Ted D. Zoller, Ph.D.
Executive Director, Center for Entrepreneurial Studies and Assistant
Professor, Kenan-Flagler Business School, University of North Carolina at Chapel
Certainly the most quoted, and perhaps now the most shopworn, term to
describe the globalization phenomenon is Thomas Friedman's metaphorical
description of a flattened world. Surely we have all by now had direct
experience in this new flat world—the many trips and exchanges to China, India,
Brazil, Russia, and other far-flung, exotic locales are now commonplace. Most
come back from their week-long experiences in Shanghai or Kuala Lumpur to be
hailed as global experts—or better yet, as "world-flatteners." I was most
recently reminded of this flat world of ours in perhaps a less exotic manner,
during my failed attempt to fix my wireless router.
After hopelessly screwing it up, I turned to the ubiquitous 800 number
printed on the box. Calling Cisco and expecting to get someone in RTP or, more
likely, Silicon Valley, I was connected almost immediately to a well-spoken,
articulate, and quite knowledgeable customer service representative who
attempted to untangle the mess I had caused. While heroic measures were taken,
this digital prodigy, who went by the name "Ahn," finally threw in the towel and
said I needed to be "elevated" to the "second level" support—or, in other words,
connected to her supervisor. Before Ahn forwarded the call, I could not resist
first heaping praise for her many attempts to rescue me from my all-too-short
and somewhat pleasant time "off-the-grid," and asking what her particular
coordinates were in this flat world of ours. Ahn replied flatly, "I'm in
Taken aback by her response, given that the clarity of the call made her
sound to be on Franklin Street in Chapel Hill, in mere seconds the phone was
ringing again, and I was connected almost immediately to a second, well-spoken,
most articulate "knowledge worker" named "Jay." Imagining Jay being in the next
cubical over from Ahn in the Philippines—perhaps a mentor and colleague, and
certainly a digital impresario—I engaged him with the same level of curiosity
that poor Ahn suffered through. Jay was a good sport, took my banality in
stride, quickly solved this quadratic equation of configuration problems, and
then rushed to hang up the phone. Of course, I could not let Jay go without
first knowing his coordinates in our flat world—to which he replied, "I'm in
Stunned while hanging up the phone, it occurred to me that our world is not
flat after all. Indeed, the world has now gained dimension. I was, after all,
"elevated" from Chapel Hill, to Manila, to Chennai from the location of the
family computer in our second-story playroom. As I sat on the Berber rug, I
marveled at the magic carpet ride I was privileged to experience by means of
some fancy Cisco voice-over-IP parlor trick delivered through my home
While the first generation of globalization has been played on the flat plane
Mr. Friedman quite cleverly characterized, I believe he must update his metaphor
to reflect a world that now operates on multiple dimensions, somewhat like
playing three-level chess. We have been transformed. We have evolved. We are
learning at a faster rate. And this dimensionality has been ushered in by a new
world order—the next generation of global entrepreneurs who were "born
I know this because I have been privileged to have met them as an instructor
in the Kauffman Global Scholars Program. The Global Scholars, who typify the
trailblazers of this new order, operate in the new dimensional world of global
entrepreneurship, and have taken it to another level, because they were born
into it. Permit me to introduce you to this new order:
- They are better traveled at twenty-one than most who are now forty, and
many are already on their second passports.
- Their travel is seldom for pleasure, and involves leaving something behind
that generates inherent value by virtue of the visit.
- Prague, Buenos Aires, and Dubai are not exotic to them; London, Paris, and
New York are passé, and, at best, hub airports on their way to somewhere
- They do not operate only in the West, and do not see you as legitimate if
you haven't engaged in all hemispheres—on all continents (save maybe
- They operate seamlessly between the developing and developed world, and
seldom distinguish between the two.
- They are prepared to question conventional wisdom, and do not readily see
barriers from a sectoral, market, legal, or cultural point of view.
While I have had the opportunity to engage them in the classroom, they have
sapped me of everything I can possibly muster, and still demand more. While I'm
finally on my second passport, I still must cleverly hunt for insight to feed
their insatiable appetites. My two-level chess strategies of yesterday leave
them unsatisfied. They are dissatisfied with entrepreneurial ventures that are
anything short of fully globally integrated. They have challenged me to update
my thinking to integrate a "born global" perspective in everything I do in
entrepreneurship. They've changed my perspective to not just focus on
globalization as a tool to enter a new market, but as a new business model
It occurs to me that this new order of the "born global" operating in a
global economy is the functional equivalent of the Millennials squeezing the
power out of Moore's law. As I witness my thirteen-year-old daughter making a
full-feature, multi-media movie in the time I drafted this page, I am convinced
that this "born global" order will advance a mindset that will have the
equivalent transformative power on the field of entrepreneurship. In fact, it
may even be a more powerful force, as this transformation will be dramatic,
swift, and evolutionary.
The "born global" will usher in a generation of entrepreneurs who globally
integrate the business model of ventures. Globalization no longer will be the
exclusive domain of multinational corporations, with the resources to reach
across national boundaries. "Born global" entrepreneurs will design business
models that leverage the power of their global networks:
- They will found companies based on global advantage.
- They will build models that leverage relative competitive advantage across borders.
- They will rely on global supply chains, customer relations, and financial
structures that "plug in" to the best and most capable assets available in the
- And globalization will fuel the growth of their ventures, using the power
of the global market to diversify as a hedge to risk, while taking full
advantage of market trends, both up and down.
The "born global" will play three-level chess on a dimensional framework,
leaving the flat world behind—and, in so doing, transform entrepreneurship
through global venturing. So, for us "world-flatteners" out there, brush up on
your chess skills, because a new generation of "born global" is coming to play.
And they are intent on changing the rules.