America’s Organic Startup Culture

Jonathan Ortmans, President, Public Forum Institute

Having focused last month on efforts to further entrepreneurship abroad leading up to the global Presidential Summit on Entrepreneurship, this week I wanted to focus squarely on the United States ahead of next month's Global Entrepreneurship Week Partners Forum convened at the Kauffman Foundation in Kansas City.  Who are some of the leading players in 2010 driving America's startup culture and how does Global Entrepreneurship Week each November enable them to combine voices in underscoring to the American people how entrepreneurs built America?

The U.S. of course has a very wide range of organizations promoting “entrepreneurship”.  First, there are the established actors consistently doing great work in leading the charge.  These range from, the Entrepreneurs Organization (EO) founded 20 years ago which now has over 7,000 members with a common desire to grow their businesses by sharing their experiences to Junior Achievement and DECA. The latter started more than 60 years ago with the goal of improving education and career opportunities for students interested in careers in marketing, management and entrepreneurship. It organizes various programs, including the Entrepreneur U for the purpose of informing students, administrators and parents about the opportunities for studying entrepreneurship beyond high school. This innovation has been helping bridge the gap between high school students interested in becoming entrepreneurs and postsecondary institutions that have viable entrepreneurship education options.

The Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship (NFTE) in turn has been tapping on youth’s inventiveness and entrepreneurial potential through entrepreneurship education, primarily in urban cores. NFTE helps high school students from low-income communities improve their business, academic and life skills. Through entrepreneurship education and business competition programs, NFTE gives students opportunities to interact with seasoned entrepreneurs, inspiring them to channel their energy toward transforming their ideals into real-life ventures.

But there are also some very interesting new groups building creative networks and programs for high growth entrepreneurs. Perhaps one of the greatest examples is Elliot Bisnow’s “Summit Series” coming this month to Washington, DC but which started as an informal society of the world’s top young entrepreneurs who soon realized that they were on to something big. Summit Series now brings together many of the world's top CEOs, entrepreneurs, entertainers, and philanthropists under 35. They increasingly involve policymakers too. Touted as the Davos of young entrepreneurs, summit members gather every four to six months to learn from each other, raise money for charitable causes, and brainstorm on problems facing the world. Members have met with Bill Clinton, Kofi Annan and Queen Rania of Jordan to advance various causes. Last year, 35 Summit Series members met for a day of private briefings with senior White House staff members to talk about entrepreneurship and the economy. This allowed Summit members to open up direct lines of communication with high-ranking policy advisers.

Others who deserve a close look include the new team at StartupWeekend.com, which asks the question, “What if you could take an idea from concept to reality in just one weekend?” Created by serial entrepreneur and current TechStars community director Andrew Hyde, Startup Weekend combines startup enthusiasts, marketing gurus, graphic artists and more at a 54-hour event that moves entrepreneurs from idea to launch. More than 15,000 entrepreneurs in over 100 cities around the world have navigated the intense program, resulting in countless new companies and other entrepreneurial endeavors.

And then there is the Extreme Entrepreneurship Tour (EET), the first nationwide entrepreneurship tour to reach students, inspiring them to write down their goals and the steps to achieve them. Michael Simmons, CEO and Co-Founder of EET, is a young entrepreneur himself, named in 2006 as one of the country’s top 25 entrepreneurs under 25 by Business Week. Michael co-founded his first business, Princeton WebSolutions (PWS), when he was sixteen years old. His EET innovation brings people together to empower young entrepreneurs.  Small business development centers, economic development organizations, and schools have used the tour to bring together varied departments such as admissions, career planning, the business school and entrepreneurial centers on campus and in the local chamber of commerce. EET introduces all students to a new life framework of entrepreneurial thinking and inspires them to pursue their vision.  Bumping into Michael at the White House last Friday reminded me he is fast becoming a powerhouse for his cause.

And of course, there is the Kauffman Foundation itself, which beyond funding many of these players has also guided the creation of many new programs itself to increase interest and skills in entrepreneurship from angel investment to its new FastTrac program. It has also launched the Entrepreneurs' Movement, a creative effort to help busy entrepreneurs organize. Using the theme “Build a Stronger America,” the movement engages entrepreneurs as well as supporters of entrepreneurship, uniting them to have a stronger voice in the public discussion about America’s economic future.

Clearly, there are a lot of both new and traditional players in the field promoting high-growth entrepreneurship. While we need government actors to set the right rules and incentives, we should be encouraged that there is bottom up movement doing the heavy work. We hope next month's Global Entrepreneurship Week Partners Forum, where many of these actors will be interfacing, will generate even more ideas and more initiatives to keep America’s homegrown entrepreneurial development movements consistently regenerative and organic.  For more information on the event next month at the Kauffman Foundation, contact Anne Gilberg at agilberg@unleashingideas.org.


 

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