A Look Back at Entrepreneurship in 2010
Jonathan Ortmans, President, Public Forum Institute
Since the economic crisis broke out, entrepreneurship has attracted increased attention as a key path to economic recovery. I was happy to see that entrepreneurs have been set apart from some of the negative perceptions of big business and the blame being placed on large financial institutions for the economic meltdown. The question is whether such recognition of entrepreneurs as an engine for growth and innovation translated into concrete pro-entrepreneurship policies.
This past year brought new, sobering data that defied conventional wisdom that all businesses contribute to job growth at least to some degree. “The Importance of Startups in Job Creation and Job Destruction” by economist Tim Kane documented that net job growth occurs in the U.S. economy only through startup firms. While older companies lose 1 million jobs annually, new firms add an average of 3 million jobs in their first year. Moreover, during recessionary years, job creation at startups remains stable, while net job losses at existing firms are highly sensitive to the business cycle. Simply put, entrepreneurs are the primary engines of job creation in the country. If you zoom in further, you will see new firms that scale—those that grow in revenues and jobs—are especially important. More precisely, the top 1 percent of all companies generates 40 percent of new jobs, and the vast majority of these firms are no more than five years old. If we look even closer at the most rapidly growing young firms (those between ages 3-5 years), they represent less than 1 percent of all companies in the economy, but account for 10 percent of new jobs created each year (see High-Growth Firms and the Future of the American Economy).
Yet, despite their impressive resilience and track record, entrepreneurial firms, like all of us, felt the burden of the economic crisis. What have we done to help them thrive? If we take the Kauffman Foundation´s State of Entrepreneurship Address delivered last January and its data- and research-based recommendations as a benchmark, this is what a checklist might start to look like:
has been done?
immigration policy, granting citizenship for foreign students
graduating from American universities and other immigrants who want to start
new companies and create jobs. (Why? Over the last decade and a half,
immigrants started 25 percent of all technology firms founded in the United
- Senators John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Richard Lugar (R-Ind.) introduced
the Startup Visa Act to create a new type of visa for foreign entrepreneurs
looking to start businesses in the U.S, the EB-6. It would be a two-year visa
available to any immigrant entrepreneur who has secured at least $250,000 in
capital from accredited venture capitalists or angel investors in the U.S.
After two years, EB-6 visa holders would have the option of becoming a
permanent U.S. resident if his or her startup has met one of three criteria:
created five full-time jobs in the U.S., raised an additional $1 million from
investors, or achieved $1 million in revenue. (In the opinion of
this author, that entrepreneurial immigration has gained traction in Congress
is great news, but hopes that job creation, not money, be the criterion for
qualifying for the new visa). The bill is currently with the Committee on the
- More than a dozen rockstar
entrepreneurs and startup financiers took 3 days of their busy schedules in
March to push for the passage StartUp Visa Act of 2010.The Startup Visa movement was an
Sarbanes-Oxley regulations to allow company shareholders
to choose whether their companies must fulfill some of the most onerous
reporting requirements if they think the costs of compliance outweigh the
benefits. (Why? SOX was enacted, after all, to protect shareholders. So why
not allow shareholders to vote on whether their companies will fulfill
certain SOX requirements?)
Provide a temporary
payroll tax holiday to companies less than five years old. (Why? To
strengthen the incentive to hire to our proven job creators.)
- Congress recently approved a one-year payroll
tax cut. However, a better approach would have been to create an exemption
from payroll taxes for young companies.
The most recent research, some of which I have referred to above, should
point policymakers to one new direction: growth would be best boosted by
supporting young firms.
academic entrepreneurs the choice of multiple avenues to commercialize their
research so their innovations can reach consumers more
- U.S. Secretary of Commerce Gary Locke inaugurated the new Office of Innovation & Entrepreneurship in
February, calling for more action to encourage entrepreneurship and
- The Office of Innovation and Entrepreneurship hosted a forum in
February 2010 with university leaders and key stakeholders on the roles of
universities in innovation, economic development, job creation, and
commercialization of federally funded research.
for doctoral graduates in scientific fields to educate them about how to
start companies. (Why? This would allow our smart graduate and
post-doctoral students in the hard sciences, engineering, and other fields to
commercialize their breakthrough ideas).
education and training to students in high school and college. (Why? The
earlier we can interest students in entrepreneurship the better.)
