Startupers – the new hipsters?

In duty bound, I’m engaged to search and analyze projects amongst the GS Venture corporate venture capital fund. Through extensive media study on a daily basis and continuous communication with experts who are familiar with the “ecosystem” of startups from the inside out, I’ve come to the conclusion that society has formed a controversial image of “the young innovator-entrepreneur.”

The image can be expressed in two ways: “Startups are fashionable” and “Startuper is a new hipster.” Moreover, both of these messages have a negative connotation and give an impression that any young entrepreneur is slick with their MacBook and hungry for easy investment only for the fact that they have decided to try something new. The public’s feeling and essence claim reduce themselves to inefficiency, bubble inflation and a lack of understanding of the simple worker’s labor burden.

A remark by Pekka Viljakainen, Advisor to Viktor Vekselberg, the President of the Skolkovo Foundation, fits these stereotypes and seems quite interesting. “Russia can count many energetic people, but they remain hidden or elusive. They aren’t aware of opportunities to be an innovator. Many people tend to conceal their ideas so no one take them away; this is a feature amongst Russian mentality. When it comes to success and somebody implements a new technology or knowledge, they are afraid they will lose their idea or someone else will capture it. In addition, people in Russia specifically believe that launching a startup company is a very risky business, and parents tend to not want their children to be involved, but preferring to help them find a place in a state-run or major commercial structure.”

This raises the question of ‘what does the renowned “Bulldozer”, who was called upon to raise innovations and entrepreneurship within Russia to new levels precisely mean?’ Isn’t it contradictory that there is a craze for startups and on the other hand startups are a risky activity that “people are hidden or hide” from? Can we affirm that Russian mentality and fashion coming from the West are conflicting?

Let’s agree with what we basically mean by “mentality”. In a few words, it’s a manner of thinking with its characteristics and distinctiveness. Mentality is not Jungian archetypes or collective unconscious, but emotional and value orientations that are established in society.

In other words, putting what Mr. Viljakainen has said, one of the problems of young entrepreneurs’ mentality is the issue of self-determination. The Russian youth has no clear frame of reference and doesn’t even know what social groups modern society comprises of, which results in no self-identity. The common comparison of startupers with hipsters indicates the lack of self-determination in the sense that hipster culture represents a particular reaction “to the excess production, search for self-identity.” Ultimately, the negative attitude toward this phenomenon of startup fever is way to self-determination.

The essence of youth self-determination is revealed in the study, “Mentality of the Russian youth: policy guidelines and idols,” conducted by “Kryshtanovskaya Laboratory” in 2012-2013:

“Social mobility means finding ways for self-development and the desire to advance in ones career. If society is in a state of anomie (as it is in Russia), a person who is highly motivated to achieve success faces the problem of self-actualization. […]

Studying the primary behavior motivation of youth social groups, you will notice that the most ambitious ones are the young specialists with a higher education […] Ambitiousness amongst these groups of young people makes them the most vulnerable; if their plans don’t come true and a career is not built, they are all burnt-out.”

There’s no clear definition of what’s considered under startup fever and hipster-startupers. As the phenomenon itself, being caused by natural economic demand or being a reaction of the youth searching for self-realization and seeking their own place amongst the social structure are different sides of the same coin. I don’t have the right recipe for young people to find themselves, and it’s unlikely that anyone can give a universal solution, but entrepreneurship remains attractive partly due to the fact that it’s a free area of activity where one has the opportunity to build their own place in a social structure through implementing ones own ideas. Perhaps, this explains the romantic image of a startuper, the kind of master of life that’s living the dream that is cultivated within media and praised in the movies.

In any case, the economies of post-industrial countries with venture funds crave for innovation, while young startupers wait for their place in the sun. So why wouldn’t they discuss how they could mutually benefit?