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One of the few effective government programs to support innovation is at risk. The language authorizing the Small Business Innovation and Research (SBIR) program is set to expire on March 20, and so far, disputes have hampered a reauthorization resolution. What is at stake? Millions of jobs and technological innovations that contribute to national defense, the environment, and health care, among many other areas.
Readers of this column are now well acquainted with this author’s views on the central role in re-starting the global economy of those unperturbed citizens around the world who see opportunity rather than doom. Often driven by a desired to do well and do good and an interest in not working for Wall Street’s CEOs but using them as mentors, our new generation of entrepreneurs are geared up and underway. They are also global in their mindsets.
We should approach innovation in a similar fashion, taking steps to boost R&D and the commercialization of new technologies at home, while at the same time scouring the world to help those with the best innovative ideas, programs and policies that nurture innovation. When the fires burn out and the market bottoms out, it will be the entrepreneurs who seed the new ideas and jobs from the ashes.
The $787 billion economic stimulus package includes large investments in innovation in areas such as energy, health IT, and broadband. Developing these new technologies will be scientists and engineers, but here’s a reality check: we don’t have enough of them. Although increasing the number of U.S. scientists and engineers is a must, in the shorter term, we need a quicker fix: more high-skilled immigration.
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.
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.
Momentum for a comprehensive patent reform has been slowly building in Congress. Last week, the House Judiciary Committee began examining a patent bill introduced in March by Judiciary Chairman John Conyers (D-MI) and ranking member Lamar Smith (R-TX). In the Senate, Leahy (D-VT) recently cut a deal to soften damages language in last year’s failed Senate bill. Most are eager to see reform. The rules, protections, and the adjudication process surrounding IP requires constant adjustments to keep up with challenges of the digital revolution. However, as new policy is considered, I hope policy makers contemplate the effects of patent legislation on our future job creators.
There has been a lot written in the past few days on how to revive the Venture Capital (VC) industry in the U.S. However, we need to keep the bigger picture in mind and avoid making the mistake of equating new firm creation, job creation and economic recovery to the health of the VC industry. VC investments are only one component of the capital market for new firms. Policymakers’ efforts should focus on the larger entrepreneurial ecosystem, rather than just on the VC industry.
President Obama has been bringing together leaders with diverse views for discussions on how to achieve the goals of lowering health care costs, expanding coverage and improving quality. As health care reform moves forward, policymakers should also evaluate the effects of health care reform, particular the health insurance system, on entrepreneurship.
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