By Bill Reichert

What’s the Next Big Thing?  It’s not technology, and it’s not exponential, but it is disruptive, and it is changing our world.

Long ago and far away, at the end of the last century when we were starting Garage, our thesis was that the next big thing would be global entrepreneurship.  Thanks to the Internet and mobile phones, the world was connecting at a pace never before seen in human history.  Certainly, technology companies would benefit from this trend, and we intended to capitalize on that.  And we did.   🙂

But we knew that the next big thing was not about technology; it was about people.  So we decided to reach out to entrepreneurs in a way that no venture firm had ever reached out before.  We launched programs for entrepreneurs, initially called Bootcamp for Startups, and later called The Art of the Start.  We also did Bootcamps for angels and for lawyers, and a post-Bubble reboot we called Silicon Valley 4.0, and a post-Meltdown reboot we called Revenue Bootcamp.

We saw the need and the opportunity to develop the global entrepreneur ecosystem.  We discovered that universities had no clue how to train entrepreneurs.  Entrepreneurship programs were a blend of business plan writing and small business management training.  The venture capital community was surprisingly unhelpful as well.  “It’s all about focus,” was the common VC instruction.  But what we knew as entrepreneurs ourselves was that it’s really hard to get it right from the start.  Entrepreneurs need some time for divergent thinking and market testing before they get locked into a singular focus.  Hence the Guy Kawasaki gospel, “Don’t worry, be crappy.”

The academic world has now caught up to the entrepreneur world, thanks to the energies of entrepreneurs like Steve Blank, Eric Ries, and Vivek Wadhwa and their work in the academic world.  But the world of global entrepreneurship did not develop quite as we had expected.  We thought that venture capital would go global in parallel with entrepreneurship.  While some new venture capital firms did spring up in innovation hubs around the world, and some U.S. venture capital firms did extend to other markets, the venture capital community remained overwhelmingly concentrated in Silicon Valley and a few other cities.  Most innovation hubs did not have the critical mass to sustain a broad, deep early stage venture capital community.

So governments stepped in to fill the breach.  Initially the theory was, “We can create our own Silicon Valley.”  But in most geographies, that can’t happen.  Limited by local markets and resources, the best entrepreneurs got on a plane and came to Silicon Valley.  Eventually the smarter policymakers and local investors got the message.  Although it is challenging to justify using local money to send entrepreneurs to Silicon Valley, it turns out it is the best way to plug into the global innovation ecosystem.  And a rapidly increasing number of case studies are showing that global success via Silicon Valley results in local success as well – as Israel, Estonia, Australia and others are discovering.

Increasingly, however, Silicon Valley is becoming more of a global hub than a destination.  Entrepreneurs are connecting to the global market through Silicon Valley.  Similarly, global corporations are connecting to the innovation ecosystem through Silicon Valley, with hundreds of international companies setting up venture groups and research clusters in the Valley.  This is a huge trend that is spurring the next wave of global entrepreneurship.

We have only just begun to see the impact on the world that the tidal wave of global entrepreneurship is having.  Key to this impact is the transformation of large institutions, such as corporations, governments and educational systems, from resistant, calcified bureaucracies to adaptive organizations that see the handwriting on the wall.  Until recently, these organizations barely understood what was happening to them.  Then they realized they had to adapt, or die.  Now we are seeing another shift as the most forward thinking organizations take on a new battle cry – adapt, and thrive!

For much of the world, the entrepreneur in the coffee shop used to be a charming curiosity.  Now we must all be entrepreneurs, in one way or another, if we are going to participate in the rocky transformation from the old world to the new world.

We have met the future, and it is us.  Welcome to the world of global entrepreneurship!