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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.
Although the reputation of the U.S. has gone through some bumpy air of late, we have consistently been held in high regard for our entrepreneurial prowess and culture. Even during these times of great economic stress, we are flooded with enthusiastic visitors from overseas (both in person and on-line) searching to understand and replicate the ecosphere that has fostered so much job creation and growth.
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.
We have received an overwhelming number of “wake-up calls” alerting us to the need for change. Because such change can only arise from innovative thinking, we must nurture the innovative mind. Young, creative people around the world have the potential to design solutions to the most pressing global challenges, such as global warming, the spread of HIV/AIDS, and even financial risk monitoring.
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.
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.
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.
Universities, particularly research universities, are an important component of an innovation economy. Universities around the world have long been instrumental in developing much of the innovation that benefits our lives. A key question, therefore, is how well universities are prepared to support the transition to a more entrepreneurial economy. The various successful experiences from around the world show that shaping entrepreneurial universities requires commitment to institutional innovation.
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.
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.
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