Walking Entrepreneurs: We're not the 1% or the 99%

This week, a group of entrepreneurs gathered along New York City’s West Side Highway. Much like facing the challenges of running a business, they braved the elements one step at a time to inaugurate the first-ever “Entrepreneur Walk.”

About 50 feet away was a billboard with the message “Manhattan: All You Need is a Million Dollars and a Dream.”

The Walk’s founder may or may not have the million dollars, but Gary Whitehill, who is also the founder of Entrepreneur Week, certainly has the dream.

“The Entrepreneur Walk is meant to be the first step toward ‘democratizing’ entrepreneurship. It is a tool to create conversation,” said Whitehill, “People love the fact that we are going to do something active and that we are coming together because, a lot of the time in entrepreneurship, you live on your own.”

That very sentiment brought 25-year old Dan Arena out for the one and a half-mile walk.

“I came out because I thought it would be great to network and see how others are doing,” said Arena. “Networking events give me confidence to keep moving and faith to keep pushing forward.”

Arena recently left his job and co-founded Burringo, an online company that is still in its beta phase and plans to address apartment-hunting “frustrations.”

The event’s turnout was lower than the several hundred originally expected, but Whitehill said that won’t stop him from bringing the walk to San Francisco, Miami, D.C. and Seattle.

The New York City event helped raise just over $10,000 for HackNY, Enstitute and the New York Tech Meetup. Whitehill said he picked the three beneficiaries because they are “organizations that encompass the fundamental parts of the entrepreneurship eco-system.”

Sponsors ranged from giants like Dell and Deloitte to smaller player RealBeanz, a one-year old company that produces five flavors of iced coffee beverages. Its founder, Serge Freund, was on-site with samples and his walking shoes.

The well-caffeinated crowd of newbies mingled with more established small business owners, some of whom promoted their products and services more aggressively than others. As Todd Moore discussed an upcoming co-branding opportunity for his product, the WowTowel, a voice in the distance interjected, “Do you have an intellectual property attorney?” Beyond networking, moral support and a little self-promotion, some entrepreneurs said they attended because of the Walk’s message,  “Entrepreneurs are not the 1% or the 99%. We are the positive job creators, risk-takers and innovators.”

The message resonated with Isela Hernandez, founder of Hernán, a Mexican cookware and hot chocolate manufacturer. “I really liked the way they stated their premise,” said Hernandez, “We are people who DO make a difference.”

This confidence in the entrepreneur’s ability was echoed by many in the crowd, including Fran Biderman-Gross, founder of branding company Advantages. “I believe that entrepreneurs are undervalued and under-recognized. We need to stand up and be counted because we can pivot the economy.”