Why Entrepreneurs Are the Athletes of the 21st Century

Names like Jack Ma, Marc Benioff, Jeff Bezos and Richard Branson are inspiring a new generation of youth.


4 min read

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.


For much of the 20th century, athletes were pop culture icons. Athletics helped to bring people together from different ethnicities, classes or backgrounds. Everyone could cheer for a Jackie Robinson home run or acknowledge the brilliance of a Sandy Koufax pitch or a Pele roundhouse kick. But, has something happened to the myth and legend of the traditional athlete or did something else take its place instead?

Related: 8 Hugely Successful People Who Didn’t Graduate College

According to a survey of 172 high school students by Millennial Branding and Internships.com, when asked what they wanted to be when they grew up, an astounding 72 percent of respondents said entrepreneurs! Yes, “entrepreneur” has become the profession and passion for the world’s global youth and the hope for the future of many burgeoning market-based economies around the world. Names like Ma, Benioff, Bezos, Page, Brin, Buffett, Bogle, Musser, Jobs, Schwab, Johnson, Ellison, Gupta, Lauder, Blakely, Franklin, Ford, Winfrey and Branson are as diverse as they are brilliant and helped create markets when others couldn’t see them and while inspiring millions.

Entrepreneurship may become the greatest export America has ever helped popularize outside of a constitutional democracy. It knows no boundaries. No creed. No race. It’s as free as an idea someone can dream up that will help solve a problem better, faster, or more cheaply or elegantly than anyone else. It is freedom really at the individual level through an idea and in the form of a corporate structure.

Entrepreneurship means a disciplined commitment to one’s craft, an utter belief in self and the team, and an unfettering resilience to seeing the end-state. The mission of winning the championship for an entrepreneur may mean anything from releasing a new product that the world or your target market loves, achieving profitability and self-sufficiency, or exiting the business at a high multiple which rewards all stakeholders.

Related: A Look at the Demanding Schedule of Elon Musk, Who Works in 5-Minute Slots, Skips Breakfast and Avoids Emails

In his 2012 commencement speech at Georgetown University, Bono commented that America was maybe the single greatest idea that the world had ever come up with. Ideas are the basis of entrepreneurship and entrepreneurship may very well be the basis and hope for individual freedom in the future. Freedom will not be based solely upon nation-states but based upon entrepreneurial business structures that enable individuals to achieve their dreams and aspirations. Mark Benioff recently claimed that the business may be the most significant force for good the world has ever known. Entrepreneurship is the basis for this.

There are fewer than 5,000 publicly traded businesses but nearly 30.2 million private businesses in the United States that are all based on ideas of a committed entrepreneur and brilliant teams. What could be more fulfilling than to help foster total belief in yourself, your team and your idea to help impact change? While I will always love to watch my beloved Philadelphia sports teams, the world needs more Carson Wentzes in their communities that don’t just play on Sundays but play every day in fields everyone can participate in with one idea.

One can easily imagine a day when entrepreneurs are measured by many scores and stats akin to athletes. An entrepreneur’s slugging percentage may even be measured one day by enterprise value created for all stakeholders including internal rate of return (IRR). Shares in particular entrepreneurs (not just their ventures) may even be traded on exchanges in the future and become investable instruments.

Related: How 5 Entrepreneurs With Household Names Turned Failing Businesses Into Successes

When you think of the sports ecosystem of the 20th century that emerged with leagues by sport, players unions for athletes, dedicated marketing agencies, endorsement deals and fantasy betting clubs, one can imagine a parallel network may emerge by the end of the 21st century for entrepreneurs.

Entrepreneurs, I believe, are the athletes of the 21st century and will create powerful ecosystems of opportunities for all stakeholders who support and help create them in their communities or markets.

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