PDE’s Last Call

aug finallToday is the final day that we publish the Policy Dialogue on Entrepreneurship. As noted over the past few editions, the Kauffman Foundation will be consolidating its blog repertoire and those of us who write and contribute will be re-directing our thought pieces to updated platforms, including Kauffman’s own Growthology

As is the tradition of departing prime time news anchors, in this, our 689th and final edition of PDE, I would like to thank you, our readers, for following our dialogue. I take the liberty of sharing with you a quick look back at our journey and personally acknowledge a couple of unsung heroes who have made all this possible behind the scenes over the years. 

PDE began as a project of the Public Forum Institute, an organization I founded, focused on impartial dialogue about issues of the day. Through the Public Forum Institute, we had funded and planned more than 1,500 day-long forums on policy issues across the United States, and had earned the trust in the 1990s of nearly 80 percent of the U.S. Congress from both parties who turned to us to facilitate public policy dialogue on every major issue of the day – with leadership and freshmen alike – from the economy to health care.

We believe we were successful in improving the quality of public discourse at a time when many were suggesting public debate had been reduced to mere political squabbling. The intended beneficiary was the less informed American public. Wider use of the Internet and social media we believed brought opportunities in our field of citizen engagement. It also brought risks. While more citizens would be exposed to more information, at the time we saw the dangers of a less informed public being exposed to poorly moderated information and overly political opinion leaders. While we began experimenting in online dialogue, we elected to proceed with free face-to-face public forums across the country – supported by Congress – that could help nurture a better-informed public as they sought to help elected officials make sound public policy. 

While our primary work concentrated on developing ruthlessly non-partisan public forums chaired by elected officials, we began to add social media and blogging to our public discourse. We also introduced new tools in citizen engagement such as audience response system keypads at every forum. One example that lead to the development of a National Dialogue on Entrepreneurship blog began in Kansas City when, at the request of then Senator Bob Dole and Hillary Clinton – then the First Lady – we planned a 5,000 person public forum in Kansas City. The Kansas City Star headline “Summit of Harmony” made national news at a time when the Republican controlled Senate was fighting with the new Democratic White House of Bill Clinton. Best of all, that event introduced us to the Kauffman Foundation.

As they say, the rest is history. We had found an institution that respected public dialogue, recognized the importance of our economic summits held across the United States, and eventually provided support to us to begin a blog on our site that soon became the National Dialogue on Entrepreneurship. The expansion of the readership led us to move our work on entrepreneurship onto entrepreneurship.org, renaming it the Policy Dialogue on Entrepreneurship, and then eventually to Kauffman.org, where it is housed today in its current form. 

As to the outcome and what we have achieved? We believe that PDE as an early adaptor played an important role in heralding a new era of public policy in support of America’s pioneers. As Steve Case is fond of saying – America itself was a startup.

How for so many years then, such as the famed theory of Harberger’s triangle, our policymakers forgot the pioneers who “built America” I never know. But today, in our nation’s capital, despite new problems and deep party divisions, the doers and makers of things founding new firms have a seat at the table. PDE kept a steady voice about the importance of those in our country birthing the new: our entrepreneurs.

It was Bob Litan, former chief economist at Kauffman, and Carl Schramm, former president and CEO of Kauffman, who saw fit to fund PDE and also saw how to leverage it. I will never forget the day I spoke to Bob and we realized that we were treading water and banging our heads against the wall in Washington, most likely because of mere semantics. The word “startup” would help us convey to less experienced opinion leaders that we were talking about something different to small business generally.

Bob quickly got to work using the term “startup” in place of entrepreneurship, drafting a Startup Act report as we sought to encourage a more distinct understanding of the role of new firms in job creation, to that of traditional SME discussion. When Steve Case, with support from the Kauffman Foundation, launched Startup America and we had elevated the field from the Small Business Administration to the White House, we knew a new era of policymaking on behalf of entrepreneurs was before us. And now a Startup Nations global community has been born, developing deep analysis of policy work in capitals across the world; we have seen the first government Ministerial around startup policy, and we have seen new organizations forming like the Center for American Entrepreneurship (CAE), we know we have reached a milestone. Washington will never be the same again and while there are so many pioneers who played a part in this story like Steve Case, we know the constant drum beat of PDE was instrumental in building the ground work that led to elevating this field to one, as reported two weeks ago in this blog, of Presidents and Prime Ministers.

