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Making a List

Thom Ruhe, Director of Entrepreneurship, The Kauffman Foundation

As the year winds down, thoughts naturally reflect on the year's accomplishments, challenges, regrets and hopes that we carry into the new year. As an entrepreneur, I have found it an excellent time to take  stock and make an inventory of the resources and assets that I have come to  rely upon and expect to continue to value in the future. With that in mind, I wanted to share my year-end inventory of programs, resources, and organizations that are serving the interests of entrepreneurs.

At the risk of sounding self-promoting, I have to start by acknowledging the Kauffman Foundation. As the largest foundation in the world dedicated to advancing entrepreneurship, in the nearly five years I have worked at Kauffman, it is unmistakable that we, and other foundations (the Coleman Foundation and the Burton D. Morgan Foundation, for example) have influenced the public discourse on the importance of entrepreneurship to the global economy.

Politicians who only a few years ago dared not even attempt to pronounce “entrepreneur'” (let alone spell it) let it now roll off their tongues with elegance – if not with insincere understanding. In the coming year, I hope that we all can work together to continue to advance this growing
interest in the form of genuinely understanding the needs of the entrepreneurial community at large; something still lacking for too many. One good step in this direction is the recently introduced Startup Act, a bipartisan blueprint for entrepreneurial empowerment.

Another item on my list for which I am both historically grateful and optimistically anticipating in 2012 is not a specific thing as much as it a movement: Global Entrepreneurship Week (GEW). GEW is a weeklong worldwide series of events that educate millions about entrepreneurship and innovation.

GEW has grown into something larger then we imagined and beyond our own ability to “control.” It is now a child of the world, and its growth is showing great hope and promise. GEW has become a catalyst, the excuse for those who need one, to turn our focus if only for one week, to the vital contribution that entrepreneurship is making in healing the world's economy. It is reminding the world that genuine wealth creation can come from recognizing opportunities and building companies that serve the needs of others. GEW stands in stark contrast to the financial alchemists that plunged the world into economic chaos, and it serves as a disinfectant for those who feel economically disadvantaged.

Of course the success of GEW comes from the thousands of events that happen all over the world, in wonderful ways we never could have imagined. One of this year's GEW premier events was the Collegiate Inventors Competition put on by the innovative organization Invent Now, in partnership with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. I had the good fortune of serving as a judge this year and can confidently declare that when you see what the bright minds of our nation's universities are inventing and commercializing, your faith in the future will be restored. The indomitable and inventive capacity of these young minds is Gatorade for the soul.

Another GEW event I am anticipating is the Future of Entrepreneurship Education Summit (FEE Summit) hosted by Empact. Traditional entrepreneurship academia is going through a metamorphosis with expressions spanning the good, the bad and the ugly. Institutions clinging to old hierarchical modes of teaching and curriculum development will be finding themselves in increasingly uncomfortable situations as public discourse and social media morph the reality of availability and access to quality education. Likewise, the notion of what we are preparing students for is being challenged at its very core.

Our newest entrepreneurship education program (launched October at the NACCE conference) is a perfect example of this disruption. The Ice House Entrepreneurship Program was created to give a broad population the awareness that an entrepreneurial mindset is not the exclusive secret of a privileged few. Rather, the course focuses on the underlying beliefs and assumptions of successful entrepreneurs, many of whom overcame significant hardships on their journeys to financial independence, and it conveys that anyone can benefit from embracing an entrepreneurial mindset.

Some early pioneers in academia and economic development groups have been piloting the Ice House program with great enthusiasm and renewed vigor for their mission to better serve their students and clients with programming that instills the confidence that they don't have to passively accept a life dictated by others but rather by embracing an entrepreneurial mindset they may find new paths and tools for living a self-directed life.

My resolution for next year is to elevate the importance of these worthy programs and great organizations, hopefully encouraging others along the way. I resolve to be less tolerant of those who willfully remain ignorant or otherwise resist new realities in defense of their own self interests and the status quo. I resolve, with the full force and support of our great Foundation, to help democratize entrepreneurship, thereby empowering ordinary people with an entrepreneurial mindset to achieve extraordinary things.

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