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2017 State of Entrepreneurship, Victor Hwang Speech

State of Entrepreneurship 2017

2017 State of Entrepreneurship Address:
Zero Barriers

Victor Hwang
Vice President, Entrepreneurship
Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation
February 16, 2017

Wendy mentioned that we are launching the Zero Barriers movement today.  But what do we mean when we say “Zero Barriers to Startup”? 

If we truly believe that everyone has a fundamental right to turn an idea into an economic reality, regardless of who you are or where you’re from, with zero barriers in the way, then we must be willing to fight for that right.

Mr. Kauffman, our founder, started his company, Marion Labs, in 1950 in his basement with $5,000 and all the odds against him. Forty-nine years later, he merged the business with Dow Chemical in a deal that valued Marion Labs at over $5 billion.

That’s what Zero Barriers is about.  Simply put, it’s about practicing what we preach. And we need your help to do that.

In the spirit of Mr. K., our responsibility is to clear the path for the makers, the doers, the dreamers. We’re launching a movement to break down the barriers that obstruct entrepreneurs, whether based on race, gender, class, geography, regulations, laws, or access to opportunity, capital, skills or social connections. Sometimes those barriers can be intangibles like distrust, miscommunication, or just plain simple fear.

Zero Barriers is a movement where we need every entrepreneur—and everyone who fights for entrepreneurs—to jump in and participate.

We have four strategic pillars we’re targeting at Kauffman. We need your involvement in each one.
The first is entrepreneurial education.

The ways that people learn are changing fast, and entrepreneurial education must change, too. To address this, we are building an immersive interactive community in which entrepreneurs can help each other, learn from one another, and solve problems together. 

Our vision is that people who are starting or building their companies anywhere can easily access the best learning opportunities, whether online or offline, structured or unstructured, internally sourced or externally created by other organizations.

You can participate in this community. In fact, we need you to. For instance, you can host or participate in 1 Million Cups, a weekly meetup that happens in over 100 cities where people gather to help entrepreneurs. Or you can interact with entrepreneurs nationwide through the online community that we’re setting up in the coming year. Or you can help entrepreneurs in your own way, your own time, your own community. Go to and sign up for news on other ways to get involved.

The second is entrepreneurial ecosystems

Entrepreneurs thrive best in supportive, interconnected, pay-it-forward communities, rather than isolated silos. Those communities are crucial to increasing the serendipitous interactions and social trust that are vital to innovation. Yet the dynamics behind the creation, growth and spread of ecosystems are not sufficiently understood. We’re missing the common vocabulary, tools and metrics of a true discipline. So, we’re tackling that at the Kauffman Foundation.

We’re gathering ideas, experiences and data on building entrepreneurial ecosystems from around the world. That’s where we need your help. Give us your best ideas, including here today in an exercise we’re going to do shortly. 

We’ll synthesize your ideas into a “Kauffman Playbook” that we will make universally available and easy to follow. We’re also convening a major conference on building entrepreneurial communities—the E*SHIP Summit—in Kansas City on June 21-23. We’ll announce several experiments on ecosystem-building later in the year.

The third entrepreneurial program addresses market gaps

As Wendy mentioned, the market is leaving huge voids in entrepreneurship. Certain segments of society face bigger barriers than others – those barriers may be socioeconomic, demographic, sectoral or geographic. We’ve already started tackling these gaps in our Kauffman Inclusion Challenge, which awarded $4.3 million this past year to 12 outstanding national organizations that are trying new ways to address systemic gaps for women and entrepreneurs of color. We will expand this work in years to come, targeting other barriers, working with new partners, and experimenting with new techniques. If you are involved in an organization that’s tackling barriers for entrepreneurs, we want to hear your proposals. We don’t have enough to fund every good idea, but we do hear your ideas, and we are continually learning from them every day.

The final entrepreneurship program involves big ideas into action.

We will not fulfill our potential unless we translate path-breaking ideas into practical action and results for entrepreneurs. 

Today we are asking elected officials at every level to help us in the Zero Barriers movement. In the coming year, we will work with entrepreneurs in your communities to identify and eliminate those barriers, whether in the form of bureaucracy, regulations, limitations based on race or gender or geography, or environments that impede innovation.

If you have a disruptive idea for helping entrepreneurs, we want to be your first call.  We’re going to create easier ways for you to reach us this year.

If you’re a policymaker here in Washington, there are two additional ways you can become involved. First, you can hold an entrepreneurial town hall in your district. Second, you can hold hearings where you ask entrepreneurs to testify about the barriers they face.

Kauffman does not have all the ideas. We are not in an ivory tower; we’re not on a pedestal. We need to be in the trenches with you, dirt under the fingernails, sweat on the brow. That’s where solutions to tough problems are created. Zero barriers, zero pretense, zero limitations.

Instead of talking more, we’re going to get to work together, starting right now. We’re going to turn this room into a giant design laboratory. So for the next 30 minutes, we are all honorary entrepreneurs working on creating, designing and sharing solutions together.

Here’s what we are going to do:

Your table is your startup team. Each table has a different challenge placed in the center. These are challenges facing real entrepreneurs. Each table has 20 minutes to answer two questions about your challenge. 

  1. What barriers lead to this outcome? (10 minutes)
  2. What policies would help fix the challenge? (10 minutes)

Your table has a facilitator to keep your discussion moving and within the time limit. While you work, you are encouraged to doodle and make notes however you want on the paper covering your table.

When 20 minutes are up, you will tweet your three best answers for each question using #ZeroBarriers. I will read out some of the creative solutions from Twitter.

We have also invited the nation to join our conversation this morning on Twitter. So let’s get to work!

Closing Remarks

This discussion doesn’t end today; we’ve just started.
We will collect the ideas you came up with and share them back with you in the next week. And on February 22, my colleague, Jason Wiens, and I will talk about our learnings from today’s breakouts in a Facebook Live discussion. We’ll send you an invitation so you can join us and provide feedback. 

You can find the complete mega trends report Wendy talked about today on our website at We also will be posting video and photos from today’s event.

Keep tweeting and engaging in this discussion using #ZeroBarriers.

Finally, we are heading out to present testimony before the House Small Business Subcommittee on Economic Growth, Tax and Capital Access. We’ll be posting that testimony online as well.

Thank you. Let’s continue the fight for Zero Barriers.