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America’s heritage as a nation of immigrants is a source of tremendous economic strength, and current research confirms that immigrants who have been attracted to the U.S. for its pro-growth culture and excellent universities often stay and create valuable, fast-growing startup firms. High-skill immigrants in particular have two significant positive impacts on growth – first as critical engineering and science talent at U.S. companies and second as potential entrepreneurs of new U.S.-based companies. Despite the nearly universal bi-partisan support for high-skill immigration, the existing system of immigration into the U.S. has become a disaster. Visas and green cards are bureaucratic, the number of high-skill migrants to the U.S. is capped at an artificially low level, and security laws have made travel to the U.S. after 9/11 difficult. America now risks losing its attraction as a “brain magnet” in contrast to other nations that are reforming in order to compete for the critical resource known as human capital.
The crown jewel of the U.S. university system – the finest in the world – is the research university, where knowledge creation is the ultimate goal. Recognition of the centrality of knowledge creation to economic growth makes the efficiency of university innovation a top concern to policymakers, especially since the federal government funds two-thirds of the $48 billion of R&D performed in academic institutions. In too many universities, commercialization of research discoveries is not as rapid or as successful as it could be. The solution provided by Technology Transfer Offices (TTO) has been mixed, as too many have been directed to focus on maximizing revenue through patent licensing, leading to a sub-optimal level of technology diffusion. In the face of declining funding of basic science research, venture capital migration to downstream opportunities, and heightened competition from abroad, the optimal commercialization of U.S. university innovations could not be more important.
Developing the human capital of young Americans is vital to keep America’s entrepreneurial economy growing. Our future entrepreneurs and their workers need the twenty-first century skills and knowledge to create successful ventures and to spur innovation in the economy. Yet education in the U.S. is struggling to stay competitive and fails to provide access to a quality educational experience for all students. Developing tomorrow’s talented, capable innovators is a challenge that will require major, entrepreneurially-driven improvements in education from pre-school through graduate school.
Every day—while building roads, giving inoculations, sitting at computer screens—individuals are quietly thinking: “I know a better way to do this.” Or: “I could create something new that would make this easier for everyone.”
And then they go back to work, never transforming their thoughts into action. Why does this happen, and how can we unleash these hidden ideas?
The Obama Administration is now coming up on the end of the first 100 days, so it is a good time to revisit its innovation agenda to determine which directions it has taken. Although it is too early to judge any outcomes, we see positive signs that the role of innovation and entrepreneurship is at the core of this Administration’s approach to the economy.
Last week, I argued in favor more high-skilled immigration to bring additional entrepreneurial talent into the country for the near future. Today, I want to focus on an urgent policy issue that needs to be addressed to produce results over the long-run. Improvements in education are essential to equipping American citizens with entrepreneurial skills. Creative thinking and prudent risk-taking are no different than any other skills people are born with; they are likely to be useless unless the skill is developed through education and experience.
“Lizard King” John Bello describes his first entrepreneurial venture as a miserable failure. Bello launched South Beach Beverage Co. in 1995. Despite the popularity of other geo-based drink brands such as Nantucket Nectars and AriZona iced tea, South Beach didn’t resonate with consumers, not even in the upscale Florida community that shared its name. Within two months, Bello knew the $2 million startup investment was heading, well, south.
Last week, I participated in the NASVF Annual Conference in Oklahoma City where experts discussed again how to ensure that credit crunches do not negatively impact start-up performance. The good news is that those gathering at this conference started from a common appreciation that entrepreneurship cannot be on the sidelines of economic and financial policy.
In the past few months, we have highlighted through articles and factsheets how public policy can make the path easier for entrepreneurship and innovation. With the Policy Dialogue on Entrepreneurship, we hope to emphasize not only how policies can foster entrepreneurs, but also how entrepreneurship can directly be part of the answer to so many public challenges.
If you have ever been around somebody trying to start or grow a business, you know that entrepreneurs don’t have time for much else, especially not for going to Washington to help keep policymakers up to date on how to encourage high growth entrepreneurship in America—not hurt it.
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