Between 1980 and 2005, “firms that were less than five years old created virtually all net new jobs in our country.” That’s nearly 40 million jobs according Robert Litan, director of research at the Kauffman Foundation who also in his research discovered that “two-thirds of all inventions come from entrepreneurs.”
Entrepreneurship continues to be the driving force for economic growth in this country. Without a robust economy where Americans are working, creating value, and building equity, we might create a precarious future for upcoming generations layered in debt, uncertainty, and a toxic culture of entitlement. In other words, we put our freedoms at risk when we ignore the role entrepreneurship plays in all of our lives.
So how do we build robust entrepreneurial ecosystems then that create jobs, wealth, and therefore provides new avenues for giving back to our communities? Throughout my keynote at the 2016 Rocket Hatch Retreat on February 20th, 2016 I shared stories and essentially three paths (that aren’t mutually exclusive) for moving forward:
1. Recruit capital and talent
During the presentation we discussed one of my favorite entrepreneurial, rural communities in the US. Fairfield, IA has a population of less than 10,000 people and yet has an incredible entrepreneurial track record. Since 1990, over $250M has been invested and 20 years later it was reported that this created over $1B in equity with over 40 software and telecom companies. Their story is a unique one where since the early 70s the transcendental meditation community and culture attracted top talent and capital from around the world to a small rural community that later became a leading case study for economic revitalization.
There are entrepreneurs in your community, right now, on the verge of something that could scale. Even if it’s not high-tech or sexy, are you still listening and asking “how can we help?” One example I referenced was the story of when 21-year old art student Xavier Roberts founded Cabbage Patch Kids in 1978 in Cleveland, GA which 6 years later became a $2 billion worldwide franchise.
Winning the game of technology transfer is never easy, but America wouldn’t be the superpower it is today unless it had been for the Tizard Mission in 1940 during WWII. It stands true that strong private-public partnerships between universities, the public sector, and government have the potential to drive economic development if the collaborative strategy and desired outcomes are thought through intelligently.
Ultimately, despite “best practices” throughout history and across the country, the real secret to building a robust innovation economy is directly “related to the quality, quantity, and variety of our questions.”
Huntsville, AL is a great spot to envision what one of the top entrepreneurial communities in the southeast could look like some day and then ask, “why not?” From there, I’m excited to see what unfolds next and am more than honored to serve however I can.