Last week, we had fun pulling from some of the more popular posts. In this, my final post, I would like to thank some of those behind creating them with me. First, coming from the National Commission on Entrepreneurship (NCOE) in Washington D.C., we were fortunate enough to recruit Erik Pages who continues to consult in the field. Erik had begun writing for NCOE before it was retired and offered the perfect partner in figuring out what and how we should report on from D.C. each week. He talked to people on the Hill, attended hearings, and scoured agency activity, all the time looking for information about activity that impacted entrepreneurs and investors. While SME’s were the daily talk of all politicians, new entrepreneurship was still an alien world to Washington for years to come. But Erik each week worked to find information and those early seeds of discussion and thought leadership that we would nurture to develop over time a plethora of policy work in support of entrepreneurs.

While there are so many to thank for PDE’s output, there are two main unsung heroes who have worked side by side with me in ensuring we produced each and every week. First is Cristina Fernandez. Cristina began on Bob Litan’s team at the Kauffman Foundation, but moved to Washington where she worked for the Public Forum Institute on PDE and related policy work. Cristina has provided research and written tirelessly for most of the editions since 2008. Not only would PDE not have been possible without her, but she has also collected knowledge and relationships that made her one of the most informed people on the planet about entrepreneurship policy. Cristina will be taking her years of study of the field and applying it to developing a global platform of entrepreneur enabling policymaking knowledge as head of Research and Policy at the Global Entrepreneurship Network (GEN), where she will develop and launch a new resource for the field called the Startup Nations Atlas of Policies (SNAP).

Of course, our job was made possible and easier by the extraordinary team at Kauffman. Under Dane Stangler’s steady leadership, we have received sound guidance as the research and policies most important to promoting entrepreneurship. More recently, it has been a delight to work with Jason Wiens who joined Kauffman from being in the thick of the startup act in the Senate and knows more than anyone as to how policy gets developed in Washington. And of course, Kauffman’s President Wendy Guillies, who gave us encouragement and feedback along the way, as we learned how to make PDE helpful for everyone, trying to communicate information about how governments can help entrepreneurs start and scale.

Last – but not least – I give special thanks to my friend Mark Marich who has not only been my business partner for 18 years, but has served as editor of PDE since its first edition. Reporters tell me the key to writing on deadline every week without fail is a strong and smart editor. Mark, with help more recently from Jessica Wray, always made all of us look good, took none of the credit even when he wrote for us, and when those inevitable moments of discouragement arose, kept us on track and on time. If you tweet one thing about our sun setting PDE, tweet, “Thanks Mark Marich.” As the English say, he is a gentleman and a scholar, and truly the most humble, unsung and honest person I have ever worked with. 

Looking to the future, I am proud to say as a Senior Fellow at the Kauffman Foundation I will continue to contribute commentary and analysis at the Kauffman Foundation from time to time on our new Growthology site and elsewhere at this great institution. Mr. Kauffman would be proud of what has been achieved with his largess and each and every day I am honored to be associated in a small way with its exceptional work.

We are also always appreciative of the support that makes initiatives like PDE possible. You will also find regular new posts as we build out the policy and research work for GEN at genglobal.org. The platform covers work in 160 countries – with a series of national websites on the backend – and embraces a new dynamic where entrepreneurship policy and research need no longer be considered separated actors in entrepreneurial ecosystems, but just as a different skill set at the same table of those keen to create jobs, unleash innovation, build economies and most importantly improve the welfare of their fellow citizens. 

With apologies to Garrison Keillor, be well, do good work and stay in touch. Thank you for listening.

You can connect with Jonathan Ortmans at Jonathan@genglobal.org, on twitter at @jortmans, or on LinkedIn.

Photo Credit: Flickr

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