With the U.S. election just passed, it’s time to turn to the hard work of solving the nation’s problems and restoring a sense of economic promise.
Fittingly, November includes both National Entrepreneurship Month and Global Entrepreneurship Week. It has been a staple of politicians on both sides throughout the campaign to praise entrepreneurs as a force for progress and worthy of support.
Yet, there remains a wide gap between political soundbites and the reality for entrepreneurs on the ground. Most businesses are built over a series of years and defy quick policy prescriptions. Building a successful business requires a combination of human capital, financial resources, market opportunity, persistence, community support and even luck. Even with all of the proper pieces in place, there is no certainty or likelihood of success. Even (or especially) the most seasoned investors expect a majority of new enterprises to fail.
Making things more difficult is that, unless a company has already reached a certain size or scale, start-ups tend to remain unaffected by top-down policy changes. Even with the advent of crowdfunding, angel investors, accelerators, economic development corporations and investment tax credits, most new businesses remain reliant upon personal savings, credit cards, and friends and family for their first several steps. A tax break may or may not convince Uncle Johnny to cut that check and stay patient.
Overnight successes are generally years in the making. And most progress is made in isolation, far from the public eye.
This is not to say that there isn’t a lot that can be done. Innovation spaces and organisations like JumpStart in Cleveland and Idea Village in New Orleans have helped spur successful businesses that have generated hundreds of new jobs. These hubs serve as defining guideposts for their regions, providing a place for entrepreneurs to go to access resources, investors and each other.
Startup America, led by Scott Case and the Case Foundation, has done good work connecting entrepreneurs and cultivating regional ecosystems. Mentorship makes a big difference. Often, the best way to help an entrepreneur is to bring him or her into the orbit of others who are facing or have faced similar issues.
Celebrating entrepreneurs via Global Entrepreneurship Week itself is helpful. We should encourage and gather together those trying to tackle a problem or provide a new product or service. It’s often a lonely pursuit. At the core, a committed individual or team needs to have the passion and energy to assume the risk and reward for months or years before the market provides meaningful positive feedback.
Last, we should pay more attention to where our talent is going. It represents the most important ingredient to the success and growth of a new enterprise. I’ve posed the following question at campuses around the country – “How long would it take to generate meaningful innovation and job growth in the U.S. if the same body of talent that currently goes to finance or management consulting instead went to start-ups around the country?” I, for one, would love to find out.
I have started or run several companies and spent time with dozens of entrepreneurs over the years. Virtually none of them in my experience made meaningful personnel or resource allocation decisions based on incentives or policies. They are all fighting to do the best thing for their company on a day-to-day basis. Their schedules are stretched. They don’t keep up with the latest government reports. There are 3 things they’re focused on for their businesses – financing, customers, and talent. The best solutions help address one or more of these problems on the ground floor. And the best policymakers know that in start-ups, as in politics, not everything works out exactly as planned.
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