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House Gives Vote of Confidence to Entrepreneurs

Jonathan Ortmans, President, Public Forum Institute

As part of an effort to get our economy back on track by unleashing entrepreneurship, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill designed to provide small businesses and entrepreneurs with new and expanded assistance. H.R. 2352, the Job Creation through Entrepreneurship Act of 2009 promises to assist small business owners or aspiring entrepreneurs to get access to finance, training and education.
The bill passed as part of a larger measure, H.R. 1807, The Educating Entrepreneurs through Today’s Technology Act of 2009, with overwhelming bipartisan support on May 20th. If passed by the Senate, it will mark the first major overhaul of the Small Business Administration’s (SBA) entrepreneurial development programs in a decade. The legislation expands some of the most successful SBA programs, such as Small Business Development Centers, Women’s Business Centers and the Service Corps of Retired Executives (SCORE). It also creates new online learning programs and establishes grant programs to assist small firms in securing capital and credit. Further, it will allow third-party vendors, to distribute and conduct distance learning throughout the United States.

The legislation also creates, for the first time, a nationwide network of Veterans Business Centers to provide specialized entrepreneurial training and counseling to veterans. It also establishes within the SBA an Associate Administrator for Native American Affairs and the Office of Native American Affairs, which will develop and increase Native American entrepreneurship, business training, and access to capital and federal small business contracts.

Will these measures constitute a smart investment?  Supporters of the bill in Congress claim that for every dollar we spend on a successful entrepreneurship program, we see a $2.87 return to the Treasury. Last year alone, these development programs created an estimated 73,000 jobs. It is great that entrepreneurship is increasingly recognized as a reliable path out of recession.

I am especially interested in the distance learning component which truly has the potential to reach more entrepreneurs around the country, tapping into more potential job creators. My worry is that by the time whatever learning tool this bill would fund is actually developed and put into place, we would have wasted too much time. There are already many easy to implement and adapt entrepreneurial development programs, such as FastTrac which is being implemented in Detroit.

My other concern is that this bill does not address the urgent need for more high-growth, high-impact entrepreneurs, who create jobs, introduce innovations to the market and sometimes even create new industries around them. The training for green entrepreneurs could be a promising start down the high-growth path, but it is only small part of the investment. In other words, while it rightly directs the SBA to use the SBA’s entrepreneurial development programs as a catalyst for job creation, it does not promote the strongest catalysts.

Nonetheless, overall the bill does have the potential to nurture more of the U.S. entrepreneurial talent by giving more small businesses and entrepreneurs the tools and resources that can help them succeed and thrive.

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