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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.
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.
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.
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.
The Doing Business 2010 report highlighted how the financial crisis has prompted governments to act in areas where regulatory reform may be more difficult and require more time. The report states that in times of recession, “the more quickly the assets of nonviable firms can be freed up, the easier it is to remobilize those assets.” While the U.S. remained ranked 4th in the 2010 ease of doing business list compared to its 2009 rank, other countries have implemented several reforms that improved their ranking. How has the EU fared?
Ahead of the Senate Finance Committee’s long-awaited vote on its health care bill, I thought it would be helpful to once more comment on its effect on our entrepreneurs. The status quo in healthcare undermines entrepreneurship: small businesses are paying a higher cost to offer health insurance to their employees because of the smaller size of their workforce and the lack of competition in the small group market. Some entrepreneurs are dropping this benefit entirely not because they don’t want to provide insurance to their employees, but because the survival of their startups requires it. According to one estimate, 52 percent of workers in businesses with less than 50 employees were uninsured or underinsured during 2007. Even worse, many potential entrepreneurs and the talent they need to launch their ventures feel trapped in jobs that offer affordable health coverage for themselves and their families.
I have always liked the story of the CEO who sends two shoe salesmen to Africa. When they report back, one says “Bad news, they don’t wear shoes here”. The other reports excitedly “Wonderful news boss, they have no shoes”.
Not too long ago, entrepreneurship education was part of the curriculum of few university programs across the country. In 2003, the Kauffman Campuses initiative started to help seed cross-campus entrepreneurship programs at dozens of American universities, thereby allowing more young people to explore their entrepreneurial potential. Other universities have since moved in the same direction, bringing entrepreneurship education into the mainstream of learning by offering entrepreneurship courses and sponsoring extra-curricular activities, such as business plan competitions. Other institutions, like MIT, have gone even further by helping student scientists commercialize innovations.
If you often find yourself quietly thinking “I know a better way to do this” or “I could create something new that would make this easier for everyone,” you are a potential entrepreneur. Don’t waste that potential. The economy needs you more than ever.
The record number of pro-entrepreneurship legal and regulatory reforms in the past year among the economies studied by the World Bank’s Doing Business project is welcome news during a time of global economic recession. Prioritizing reforms and learning from global best practices hold enormous potential to unleash entrepreneurship. To maximize this potential, leaders must also promote a culture that embraces entrepreneurship.
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