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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.
Youth unemployment rates are soaring worldwide. That rate recently reached 15% in the UK, a record 25.5% in the U.S., and much higher numbers in other countries where economic growth and opportunity have long failed to keep pace with the growing number of young people entering the labor force. However, youth unemployment rates don’t have to translate into catastrophe for that generation and those it sustains. The very victims of the situation might actually benefit from it if policymakers can incentivize them to follow their dreams. In the U.S. alone, four in ten young people ages 8 to 21 have or would like to start their own business someday. These two statistics spell opportunity to me.
Times are tough. Layoffs are growing every day and despite massive government intervention, there is little talk of anything more than a slow prolonged recovery. There are a few reasons though to remain optimistic. The main one: as long as we have entrepreneurial people, jobs will be created, and when times get tough we learn to do more with less. There are many entrepreneurs out there who see new and better opportunities for innovation now we are in the midst of crisis.
Making what is urgently needed consistent with what is needed for the long-term is not a bad idea. The current House bill on the economic stimulus nicely blends the short- and long-term perspectives, particularly in the way it addresses renewable energy. The challenge now is to figure out how to achieve progress in developing and commercializing green technologies without turning the government into an obstacle to the entrepreneurial innovation needed to end the climate change and economic crises.
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