Using Entrepreneurship to Solve the World's Big Problems

Author: Notre Dame ESTEEM

Notre Dame’s ESTEEM Program equips students not only with technical, entrepreneurial, and business skills but also with a vision for applying their expertise to solve big problems and make a positive impact on the world. ESTEEM Director David Murphy highlighted that dimension in his remarks at the graduation ceremony for the Class of 2013.

“We have focused so much of our time and energy over the past year on what and how your ideas, your business plans, your capstone thesis work, and your entrepreneurial activities and innovation can indeed change the world,” Murphy said. Urging graduates to look beyond startups that provide quick-and-easy apps for enhancing the social life of comfortable Millennials, he shared insights from “The Unexotic Underclass,” an article by C.Z. Nnaemeka, who graduated from M.I.T. in 2010 focused on Entrepreneurship + Innovation. 

“There are those who believe that entrepreneurs have stopped chasing and solving Big Problems – clean energy, poverty, famine, disease, climate change – you name it,” Nnaemeka wrote. “They contend that too many brains and dollars have been shoveled into resolving ‘anti-problems’ – interests usually centered about food or fashion or social or gaming.  Something an anti-problem company might develop is an app that provides restaurant recommendations based on your blood type, a picture of your childhood pet, the music preferences of your three best friends, and the barometric pressure of the nearest city beginning with the letter ‘Q.’”

The “unexotic underclass,” including single mothers facing poverty, veterans waiting months for medical care in an inefficient system, unemployed older workers with no hope of a new job, and ex-convicts trying to re-enter a technologically-transformed society, needs the creative solutions that entrepreneurship experts can provide – and they are a market of millions of people, including 23 million veterans. They offer vast opportunities to solve lower-case “big problems” in fields with little or no competition compared to the social-app sector.

For example, the number of veterans who die before their claims are processed has tripled in the past five years, while “today, a young lady in New York can use ‘anti-problem’ technology if she wishes to line-up a date this Friday choosing only from men who are taller than 6 feet, graduated from an Ivy League college or a Notre Dame, live within 10 blocks of Gramercy Park, and play tennis left-handed.”

“Be wary of simply ‘piling on’ in the wake of anti-problem entrepreneurship – of creating insipid me-too products, apps, and services – don’t think or build too small,” Murphy told the graduates.

“You know through what we have taught you here that these are not depressing news bytes or statistics – these are an entrepreneur’s opportunities.  Seize them! Aspire to something more noble.  All of you have it in you; all of you are capable…. Notre Dame will be with you every step of the way.”

What do you think about the potential for entrepreneurship to solve “Big Problems” and “big problems”?  Have you used your entrepreneurship skills to solve “big problems”? Tell us your story.