Stuck Betwen a Rock and a Broke Place:

February 1, 2012 § Leave a comment

If you’re like me, and I think you are, you have hundreds of ideas, opinions and convictions that you feel strongly about. If you are still on board, you’re also a part of a growing number of ‘young people’ who find the idea of a ‘career path’ to be an agonizing and self-defeating path to take your life on.

Do I still have your attention? Allow me to express some of my trials and tribulations with attempting to take these sometimes tangential ideas and materialize them into something that can help pay the bills.

We live in a world that inundates us with access to a wealth of knowledge that was once unimaginable. This is a blessing and a curse. For someone such as myself who dreams of living a life full of odd jobs that, at one point or another, collide to form some semblance of a career, I have no choice but to begin putting eggs in multiple baskets.

And that’s a bummer. It is exciting and fun and keeps me on my toes, but it is exhausting, especially when all the work I do is for free. Like they say when you sign on for an unpaid internship, “this could lead to a job!” Could obviously being the operative word. I have had more internships than I care to count, starting as a sophomore in high school working for a couple hours a day after school.

I won’t bore you with my life, god knows there is a time (after about 10 beers on any Friday or Saturday night) and place (your neighborhood co-op bar) for that conversation. The purpose of this post is to weigh our options for turning ideas into ‘real-life’ job prospects.

Outside of working for a neighborhood development corporation or staying in school perpetually I don’t really see much of what most people call a “career path” for me. I am okay with this. I am happy to work at unfulfilling jobs that actually qualify as ‘work’ (i.e. restaurant industry, factory/ warehouse jobs, landscaping – you know real physical work), all the days of my life so long as I can make time to do things I find meaningful.

In order to get to that point, though, where I can do for a living what I find meaningful, I am told you have to be an ‘entrepreneur.’  This word, which I almost always misspell, is in a way the only real outlet for folks like me. People who don’t think to fondly of bosses or the way most businesses conduct themselves, and people who have… whats it called… values! Yeah, I don’t want to have to compromise what I believe in to get a 9-5. There is even a sub-category of entrepreneurship that infuses values into their business model, called social-entrepreneurship [Think Grameen Bank, TOMS (which I happen to have beef with), and Ethos Water].

So once you realize you are otherwise unemployable (for reasons just mentioned), the prospect of starting your own ‘business’ or ‘non-profit’ becomes one of the more realistic paths that life can take you on. There are many avenues for a civically-engaged, innovative, technologically savvy person to pursue. Models like Kickstarter, 33needs, Profounder, and RockedHub are known as crowdsourced funding platforms. Coincidentally, only RocketHub does not take a ‘cut’ from the ‘investors.’ All the others do and it usually fluctuates between 3% and 9% depending on the platform.

If you are thinking to yourself, “that’s wack”, that’s because it is. Sadly, and all-too-often, the money you raised finds ways into the pockets of outsiders without any interest or concern for your venture. Additionally, the success rates of these crowdsourcing platforms are relatively low. Compound that by the fact that the funds you raise are not likely to ‘launch’ a business. Rather, these platforms are ideal for small projects that could lead to a business. All of a sudden, these platforms begin to look like an internship by a different name.

Sadly, the road to raise more money only comes with more hoops to jump through and more strings attached to the money you may or may not get, likely gaining profit for your lender before you see a penny. There are small business incubators that range in scope and size of investments. In Cleveland, for example there is Jumpstart Inc. which does venture capital, Detroit based, Dan Gilbert owned, Bizdom U, a (relatively) smaller venture capital firm, and  LaunchHouse, which focuses on smaller ventures. Both take a percentage of equity, lend services, and help you develop a business plan through mentoring and access to an advisory board.

I propose that if we are serious about ‘making our own jobs’ as co-founder of MSCS Peter Murphy suggests, we need to begin thinking and acting like the business people we are running from. In order to creating meaningful careers that do not require we check our morals at the door, that can clash with the underpinnings of capitalism (if you’re in to that sort of thing), and promote holistic sustainability, environmental and economic, we have to re-think our funding structures.

Think credit unions, think crowdsourced funding, think about cashmobs, think co-ops selling memberships for starting capital, and work, for the love of god, for your state to acknowledge B-Corps. If you have an idea worth pursuing, do not allow ‘outsiders’ to have their pockets lined with your good intentions. I am no banker, nor will I ever claim to be, so take this unsolicited advice with a grain of salt.

A while back we wrote about an organization out of Detroit doing just that. Detroit Big (F) Deal is a localized version of Kickstarter, that like RocketHub takes 0% of the total revenue raised. Now that rules. The only problem is that not every city has their own Big (F) Deal.

Hopefully, if it it all works out, we will have Tunde Wey at this year’s MSCS in Cleveland.

As Immortal Technique says, “If I find out I’m payin’ your light bill, I’m fuckin’ you up”

For the purposes of this post, think of your-entrepreneurial-self as an MC and the A&R as anyone trying to divert money away from what it is you have worked for and are passionately pursuing. I hope the connection makes sense.

Dan Brown is co-founder of Midwest Sustainable Cities Symposium and volunteers full-time at Saint Martin de Porres High School in Cleveland.

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