Self-Employed Entrepreneur: The New Era Workforce, Symposium Recap

A big thanks to our colleagues at Intuit who co-hosted our successful symposium. So much information was imparted at the symposium that we’re posting the resources with a bit of context. Please check out the presentations and use the information with proper citation. For the short version, check out the Carolyn Said article “Entrepreneurs thrash out future of flexible work” that was in the San Francisco Chronicle. DATA, TRENDS, AND OPPORTUNITIES Marysol McGee, a Senior Community Development Analyst, Division of Consumer and Community Affairs, Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve presented Survey of Enterprising and Informal Work Activities. The Federal Reserve’s work looks at what the world of independent work looks like; who’s doing it; how much are they making; and what kind of work is being done. The report confirms and legitimizes what those of us who have been looking at this suspected – a lot of people are engaged in some kind of independent work, about 70 million or 36% of the workforce. Steve King, Partner at Emergent Research, has been working with Intuit to study the independent workforce for quite a long time. Their recent work focused on the financial hardships and safety net for this population. Some of the interesting findings include:

  • Online activity is very much part-time at 11 hours a week or 22% of income.
  • Many people doing independent work have full-time jobs that and are supplementing their income.
  • Independent work is fairly volatile, which is a big problem.
  • Forty-one percent of those faced financial hardship and were working in the gig economy to help make it through that hardship.
  • Future research should investigate whether or not this is a stop-gap measure or if the trend will continue.
Steve then questioned Michael McGeary, Head of Policy for Upwork, about Upwork’s new study on the geographical location of buyers and sellers of services on their platform – in 96% of transactions, buyers and sellers were more than 50 miles apart. The implications are that if someone graduates Cal State Chico or Fresno and wants to scale a business, they can stay in the smaller, more affordable community and bring needed economy vitality to rural and edge communities. One concern that was raised is that we have to figure out how U.S. workers aren’t at a disadvantage to European and other foreign workers when it comes to hourly rates. THE ENTREPRENEUR’S VOICE Eri Gentry, Research Manager for the Technology Horizons Program at Institute For The Future (IFTF), presented the seven archetypes of entrepreneurship as illustrated in IFTF’s “Voices of Workable Futures” report. After which, she introduced our panel who told their stories and discussed their challenges and what they need to be successful. Participants included:
  • Josh Garber, lawyer, UpCounsel
  • Victor Sandifer, owner of Run the World Clothing, uses Lyft
  • Terra Williams, owner of Duet Vintage, uses Etsy
  • Brianna Williams, owner of Catrina’s Popcorn and 3 other business, uses various including: HomeGlow, DoorDash, Postmates, Envoy, Easy Shift
Their stories are great and the conversation was rich. You can watch the panel in it’s entirety, when the video is ready (soon!). One key takeaway is that it is so clear that the policies and institutions that govern work are not aligned with today’s reality.   FUTURE OF WORK We were fortunate to have Marco Zappacosta, CEO and Founder of Thumbtack gave a great keynote that explained what won’t provide future jobs and what will. What wont? Lots of jobs are going to be automated, somewhere between 9 and 47%. Yikes! So manufacturing’s not going to help. Union membership as we know it is unlikely to rebound and represent the bulk of future work. Economic mobility is down, so most Americans aren’t going to be able to move to find work. And on-demand labor platforms are turning out to be mostly supplemental, which is great, but not going to provide the numbers or middle class income that we need from the future of work. What will provide the future of work? Non-tradeable jobs that can’t be done overseas/out of a geographical location and non-routine jobs. Repetitive jobs like accounting and radiology are going to be automated. Finally, Marco outlined what is needed from the technology platforms, government and other institutions to invest in human capital.   THE ENTREPRENEURIAL ECOSYSTEM Our afternoon was dedicated to solutions. Dan Beam of Dan Beam Inc. gave us his model for “Thriving in the New Era” that includes what the work options are, how individuals make choices and what they choose for their livelihood mix. He then facilitated a lighting round of solutions that people are working on right now. Their brief descriptions of their projects were intended to spark imagination as to what else could be possible. The solutions were organized by their role in The Entrepreneurial Ecosystem: Coaching, Capital, Connection to Markets, Climate, i.e. what is needed to ensure entrepreneurial success. Since we’re talking about an ecosystem, all elements are needed. Below, I’ve listed each presentation as well as summary bullet points. Coaching Naldo Peliks, Chief Operations Officer, Centro Community Partners describes their mobile app that delivers a business plan and connects business owners to capital. In the United States, more than 28 million small businesses serve as the backbone of our economy and only 3.6% receive support from business assistance providers in the form of entrepreneurship training, loans and/or other business advisory services. Centro Community Partners has identified the following systemic challenges:
  1. Low inclusion – low-income entrepreneurs are trapped in the cycle of poverty and are left out of the economic development system.
