, and we will soon no longer be the glorious children of its embrace. Unless, of course, we can innovate ourselves out of this mess. If we have any hope of solving the world’s problems before they do us in, we need to build a new American culture of inventors and organizers, entrepreneurs and connectors, activists and architects. No longer will the musty institutions our forbearers relied on serve the purposes of our new age — the world is simply changing at too fast a pace.
Matthew O. Brimer is a 2009 graduate of Jonathan Edwards College and the founder of Superconductor.