Sharing the premise that all boats rise on an incoming tide, a small group of startup policy advisors has emerged to find smarter ways their governments can help new firms start, scale, create jobs and fuel economic growth. I take a look at why Startup Nations emerged and the potential impact it can have in fostering smarter decision-making on behalf of new entrepreneurs.
If, like me, you see the world no longer in terms of national hierarchies but as hundreds of intermingling startup communities somewhat oblivious to national boundaries, you might also be asking yourself why policymakers pursuing smarter strategies to help new firm formation aren’t also capitalizing on globalization.
When President Obama announced Startup America, he called upon federal agencies to coordinate better, both among themselves and with the private sector to “dramatically increase the prevalence and success of America’s entrepreneurs”. One perhaps unintended consequence has been that he inspired heads of state across the globe to follow suit. In the months that have followed we saw Startup Britain, Start-Up Chile, Startup Malaysia, and Startup Canada among others emerge. In fact there are now dozens of similar efforts across the globe, all looking at an entirely new model of government engagement in encouraging new firm formation.
The biggest change is around who is in charge. In short, no one. In his book “Startup Communities,” Brad Feld talks of leaders and feeders, emphasizing that for innovation and entrepreneurship to thrive in society, the entrepreneurs who birth the new ideas must lead. The rest of us have to follow. None of us thought governments would ever buy this. They are hierarchical, structured, linear and usually so unimaginative (as institutions inherently are), totally incapable of such an adjustment. We were wrong.
President Obama elected not to house Startup America in a traditional federal agency of business such as the Department of Commerce or Small Business Administration – both of which were structurally designed and charged primarily by Congress to focus first on America’s incumbent businesses – not their nascent ones. He took the less worn path of driving Startup America from the Office of Science and Technology Policy in the White House where attention to new regulatory and legislative efforts to smooth the path for new firms largely still rests today in this administration.
The interesting part of the story is how the rest of the world has followed suit. Largely housed in the executive branch of governments, nations who care about better leveraging the economic potential of new firm formation are hiring startup policy advisors with roots in startup communities and bringing them in-house. These “entrepreneurs” are pioneers of a new way of doing things in government as if challenged to make the statement “we are from the government and here to help” truthful. It is not a question of “getting out of the way” but of people who have actual founded firms talking less and listening more to the busy risk-takers on the front line, and looking at it through the lens of new and young firms rather than small firms.
The most refreshing element of this development is the open and collaborative nature of this new global network of startup policy advisors. The dialogue is not about trade barriers or sanctions but rather shared experiences of successes and failures with different domestic regulatory levers or publically funded programs, and how to respond to a paucity of data around what works and what does not in terms of interventions to help new and early-stage high-growth entrepreneurs. They are equals across the globe not seeking to outrun each other, but rather hopeful that a small group of entrepreneurs can help them collectively deliver on more of the typical promises politicians make to electorates.
It is therefore not surprising that a Startup Nations network has emerged to facilitate and scale this collaboration. Startup Nations shuns institutional lags and retains a nimble entrepreneurial style. It is made up of “startup-savvy” policymakers and program leaders and focuses on exploring different regulatory changes and other policy ideas to help accelerate new and young firm formation in their economies.
The 33 members of the Startup Nations effort also operate within a wider global entrepreneurship community that includes the Global Entrepreneurship Research Network (GERN), which engages research from the Kauffman Foundation, the World Bank, Endeavor Insight, NESTA and more. GERN members listen attentively to Startup Nations members about what government experimentations are failing or succeeding. They talk of various data-driven approaches to policy to support nascent entrepreneurs and early-stage startups and most importantly, what evidence is missing and how private sector research funders could collect and analyze data in an effort to facilitate more evidence-based policymaking in the field.
If I am right and America has, this time, set a good example as the “shining city on the hill” by teaching leaders of other economies about the difference between a startup and an incumbent small business, for our second act we should keep it grounded in evidence. With the global explosion of public sector interest in policies to support new entrepreneurs, the mission of Startup Nations can be to temper enthusiasm and hype with data and research to ensure that the global interest we have ignited results in more boats rising on the morning tide.
To learn more, visit www.startupnations.org or follow the Startup Nations Summit in Seoul, Korea this coming November, hosted during Global Entrepreneurship Week with support from D-Camp.
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