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Modern-Day Davy Crocketts

By Jens Odegaard on January 21st, 2013 • Heros, Starting a business, Technology, Entrepreneurship
Originally appeared in: Spring 2013It's Complicated

Entrepreneurs, the really successful ones anyway, are the latest American folk heroes. A bunch of modern-day Davy Crocketts charging out into the wild frontiers of, more often than not, tech and consumer gadgetry. They're constantly talked about on the news, profiled in magazines, and treated like rock stars. These men and women are the faces of a much larger system that includes colleges, investors, collaborators, and everyday working folk, but it's the digital frontiersmen that get the majority of the glory. 

This hero worship makes sense in the context of America's infatuation with the so-called self-made man or woman. Entrepreneurs are the cream of America's bootstrappin' crop. They're businessmen and women who aren't content just to climb the corporate ladder, but strike out on their own to pursue personal visions. For a nation drip-fed the notion of personal liberty from the time we're born, creating our own business is about as land-of-the-free as it comes. 

Driving the elevation of entrepreneurs to pantheon level is the system which has sprung up beneath them. Since 2000, Harvard has fostered and educated aspiring entrepreneurs through its Technology and Entrepreneurship Center at Harvard (TECH). Stanford's also in on the game with its Center for Entrepreneurial Studies, started in 1996. Boston and Silicon Valley are traditional hotbeds for entrepreneurs, but incubators designed to nurture budding entrepreneurs are all over the country, and you can get a business degree in entrepreneurship almost anywhere. Investors and venture capitalists, too, are lined up waiting to drop cash on the next billion-dollar business.

Building up an aura of importance and, maybe even a little grandiosity, around business founders keeps the money flowing and the wheels turning by putting them front and center in the public eye--providing priceless marketing for them and their products. Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin, and, even in death, Apple founder Steve Jobs have their faces plastered all over, movies made about them, and endless words written breaking down their path to riches and business superstardom.

They are this generation's cultural icons who have crossed the divide from mere businessmen to almost godlike status in the American mythos. They personify the American ideals of wealth, innovation, and high-tech consumerism. It's convenient for the narrative if we believe that entrepreneurs are stand-alone geniuses, but in reality, successful entrepreneurs are just men and women who are good at making money, and they don't do it alone.

Zuckerberg had plenty of help launching Facebook. Wozniak, the less famous Steve behind Apple, is actually the guy with the computer-building know-how. Jobs was the visionary and salesman. Putting lone men and women on pedestals gives us talismans to look at, but the vast majority of us work, or will end up working, for someone else.

Davy Crockett was immortalized for sacrificing his life defending the Alamo from General Santa Anna's Mexican forces. Heroic, certainly, and his, and others like him, exploratory tendencies helped open western expansion, but after the first wave of frontiersmen it was the more common settlers that came and made the United States what it is today. Folk heroes are nice to have, but it's still the rank and file of everyday men and women who make the visions reality.
 

Sources: harvard.com; businessinsider.com; boston.com; history.com

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