Every Fourth of July I try to express some gratitude for the amazing country we call home. This year more than ever, we are aware the United States has all sorts of flaws and painful scars that have yet to heal. But despite these shortcomings, it’s important to keep in mind there are unique qualities about our nation that make it unlike any other place in the world for launching an enterprise.
We’ve certainly felt the tensions that come from our diversity of backgrounds. But it’s precisely that mix of races, opinions, identity, religions, cultures and lived experience that contributes to an unrivaled level of creativity. Americans have produced music, art and movies that are embraced around the world. When we pair that creativity with a college and university system that reaches approximately 40% of our citizens (one of the highest rates in the world), we end up with a dynamic, innovative economy that is unmatched.
Consider the innovative consumer products and brands that have been adopted globally. Of course, there is the iPhone and Tesla, but consider the spread of the Beyond Burger from Beyond Meat, whose board I chair. This plant-based meat offering was developed by an American-based team of scientists and chefs who came from all around the world to BYND HQ in Los Angeles. They developed a product that has spread to hundreds of thousands of stores and restaurants on every continent in less than five years. A cynic could point out that the United States has also exported products and lifestyles that have helped spread unhealthy diets and materialism. But that fact shouldn’t diminish the positive impact of some of the brands we’ve created.
The United States has also developed mission-driven entrepreneurs more effectively than any other nation. We lead the world in creating enterprises that have found ways to embed positive impact into the goods and services they offer while also providing superior returns to shareholders. Whether it is the commercialization of USDA Organic and Fair Trade certified products or the development of energy-efficient and water-efficient technologies, American-based models have inspired (and even pressured) small and large companies around the world to embrace the ESG (Environmental, Social and Governance) approach to business. Other nations are sure to follow, but it’s not surprising that when an aspiring entrepreneur wants to build a high impact brand, they often come to the U.S. to launch. And thanks to groups like Net Impact, the community of mission-driven business leaders continues to grow.
These trends will continue because the U.S. has millions of conscious consumers who are connecting the dots between their personal decisions and the impact those decisions have on themselves, the planet, and our fellow travelers on planet Earth. As consumers continue to make choices aligned with their concerns about climate, health, and equity, the marketplace will continue to evolve to meet that demand. Ultimately, demand drives the marketplace, and it finally feels like consumers are demanding change.
As much as I want to end on a positive note, we can’t ignore the fact that economic opportunities aren’t evenly distributed in the United States. Although almost 40 percent of Americans get some college education, those percentages are not equally distributed across all populations. Neither are start-up capital or personal networks for aspiring entrepreneurs. For that matter, even the right to purchase consciously produced goods is often a decision based on economic privilege.
Even though our country is 245 years old, we need to maintain the challenger mindset that is always present in the best entrepreneurs – refusing to accept the status quo and relentlessly challenging ourselves to do better. Happy Birthday America – we’ve made it past the start-up stage – now it’s time to realize our full potential.