The year also saw lots actions to boost energy-sector
entrepreneurship and innovation. A Clean Energy Roadmap: Forging the Path Ahead was released by the Kauffman Foundation based on outcomes of the three
clean energy summits convened this year to explore ways to propel innovation
and job creation in the sector. For example, in March, policymakers, thought
leaders, entrepreneurs and investors gathered in Washington, DC for the first ARPA-E Innovation Summit. The outcomes of this event encompassed
much more than thoughtful discussion. Secretary Chu announced that a third
round of ARPA-E funding of $100 million would be made available to accelerate
innovation in three new areas for ARPA-E (Grid-Scale Rampable Intermittent
Dispatchable Storage, Agile Delivery of Electrical Power Technology and
Building Energy Efficiency Through Innovative Thermodevices), and Carl
Schramm, President of the Kauffman Foundation, launched the Energy Innovation Network, which has since then been providing links to technologies, entrepreneurs,
finance, buyers and policymakers to make the pathway for energy entrepreneurs
But perhaps one of the most unique policy events
of this year was April´s Presidential Summit on Entrepreneurship hosted by President Obama in Washington, D.C. The White House took a
political risk in hosting a Summit on “global” entrepreneurship in
a climate when so many Americans, anxious about their local economy, were
blinded to the vital role entrepreneurs play in building the stable economies
overseas essential to our growing firms back home. The summit though was a
foreign policy success and a solid statement of support for the role all
entrepreneurs play in creating jobs and economic growth.
In this way, the Obama Administration began a much-waited era of diplomacy through entrepreneurship export, announcing, for example, a new two-way professional exchange program that brings 100 entrepreneurs to the U.S. and, working with private sector partners sends 100 American entrepreneurs abroad. The Overseas Private Investment Corporation’s Global Technology and Innovation Fund is now making investments in start up and growth-oriented companies in telecommunications, media and technology. The Department of State's Middle East Partnership Initiative and U.S. Small Business Administration in turn are partnering to promote small and medium enterprise growth in the Middle East and North Africa. The State Department is partnering with online platforms to and coordinating a corps of entrepreneurship mentors, the “E-Mentor Corps. Many other agencies are launching related initiatives. The convening of the Summit and the array of follow-up events, programs and announcements around the world (e.g., Prime Minister Erdogan from Turkey hosting the next Global Summit on Entrepreneurship) suggest that the world’s risk takers and innovative entrepreneurs are perhaps less thought of as mere adjunct players on the sidelines of our economies but central to their well-functioning.
Nevertheless, as I pointed out in earlier posts, there were no economic policy announcements at the April Summit. Entrepreneurs rarely lament a lack of government engagement in their business, but many Summit delegates noted the absence of government in many of the panel discussions asking for US government help in taking on the challenge of identifying barriers to entrepreneurship in their countries and replacing them with entrepreneurship-friendly policies and programs. Well-known entrepreneur, Dr. Mohamed (Mo) Ibrahim suggested at the Summit that this was about setting rules and a legal system that fosters a competitive environment, keeps regulation under control and keeps government away from picking winners while leveraging public investment in mitigating non-market risks. Perhaps future summits can establish better global standards for leaders to aim for in creating an environment friendly to entrepreneurs.
The call to President Obama and leaders around the world remains the same - to focus now on enacting policies conducive to entrepreneurial capitalism. While creating new businesses and new jobs is the work of entrepreneurs, governments around the world can create supportive environments for start-ups. Together, we can shape the next generation of entrepreneurs and economic leaders for our own nations but also for the world at large.
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Jonathan Ortmans is president of the Public Forum Institute, a non-partisan organization dedicated to fostering dialogue on important policy issues. In this capacity, he leads the Policy Dialogue on Entrepreneurship, focused on public policies to promote entrepreneurship in the U.S. and around the world. In addition, he serves as a senior fellow at the Kauffman Foundation.