  2. Lack of access – globally, low-income people have limited or no access to entrepreneurship education, mentorships, and capital.
  3. Costs to deliver and scale support services – entrepreneurship training costs money ($4,500/entrepreneur in the US); to scale and reach more people we need to reduce costs.
  4. Poor market linkages – loan providers that are looking for ways to connect to loan-ready borrowers and technical assistance providers are often disconnected from one-another.
Rani Langer-Croager, founder of Uptima Business Bootcamp explained her cooperative business incubator.
  • Uptima Business Bootcamp is a network of member-owned business accelerators dedicated to providing entrepreneurs with greater access to hands-on education, resources and community to create thriving businesses.
  • We launched our first business accelerator in Oakland in 2014 to serve freelancers, small business owners and startup founders based in the East Bay. Over the next few years, we are looking to bring our unique member-owned business accelerator to more locations.
  • Our business accelerators offer classes and business advising services for freelancers, small business owners and startup founders to get valuable training, mentorship and guidance to build thriving businesses. All of our programs encourage participants to take a holistic approach to developing business goals, looking at their impact on the individual and on the community.
  • Our business accelerators are very different from other entrepreneurship programs. Each of our business accelerators is a cooperative, in which participants in the business accelerator have the opportunity to become a member-owner of the accelerator. This means that participating members are part of a real community that shares in their business accelerator’s profits and has a say in how their business accelerator is run.
Lindsey Crumbaugh, Managing Director, Samaschool explained how her company is filling the gap in services provided to low income job seekers for whom the gig economy can be an on-ramp.
  • The gig economy can be an avenue for re-entry into the workforce for unemployed people. This type of work can rebuild confidence and CVs, and demonstrate workforce-ready skills.
  • The current landscape is not set-up to harness the opportunities available in the gig economy as an economic channel for low-income, unemployed populations. 
  • What structural and/or programmatic changes are required to build a more supportive and inclusive gig economy in the context of the broader entrepreneurial ecosystem?
Capital Loren Alusic, State and Local Government Relations Manger, Intuit discussed the access to capital challenges that small businesses encounter and how Quickbooks developed a financing product.
  • QuickBooks Financing product journey: The mission is to fuel the success of small businesses by making access to working capital and expansion capital readily available.
  • What has this journey taught us? Time is money. Opportunity to educate. Technology and innovation driving change. Cash flow is difficult to predict.
  • What do we hope to see in the SMB lending space? Applicable technology, transparency, modernization.
Daniel Fernandez, Director of Microlending – Southern CA, Opportunity FundOpportunity Fund’s Microbusiness Program and responsible lending
  • Small businesses fail primarily because they cannot access the right financing.
  • Banks, which prefer lower-risk, higher-value loans of more than $100K, are not meeting small businesses’ need for credit.
  • Alternative lenders fill the gap. Some lend responsibly – others are not the lowest, most affordable options for clients.
Connections: Neal Gorenflo, co-founder and Executive Director, Shareable talked about how cooperative ownership platforms can help workers become owners.
  • The challenges gig workers face using Uber as an example
  • Platform cooperatives as a solution. Platform cooperatives marry a digital platform with a cooperative ownership structure. This is where the users or service providers own and control a service delivery platform democratically. This results in better wages and working conditions for gig workers.
  • Two examples of platform cooperatives: Green Taxi and Stocksy.
Climate/Policies Eri Gentry, reappeared and explained IFTF’s policy findings for the gig economy.
  • Platform workers are shaping building blocks of the emerging platform economy—with important implications for platform designers, policymakers, and other workers.
  • The building blocks are reputation, learning, rhythms, location, value, assets and identity. 
  • Specifically, rethink and redefine what job readiness means in the context of the platform economy.
  • Have an ecosystem level view in order to understand platform workers’ complex hierarchy of needs.
  • Find ways to categorize and segment work based on relationship to location.
  • Fund programs that bolster income woven together from several streams.
  • Understand the identities (and vulnerabilities) of traditional workers as they transition into the platform economy.
(last, but definitely not least!) Libby Reder, Fellow, Aspen Institute Future of Work Initiative described the infrastructure that’s necessary to build to support a changing workforce like healthcare and retirement benefits.
  • Gig economy workers/entrepreneurs often do not have access to benefits and protections traditionally provided by employers, such as workers compensation, retirement savings, paid leave and others – potentially including health care.
  • In order to match the reality of work today, we need an updated safety net that is universal, portable and pro-rated.
  • Across sectors, experimentation is already taking place, for example through’s Benefit Bucks and the Uber-recognized/Machinists-led Independent Drivers Guild.
Dan Beam summarized much of what we talked about in the New Era Symposium Trailblazer Report. The symposium gave us lots of food for thought. CAMEO is committed to helping entrepreneurs and will use what we learned from the symposium to guide us in our future endeavors.   Again, big thanks to our colleagues who made this event possible. ]]>