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Are we becoming more or less entrepreneurial?

Aaron M. Renn of The Urbanophile, recently wrote an interesting article in Governing called, Where’s America’s Entrepreneurial Economy? In it, he argues that despite the fact that there’s a perception that entrepreneurship is on the rise, overall rates are actually declining.

The Brookings Institution found that so-called “firm entry rates” have declined since the 1970s and that they suffered a steep fall post-2005. And though millennials are often seen as an entrepreneurial generation, The Wall Street Journal reports that business ownership among those under the age of 30 recently hit a 24-year low. Self-employment has seen a similar downward trend. A study by Economic Modeling Specialists International found that both the total number of self-employed and their share of jobs have fallen since 2006.

His argument is that outside of tech — where yes, the barriers to entry have fallen significantly over the years — it has actually become harder to start a company in a lot of other cases. And he specifically mentions two industries where he believes that is very much the case: construction and real estate.

Why is that?

Well, he cites a number of possible factors, one of which is increased licensing requirements for many industries. But the two most interesting for me are slow disruption cycles and the presence of large dominant firms.

Real estate has both of those. 

It’s also a capital intensive industry. And it’s becoming harder for smaller private players to compete with larger institutions and pension funds who struggle with “moving the investment needle”, not with access to capital. Real estate is no longer the fringe asset class it once was.

In contrast, you have the tech space with fast disruption cycles and low barriers to entry. Yes, you also have large dominant players (Apple, Google, Facebook, Amazon, and so on), but even they don’t have complete immunity in an environment where new ideas frequently trump access to capital.

A culture of entrepreneurship across all industries is important for our society. I hope we never lose that.

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