Startup America Starts Up—-Thoughts from the White House Kickoff


Yesterday the Kauffman Foundation and the Case Foundation helped to launch a new initiative called the Startup America Partnership. The idea emanated from the White House early in 2010 and has been germinating since that time. As many Xconomy readers are aware, the Kauffman Foundation has seeded programs to support entrepreneurs, entrepreneur education, and research of entrepreneurship for a number of years. The idea of supporting the re-start of our entrepreneurial economy was appealing to my Kauffman colleagues for one simple reason: with all the noise surrounding our economic woes, the voices of the entrepreneur heroes among us don’t seem like they are being heard on Main Street or Wall Street. We hoped that an initiative supported by the White House and separately by the private sector would allow the voices of entrepreneurs across the country to be heard—and that individuals around the nation would realize the importance of new firms to economic recovery and growth.

Yesterday was amazing for a couple of reasons. The majority of the 150 or so people in the executive office building auditorium—entrepreneurs, investors, and others—were not new to me because we work with many of them every day as they toil in support of entrepreneurs in their region or fields. But, I met at least one new friend, Marc Eckos, a designer who built a billion-dollar business and who is now supporting entrepreneurs like himself through an incubation effort for designers called Artists & Instigators—how cool is that?

I am sorry, I don’t have the big scoop I promised Bob. But instead I will share a big “aha” moment. As I listened yesterday to the remarks of my boss, Carl Schramm, and Steve Case, I heard something I didn’t expect because it wasn’t planned. I am guessing neither one of them read the remarks we prepared for them (big surprise for you PR people who try to get your entrepreneur-bosses to stay on message—not). Instead, I bet they were more influenced by the stories of the individuals around them—both young and old(er)—many of whom who didn’t go to Ivy League schools and were not your classic business school type-entrepreneurs.

Steve Case spoke about the history of our country and the great Americans who came before us who were indeed entrepreneurs in the truest sense. Carl spoke about the great democratization of entrepreneurship in our country. Our foundation’s founder, Ewing Kauffman, never went to college, but he created many jobs and great wealth for many people through establishing and growing a pharmaceutical company and later a Foundation. We were reminded yesterday that entrepreneurship is truly color blind and status blind, and comes in the form of designers and IT guys like Brad Feld and the brilliant women supported through Astia—all of whom were with us at the White House yesterday.

So there we were sitting in the executive offices of the White House, where we were reminded of both the history of our country through the lens of the entrepreneur, and the democratizing effect of entrepreneurship in today’s society. Not really what I expected to hear, but in fact it was more than I could have hoped. We will all continue to debate whether entrepreneurs need funding more than good advisors, etc, but ultimately the important point of this initiative is that entrepreneurs are being heard. With the help of entrepreneurial efforts like Xconomy and other publications, readers who can become mentors, entrepreneur teachers, or, EVEN BETTER, customers, we can recover and grow our economy once again.

So, what are you go to do to help Startup America?

Lesa Mitchell is the Vice President of Innovation and Networks at the Kauffman Foundation. Her work is focused on understanding the barriers to firm formation and growth in new fields and defining network models that will support firm startup and growth. Follow @@lesamitchell

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5 responses to “Startup America Starts Up—-Thoughts from the White House Kickoff”

  1. Lesa-
    Great posting and great effort by Kauffman. I posted this on the FB page and I wanted to reach out to you personally. We met at E&Y’s Strategic Growth Forum in November (I actually sat next to you :). I’m the E&Y Winning Woman that launched FundHer.

    So…long story short, it seems money continues to be spent funding redundancy. Training and mentoring programs already exist. Maybe I’m missing something obvious but it seems to me the best thing to do to get an immediate result is to directly fund small businesses(vs. spending millions to fund itermediaries that have yet to prove they even work in this economy).

