Entrepreneurs as a Solution to Policy Challenges

Jonathan Ortmans, President, Public Forum Institute

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.

For instance, imagine if we had more entrepreneurs like Shai Agassi building an infrastructure for environmentally-friendly vehicles, which would provide consumers with cheaper and cleaner transportation options. Some government agencies seem eager to tackle challenges together with entrepreneurs. For example, the Department of Energy has entered into public-private partnerships with leading champions of the Smart Grid to advance the modernization of our electric grid and help fulfill the promise of “green-collar” jobs.  And the government can facilitate the role of entrepreneurs in the development of a smart grid even more by reducing unnecessary barriers to the adoption of smart grid technologies.

Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) education is another area where entrepreneurs’ efforts can tackle policy challenges. At a recent hearing, the House Committee on Science and Technology’s Research and Science Education Subcommittee learned how Chicago is playing a leading role in bringing diverse stakeholders together, from schools to private foundations, to get students excited about STEM subjects. Considering that 75 percent of Nobel Prize winners in the sciences said that their passion for science was first sparked in informal environments, we need entrepreneurs inside and outside of the school systems to encourage interest in the STEM fields. After School Matters is one of such actors. Started in 1990, this organization has been expanding a network of out-of-school time opportunities in Chicago. In other cities, the Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship (NFTE) has been helping young people from low-income communities improve their business, academic and life skills through entrepreneurship education. Entrepreneurship education, business competition programs like NFTE, After School Matters and all the efforts highlighted during Global Entrepreneurship Week tap on our youth’s inventiveness and give them opportunities to interact with seasoned entrepreneurs, inspiring them to direct their energy toward transforming their ideals into real-life ventures.

Promoting more private sector entrepreneurs in infrastructure systems can also yield significant opportunities for long term economic and social benefits, as well as for immediate job creation.  The growth of the Internet, for instance, has been fueled largely by competing cable and telecom providers seeking to meet consumer demands for faster computational power and transmission speeds. According to the U.S. Government Accountability Office, public-private partnerships are an increasingly successful framework for infrastructure provision using public financing to support private provision of infrastructure and services.

The entrepreneurs in these and other policy arenas are not waiting for the government to provide much else than a business-friendly environment. They act on their ideas, translating challenges into solutions. The task for policymakers is to design policies that can spur many more bootstrap entrepreneurs. This will allow us to harness the experience, talent and innovation of private sector entrepreneurs in order to more effectively address pressing policy challenges.


Jonathan Ortmans is a senior fellow at the Kauffman Foundation where he focuses on public policies to promote entrepreneurship in the U.S. and around the world. In addition, he serves as president of the Public Forum Institute, a non-partisan organization dedicated to fostering dialogue on important policy issues.

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