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For entrepreneurs to thrive, policies must help level the playing field

Leveling the playing field for entrepreneurs - Segment 1: Introduction
Watch: "Leveling the playing field for entrepreneurs - Segment 1: Introduction" | 7:42

The latest Kauffman Conversation brings together experts from the field who say now is the moment to advocate on behalf of small businesses.

Rebuild better

In a wide-ranging conversation about the critical role policy plays for small businesses – especially given the confluence of factors in 2020 – Jason Wiens, policy director for the Kauffman Foundation, talked with Brandy Bynum Dawson, director of Advocacy for the NC Rural Center and Stacy Mitchell, co-director of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance.

The participants gave special focus to policies needed to encourage rural entrepreneurship, and also talked about the need for government to put more emphasis on helping small businesses rather than big businesses, the impact of the pandemic on small business, and the barriers faced by entrepreneurs of color.

Even acknowledging that it has been a rough year, the participants agreed that now is an opportunity to advocate for the needs of small business, given that many Americans have realized how much they’d been taking their local businesses for granted.

Segment 1: Leveling the playing field for entrepreneurs | 7:42

“There are certain entrepreneurs – often based on demographic characteristics, just because of who they are – that face extra challenges and barriers when it comes to entrepreneurship: people of color, women, and rural residents in particular, face challenges that white male entrepreneurs don’t – that make the entrepreneurial journey more challenging and difficult.” – Jason Wiens

Watch the first segment above.

Segment 2: Challenges faced by rural small businesses | 8:19

Watch: “Segment 2: Challenges faced by rural small businesses” | 8:19

“I grew up in a small town in Northeastern, North Carolina, in a very small town, no stop lights, only stop signs and cows. I remember all those businesses and, going back there now, none of them exists anymore. This was your mom and pop nickel-and-dime store where they had all the little cute, cute items and toys and trinkets. It was also a pharmacy. So, that no longer exists in my local community, my hometown.

“With the loss of those businesses goes a loss of memory, as well as a sense of belongingness. A sense of pride and almost a sense of hope, unfortunately. We want to be able to turn that around, but I definitely am well aware where sort of what that loss means and what it looks like for a local community.” – Brandy Bynum Dawson

Segment 3: Impact of the pandemic on small businesses | 14:22

Watch: “Segment 3: Impact of the pandemic on small businesses” | 14:22

“It’s really a sort of extraordinary and troubling what we’re seeing out there.

“One of the things that’s really striking that we’re seeing these amazing stories of how entrepreneurs are adapting to this moment. And it’s really a testament to this strength of small businesses and entrepreneurs. I’ve talked to so many who’ve done really creative things to meet the needs of their community and have often pivoted on a dime to be able to do that.

“Troubling too, to realize how much the sort of broader structures of our society have put small businesses in a place where they’re operating so close to the edge that a challenge like this can just push them right off.” – Stacy Mitchell

Segment 4: Barriers faced by entrepreneurs of color | 7:48

Watch: “Segment 4: Barriers faced by entrepreneurs of color” | 7:48

“Between February and April, the number of business owners declined in the United States by 3.3 million. That same study said that the loss during that period in terms of Black business owners was 41%, which is I think just a staggering number to think about.” – Jason Wiens

“I had been told my entire life, go to school, go to college, get a good job, get some good insurance, get some retirement benefits, and pay your house off. And so, not having the conversation about what it means to be able to take a risk.

“Why wasn’t I informed of that? I think it really is about how we start early, engaging our young people to inform that this is a viable option.

“Particularly for communities of color and people of color, it is about seeing someone like yourself doing the work to know it really is a viable opportunity. I think without that, it leads to the likelihood of fewer people engaging and having that same opportunity.” – Brandy Bynum Dawson

Take part in our virtual town hall with CNBC: Select small business owners will have the opportunity to ask their most pressing questions about how they can best adapt their businesses and finances to the world around them. Submit your questions now >

Segment 5: Government’s role in the marketplace | 5:17

Watch: “Segment 5: Government’s role in the marketplace” | 5:17

“One of our blinders in recent decades has been that we’ve tended to think about the economy as operating basically distinct from government. We sort of imagine that the economy operates out there on its own in an ideal way and produces ideal outcomes.

“That’s actually made it quite hard for us, because we don’t recognize that, in fact, government makes all kinds of decisions that structure what’s possible in the economy. If you want to have a competitive, dynamic economy where lots of new entrants can come in and where established companies have to stay on their toes and have to actually really compete and work for it, you need rules. You need a referee just in the same way that you need for a sporting event.

“If you allow big companies to just take advantage of their size in ways that are predatory, or that use just straight up market muscle or superior financial resources, you’re ending up with outcomes that actually aren’t driven by the market, and all of the activity and the choices of market participants, but are really just driven by a kind of raw concentration of power.” – Stacy Mitchell

Segment 6: Recommendations to support small business | 13:09

Watch: “Segment 6: Recommendations to support small business” | 13:09

“While public policy can be messy at times, and change can take sometimes years to achieve, we know that one change that reduces a barrier for entrepreneurship can positively impact hundreds, thousands, millions of entrepreneurs, depending on what level of government that change occurs.

“So, our approach has really focused on advocacy, empowering entrepreneurs and people who work with entrepreneurs to engage in policy conversations, so that policymakers know what needs entrepreneurs have – that they’re hearing directly from entrepreneurs. Because in the absence of that, we will continue to get policies that advantage big over small, and old over new. We have an opportunity now to create an economy that is different than the economy being left behind pre-COVID in February.” – Jason Wiens

Rebuild better: Success that ensures the opportunity of prosperity for all can’t be achieved within broken systems; true success will only come from systems we rebuild better.