    Vetting is fairly simple. At least for a test/pilot project. Vet the loans, grants (or whatever you want to call it) to small biz based on a track record that’s easily verifiable. A tax return that shows the business has been operating for at least five years and once employed people but laid off b/c of the recession. These small biz entrepreneurs are already successful and they clearly have skin in the game b/c they’ve proven their model/biz works. This eliminates most of the risk as well as redundancy. So the money will go directly to restart the economy b/c jobs will be created RIGHT AWAY.

    This doesn’t seem to be rocket science but for some reason I just can’t find anyone doing this. As you can see from the discussion thread on the FB page, I can’t stand a bitch fest so please know how great it is that ur doing something. That (in and of itself) takes guts and commitment. I’d be thrilled to help in anyway possible. As you know, my day job is running The Judgment Group and I launched FundHer as a passion project, but it’s tough to get momentum when so many existing good businesses are failing simply b/c they can’t get the help they need.

    What do you think?

  2. To answer the question, “What are we doing to help Startup America?” Our small, rural PreK-12 public school district (Valley Community School District) in beautiful NE Iowa will pilot our V-ii Center in the fall of 2011. Our Visionary-innovation incubator (V-ii) will initiate customized learning for HS students through Learning Networks in a passion area for each student, involving parents, HS teachers, post-secondary advisers/teachers, and passion-area mentors to support and develop a culture of innovation and entrepreneurship. We are looking for resources to assist activating our vision and mission; to assist high school students to develop the skills of problem-solving, collaboration, persistence, communication, building learning networks, entrepreneurial thinking and foster creativity and innovation.

  3. AndrewW says:

    StartUpAmerica is just more useless public relations and cheerleading. Of course we should encourage start-ups, but it is much more important to seek breakthroughs.

    Energy is a good example – DOE and private industry have spent $400 billion in the last 20 years on R+D and financing for green technologies and yet we still haven’t found “clean, affordable electricity.” That’s the goal.

    During the last two years DOE (with Stimulus funds) has spent more than $30 billion on “development deals,” primarily for over-priced and under-performing wind and solar schemes. Most of these projects received 100% “loan guarantees” and those loans can never be repaid. They are grants.

    America (and the world) should get serious about finding a breakthrough by offering a $1 billion prize for a solution. DOE should hold an Energy Summit and review ALL potential solutions. We would either find a breakthrough or understand exactly where we are.

    It is delusional to continue to pretend that wind and solar can meet our energy needs – they never will. America has made progress because of competition and reward and now is a good time to remember that, Offer a PRIZE and let’s get busy seeking a real, sustainable solution.

  4. Lesa,

    I thought your closing comment about helping entrepreneurs FIND CUSTOMERS is the key point. Building a better mousetrap is easier than ever…getting anyone to notice/stock/buy it harder than ever, with the big boxification of retail, the crowded online environment, and the near-impotence of traditional advertising.

    But…both social media and video and their scalable way to put power in the hands of people give me great optimism. Funding matters. Advisors matter. But what really makes a difference is having lots of customers. Groupon (love it or hate it) is executing against this opportunity. Facebook conversations can make or break a movie, a presidential candidate or a product in quick order. Daily Grommet (full disclosure: my company) is harnessing these technologies to gain awareness for inspired companies and products.

    I appreciate very much how the Kauffman Foundation articulates the importance of entrepreneurship so eloquently (on or off script!) so for that alone, you are doing us all a public service.

  5. Don Roberts says:

    I have been waiting for 2 years for Obama to start up an entrepreneur project. I would like to see an Annual Entrepreneur Symposium. Invite bids to cities to hold the conventions & invite college graduates, small businesses (<$200K) university professors, high school teachers, financial services & select amateur projects that qualify. Get SBIR & DARPA involved. 1st week: Look for ideas by separating the sessions into technical fields including biology, chemistry, optics, electronics, medical, mechanics, etc. 2nd week: Organize workshops into applying 1st week's ideas to compete for application projects. Followup at a later date with announcements.