John D. Sanders, Ph.D.,
"A New Era for Entrepreneurship"
Entrepreneurs have been a principal driving force for our nation's economy from the founding days. Many of the earliest enterprises came from individuals who struck out on their own.
Beginning in the 20th Century, as technological inventions and developments became more complex, most all new work was done through larger institutions and companies. In order to really accomplish something, a technical person pretty much had to work for an organization that could provide the laboratory or other support structure necessary to carry out meaningful experiments or data handling.
Following World War II, a new breed of entrepreneurially inspired companies evolved that could utilize technological developments with electronics, radar, radio communications, and computational machines. Most of these new companies were service oriented- with product development still in the major organizations.
In the late 1950's and into the 1960's, the computer was making inroads into technological development. With data processing beginning to be available in service bureaus around the country, the technical entrepreneur could utilize strong such functions and perform technical services on demand. Companies began to spring up that performed extremely complex technical developments and utilized available information processing without the necessity for extremely high overheads of a large organization. Another major new difference was the availability of transistors that allowed for orders of magnitude reduction in size and cost of electronic equipment in conjunction with orders of magnitude increase in performance and reliability. Technical entrepreneurs could now develop hardware products within a small company environment. In fact, it was really during this time that computers and communications became interlocked for the first time- and the small company could outperform the large company in many areas of technology.
Along comes the 1970's and the first "portable" computers with solid state memories and "floppy discs." Do you remember your first floppy disc? I do. What a feeling of power to accomplish! It was a new, exciting world to compute and store, access and retrieve, send and receive. A few people could band together and accomplish what would have required teams of highly trained professionals just a few years before. The technical entrepreneur could start a company with personal capital and multiply brain power many fold over. Access to data and computing power opened the information technology age- which has grown exponentially with the enormous increases in availability at the desktop and in the briefcase. (Those of us who had to purchase core memory at 37 cents per bit in the 60's can barely fathom the SIMMs bought today over the counter at $50 per megabyte.) It truly started, however, the technical entrepreneurial revolution. In fact, today the individual with a PC can accomplish at the desktop what a whole small company did just a decade ago.
But, the best is still to come. Welcome to the information highway- a true combination of computers and communications. Now that individual entrepreneur has access to the whole world of knowledge; every bit of data and information that has ever been developed is available virtually instantly no matter where a person is. Everyone can communication with every one else- well, at least the entrepreneurs can. The Internet entrepreneurs and those who roam the information highway will vault forward a whole new breed of products and services- and all types of new enterprises. A product or service that accomplishes what is needed does not necessarily require a particular type of organization to develop it or even service it.
This is the third new wave of technical entrepreneurship, and it's already proving to be a wing-dinger. The revolution of the organization is again upon us. I'm as excited now about "the Web" and its possibilities as I was 20 years ago by that first floppy disc and 40 years ago by my first "Heathkit."
If you have comments, please contact me at Technology Transfer Business magazine: phone: 703-848-2800, ext. 151; fax: 703-848-2353; internet: firstname.lastname@example.org., or even "the Web": //www.seneca.com/ttbiz
prepared for the August, 1995 Issue of the Federal Laboratory Consortium NewsLink