Fostering Vibrant Ecosystems One Cup at a Time – Thoughts on the 1 Million Cups Organizer Summit

Last week I had the chance to speak on a panel at Kauffman’s 1 Million Cups Organizer Summit and engage with entrepreneurship supporters from across the U.S. The event was great fun, and we had a lot of awesome questions and comments from the audience.

We talked about a host of different things on the panel, but there was one particular discussion topic that stood out to me: the long-term fall of entrepreneurial dynamism in the U.S. -- despite the recent good news -- and what policies can help us reverse it.

After the audience shared some of their thoughts on what could be behind the decline, a 1 Million Cups leader asked a pretty to-the-point question: what could they, as local entrepreneurship supporters, do about it – and how could they help us?

As a research and policy person, this is like a dream question: entrepreneurial leaders from across the U.S. asked how they can help us on our mission on this topic. I came up with four things I asked for their help with during the panel. I wanted to share those here on Growthology to get your thoughts on it.

1)      Continue powering your communities

This was an audience of 1 Million Cups organizers from across the U.S. 1 Million Cups is a free national program that educates and connects entrepreneurs on their ecosystems. It is an event hosted weekly in 88 communities across America – largely powered by volunteers – and is a program that has grown rapidly. You can see some of this growth on the map below, showing their expansion on the first two years of operations – the last time I updated this map.

They are already doing awesome work in their cities. And I hope they can continue doing it.

2)      All entrepreneurship is local – bring the discussion to your local government and policymakers

There is common phrase that says that all politics is local. One could say all entrepreneurship is local too.

There are a host of entrepreneurship concerns that can be solved at the city and state level. These can include:

-          Misguided land use and zoning laws, that, for example, don’t allow live/work buildings or maker spaces in urban areas

-          Non-compete agreements that block potential entrepreneurs to start innovative businesses on the very industries they have been working their whole lives in (and, by the way, as many as nine in ten managers and technical workers currently report being under these types of contracts)

-          Occupational licenses that can do little to protect consumers but do a lot to protect incumbents

Kauffman is often creating resources for government and policymakers – from the Entrepreneurship Policy Digests, to our brand-new Policy Map, to our annual Mayors Conference on Entrepreneurship – and we are always working on sharing that knowledge. But having the message of entrepreneurship coming not from an outside entity, but from a city’s own constituents matter. And your support there would be great help.

3)      Waive the flag with your local media and influencers

I was really impressed with the knowledge this group had about the data on the falling entrepreneurial dynamism in the U.S. Folks on the audience pointed out and knew, for example, that new business creation rate in the U.S. has fallen by about 50% since the 1980s, and that for the first time in 35+ years the U.S. saw more firms dying than being created (again, despite the recent reversal on this number in the past couple of years).

The long-term decline of entrepreneurship in the U.S. was common knowledge on this group, but unfortunately it is not something that most people know about. And if people do not think there is a problem there, there is no need for them to look for solutions.

Narratives and stories matter, and one way of changing this perception issue is engaging with media. If this important message is coming from many places, we have a better chance of changing how people think about the topic.

4)      Help us understand what is going on

One of the key questions we are working to answer – in addition to figuring out what is behind the fall in entrepreneurial dynamism – has to do with understanding what makes a vibrant entrepreneurship ecosystem. What do you see in your ecosystem that you think can help us understand the broader phenomenon? What should we be studying? What data should we be collecting?

Your thoughts here would be much appreciated.

What do you think about these? Do they apply? What are we missing? Feel free to answer here or hit me up on Twitter @arnobiomorelix.

To close on a personal (love?) note, a quick message to all 1 Million Cups organizers across the U.S.: keep rocking. We couldn’t do it without you, and we truly appreciate all the amazing, hard, work you do. 

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Arnobio Morelix

Arnobio Morelix

Arnobio Morelix is a senior research analyst and program officer in Research and Policy at the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, where he is a principal investigator on the Kauffman Index of Entrepreneurship, the first and largest index tracking entrepreneurship across city, state, and national levels. For over a decade, the Kauffman Index has been a trusted source of entrepreneurship indicators in the United States—referenced in the policy world by institutions like the White House Office of the President of the United States, the Small Business Administration, and by U.S. Embassies and Consulates in several countries. Morelix also is an editor of Kauffman’s entrepreneurship research blog, Growthology.org.