Inc.: Revitalizing the American Dream

Those who are interested in entrepreneurship policy will appreciate the feature, linked  below, from Inc. magazine. Amy Barrett has been researching this for months, and she put together an excellent set of recommendations. I don’t even recall how many times I talked to her about this!

In contrast, BusinessWeek ran a feature story by Andy Grove (How America Can Create Jobs), on the harsh realities of tech manufacturing leaving U.S. shores. The article was profound and raised very relevant and important issues. But Andy’s prescriptions were extreme and misguided. In contrast, the Inc. feature is constructive and well researched. I am tempted to write a response to the BusinessWeek piece.

By the way, I am speaking at Harvard’s Berkman Center on July 20 (LINK) about entrepreneurship. After the lunchtime talk, they are conducting a workshop to discuss the challenges faced by women and minorities. The Berkman talk is open to the public. I will be delivering the morning keynote (on entrepreneurship) at TiE Atlanta on July 17 (LINK). I will be at Duke on July 18/19th.

Best to read this on Inc.’s website:

Revitalizing the American Dream

Our highly practical, eminently doable, totally reasonable, 16-point plan to create thousands (upon thousands) of new companies and a million new jobs.

A Special Report by Adam Bluestein and Amy Barrett |  Jul 6, 2010

We need more start-ups. A lot more of them. New companies mean new ideas, new approaches, new products and services, and new jobs. What’s more, in the wake of the Wall Street meltdown and the catastrophic oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, a wave of start-ups could spark a new sense of optimism about what businesses can actually accomplish — something else this country sorely needs.

We are not just talking about the fast-growing “gazelle” companies that expand at double-digit rates — though we could certainly use more of them. Nor is this solely about sparking, say, a green business boom or the creation of more tech companies or a bunch of cool new iPhone apps — though we like all of those, too. Instead, what we are seeking is a kind of rebooting of the entrepreneurial ideal — the notion that starting a company is a viable option for all Americans, regardless of where they come from. This country has long been a haven for entrepreneurs. Ten years into the 21st century, it’s time to rethink exactly what that means.

Given our anemic and largely jobless economic recovery, this is more important than ever. Young companies — those younger than six years old — provide the bulk of new jobs; in 2007, they accounted for 64 percent of them, according to a 2009 survey by the Kauffman Foundation that looked at start-up formation since the 1970s. John Haltiwanger, an economist at the University of Maryland, came to a similar conclusion in a more recent study: His research found that start-ups account for only 3 percent of total U.S. employment but almost 20 percent of gross job creation.

Unfortunately, creating new companies is easier said than done. The rate of business creation has remained stubbornly constant over the years. Since the early 1990s, the number of start-ups has hovered at about 500,000 a year, according to a survey by the Kauffman Foundation. This has been the case during booms and busts, whether taxes were rising or falling, and whether venture capitalists were irrationally exuberant or largely recalcitrant. Clearly, some new thinking is required.

That’s what Inc. aims to provide in the pages that follow. We spent months talking to economists, entrepreneurs, academics, politicians, and policymakers about what can be done to spark a renaissance of American entrepreneurship. What we ended up with was a game plan to help revitalize the American economy.

This is not just a matter for elected officials. Sure, issues such as immigration and tax policy need to be addressed. But we also need action by schools, corporations, nonprofits, investors, and entrepreneurs themselves. The good news is that you don’t have to look too hard to find approaches that work. Indeed, we discovered an entire infrastructure of programs, policies, and ideas designed to stimulate business formation. These programs need to be studied, emulated, fine-tuned, and scaled. And their leaders need to be acknowledged and brought into the national conversation about the economy.

Step 1: Take Entrepreneurship Out of the Business Schools

Arts and humanities and science students need entrepreneurship education every bit as much as b-schoolers. Universities as diverse as MIT and the University of Miami have created model programs for training students in the fundamentals of business formation. More programs like these should be created. Read more

Step 2: Tap the Best and the Brightest Wherever They May Be

Entrepreneurs from all over the world want to start companies in the United States. Our immigration policy should reflect that, by offering short-term visas to would-be entrepreneurs who are in the country on H-1B or student visas. If those visa holders create companies that create jobs, then we should offer them green cards. Read more

Step 3: Our Education System Should Foster Entrepreneurship Among the Young

Putting ideas into action may be the biggest challenge for entrepreneurs. Teaching youngster–especially middle-school students–how to start businesses is one of the best investments we can make. Programs such as the National Foundation for Teaching Entrepreneurship offer a good model; educators should also take small steps such as adding the biographies of great entrepreneurs to the standard curriculum. Read more

Step 4: Speed the Start-up Process

Most start-ups don’t need much money to get started. But that doesn’t mean they don’t need help. That’s where incubators and seed accelerators such as Y Combinator in San Francisco and TechStars in Boulder, Colorado, come into play. Investors, entrepreneurs, and city officials across the country should jump on the bandwagon. Read more

Step 5: Give Manufacturers the Tools They Need to Get Started

Plenty of Americans have the desire to make actual stuff, not just software. What they often lack are the tools to get their ideas off the ground. Shared manufacturing spaces such as TechShop in Menlo Park, California, can provide aspiring manufacturers with access to sophisticated prototyping equipment. We need more of these facilities. Read more

Step 6: Cut College Graduates Some Slack

The rising level of student-loan debt among recent college graduates may well inhibit them from starting businesses, driving grads into stable corporate jobs that will allow them to pay down their loans. The government should find a way to let college graduates who start businesses postpone loan payments for a few years while they get their ventures off the ground. Read more