Not having to answer to a boss is a dream that plenty of workers have had, and for a long time, it’s been a pretty attainable one. Through a combination of financial savvy and hard work, many Americans have been able to start their own businesses, from selling coffee in a corner store to managing real estate in a corner office.
But now, such opportunities may be growing more exclusive. A recent study from Babson College proclaimed 2014 the year that saw the most entrepreneurial activity in 16 years, with about 24 million Americans starting or running small businesses founded last year. Similarly, a survey released by Harvard Business School showed that the entrepreneurial marketplace in the U.S. remains more welcoming and accessible than most other countries in the world thanks to the relative ease of securing financing, relatively few regulatory hoops to jump through, and plenty of successful businesspeople to learn from. Nearly 60 percent of those surveyed had started or bought their own business at some point in their lives and about 40 percent thought that access to entrepreneurship was readily available in the U.S.
But, looking at a broader data set on small business ownership in America, the numbers aren’t quite as promising. The optimistic findings about entrepreneurship in America are somewhat at odds with recent Census data, which finds that in general, small business growth isn’t that robust at all, especially compared to the pace of previous decades. The discord between the findings may be related to who was surveyed. While the Census surveys a largely representative sample of Americans, Harvard’s study looked only at Harvard Business School alums—an already selective group who likely have greater access to the capital and networks that can help small businesses thrive. The discrepancies between their answers and the larger picture of small-business ownership in the U.S. may hint at the fact that entrepreneurship is becoming a much more selective club that favors the affluent and excludes average Americans.