Entrepreneurs are the lifeblood of the American economy and should have a voice in policy.
The folks on Capitol Hill better set a few more seats at the table, because the Kauffman Foundation is bringing 35 entrepreneurs, grantees and entrepreneur advocates – individuals as diverse as the unique communities and businesses they represent, from places big and small – to discuss the barriers the nation's makers, doers and dreamers face.
The fact is, there is a generational decline in entrepreneurship. This long-term decline has dragged down productivity, wages and living standards for all Americans. Put simply, fewer entrepreneurs mean a lower quality of life.
But, there is hope. Hope is found in the entrepreneurs whose grit and determination drive the engine of our economy. Hope is found in the ecosystem builders who dedicate themselves to cultivate communities where entrepreneurial economic development thrives. Hope is found in the advocates who raise their diverse voices to empower and validate anyone, anywhere, willing to take the risk to make an idea an economic reality.
Read this Q&A with a few folks who will sit down with federal legislators Feb. 28:
Q: Entrepreneurship is the lifeblood of the American economy. How do you see that play out in your everyday work, and what do we need to multiply it?
A: Young business owners are creating jobs at the fastest pace in our economy right now; small businesses also invest more locally, hiring from and doing business with the community. And research shows time and again that investments made in technology entrepreneurs pay dividends to communities, cities, and states, not to mention to entire business categories. Federal lawmakers must create policies that are as favorable to startups as to major businesses so that today's four-person team has a clear path to become tomorrow's Google.
In order for maturing ecosystems like Tennessee's to compete with well-established hubs like Austin, Denver, and Boston, we need federal initiatives and improvements to accelerate our startup growth. With additional resources, Tennessee can strengthen our support of entrepreneurs so they stay in our state to grow companies and create jobs-faster.
Q: Why is it important to you to be part of this visit to speak with members of Congress on the topic of entrepreneurship?
A: As someone who has lived in both San Francisco and New York, but currently resides in Colorado, I get asked the question, "When are you moving back?" all the time. These aren't just friends asking the question – they're leaders, potential investors, mentors, and colleagues. I'm ready to break down the preconceived notion that you must live in a certain city in order to be successful. I'm eager to show people that with technological advances, you can run a business from anywhere (and in many cases, starting a business in an affordable city is much more conducive to success!). Lastly, I'm excited to represent the vibrant and supportive startup scene that is thriving in Colorado.
Q: If policymakers remember one thing from your visit, what do you hope it is? Why?
A: We hope that policymakers remember that they must start looking at veterans as business leaders. Most of the support and rhetoric around military veterans today focuses on the wounded and the trauma of our nation being at war for the past 17 years. We support and encourage this type of support and services for the veterans affected by war. However, if we continue to only highlight the trauma of war, we also miss the opportunity to highlight the military veterans and spouses as an empowered group of Americans with the attributes to make a difference in the economy.
We must change the policies and dollars spent to encourage creativity, innovation, and entrepreneurship within the veteran community. We are creating a safe place and ecosystem for veterans to innovate and create, but there is a gap in funding to encourage this type of growth mindset. If we don't change, the future generations aren't going to serve. "Thank you for your service" is great, but the reality is most people only serve for a few years. What do they do for the rest of their lives in business with that experience?
After World War II, 49 percent of veterans went on to start and own their own businesses, according to the Institute for Veterans and Military Families at Syracuse University. Today, 25 percent of active duty want to start and own their own business, yet only 4.5 percent of post-9/11 veterans do. That is a huge gap and lost economic opportunity for our country. We must engage our country's leaders and legislators to support the veterans and military spouses looking to make an impact on our country's economy through the creation of businesses and jobs.
Watch the 2018 State of Entrepreneurship address and contact your legislators to set up a meeting and help generate support for startup communities across the country during #StartupWeek.