By Evan Burfield
Technology is an empowering force. Nowhere is this more evident than among those aiming to solve today’s greatest civic and social challenges. The data-driven tools available to us are helping unleash individual creativity. Barriers fall, markets open, and time becomes a crucial ally. Challenges that were previously thought too big or too entrenched are now subject to disruption.
The software revolution makes it easier than ever to start a tech-enabled business. Computing has swung from centralized terminals to distributed platforms and finally to the web, which itself is a hybrid centered on the “cloud.” Whereas it once cost me easily into the six figures to run the servers for my old startup in the dot-com era, now an entrepreneur can simply pay less than a hundred a month for access to, say, Microsoft Azure. A 22-year-old fresh out of college has access to the same computing power that a Fortune 500 company alone could enjoy just a few years ago—and at a fraction of the cost. These prices are only expected to fall and access to increase exponentially through smartphones.
Barriers are also falling in the marketplace. Uber took on an industry full of entrenched players swathed in government regulation because its founders realized that software had solved two previously intractable problems: connecting drivers with riders and helping riders to trust those drivers. 1776, the global startup incubator I co-founded in 2013, was built to take advantage of these remarkable opportunities available to entrepreneurs. We believed that juicy new markets were finally becoming open to startups in education, healthcare, energy, and smart cities.
Sometimes those juicy problems that entrepreneurs tackle are the same ones that hamper their growth. To lead an early-stage tech startup often means not simply wearing the hats of CEO, COO, CTO, and Chief Fun Officer. It means being your very own HR administrator tasked with the complexities of healthcare, payroll, and myriad other benefits. All of this takes time and brain space, which in our skills-based economy are the two most precious resources available to entrepreneurs. Companies such as Zenefits are automating sectors that still run on fax machines in a bid to make HR less of a slog for small business.
Starting a business is not easy. You spend 90 to 95 percent of your time with your head down trying to solve problems. What data-driven tools and solutions do is take away the problems that shouldn’t matter and replace them with the ones that do. This is the software revolution on a micro level—for the overly caffeinated founder trying to enter a new market, find new customers, and quickly understand what’s going on in their business.
These are what advances in big data and open data look like. Not scary manifestations of centralized power, but distributed knowledge that empowers people to grasp opportunities that were never available to them before. Enabling the sort of innovation that matters means equipping entrepreneurs with every advantage to take on entrenched industries.
Looking at the data-driven innovations available to you and to me today, all we can say is simply this: Unleash the entrepreneurs.