A Bold Plan to Help Startups
In an increasingly globalized economy, America’s prosperity depends on its capacity to continually produce high-growth and disruptive new business. Innovators from Henry Ford to Steve Jobs crafted entrepreneurship into a distinctly American form, creating new markets and revving the engines of our nation’s economy. Now, with our country plagued with high jobless figures that just won’t budge, it is critical we tap our entrepreneurial roots to begin generating the jobs our nation so desperately needs.
This is the foundational principle of the Startup America Partnership, a national, non-profit organization committed to supporting high growth startups all over the country.
Launched in January 2011 at the White House and funded by the Case and Kauffman foundations and the support of American Airlines, American Express OPEN, Dell, Intuit, Microsoft and NYSE EURONEXT, Startup America’s goal is to help high-growth startups scale more successfully and support them more fully through strong startup communities at a local level.
According to the Kauffman Foundation, young high-growth companies are responsible for all net new job growth in the U.S. in the last 30 years. So when we think about how we revitalize the U.S. economy, supporting startups is essential.
Startup America’s first goal is to help ambitious founders with the challenges of increasing revenue, finding talent and securing capital. By registering with Startup America (free at www.s.co), startups get access to the resources, opportunities and expertise they need to grow their companies. This includes over $1.5 billion worth of resources from companies such as FedEx, Google, Turnstone and ELance.
To date, more than 8,000 startups have joined Startup America. To qualify, a company must be a for-profit startup with at least two founders or employees founded since 2006 or a for-profit ramp-up or speed-up with at least six founders or employees founded since 2001. Signing up is free, but you will need:
• Employer Identification Number or Social Security Number
• Founder and employee count (minimum two)
• Basic revenue information
Second, Startup America celebrates startups, helping put them on the national stage to recognize them as the job creators they are and help jumpstart their growth. Every day a different startup is highlighted and amplified through social media and PR campaigns. In addition, startups have access to unique opportunities to be showcased on the national stage—at for instance, the Superbowl, the Kentucky Derby, the NYSE, the Consumer Electronics Show, SXSW and others.
Third, through Startup Regions, Startup America is working at the root level to solve the local challenges that prevent more startups from reaching their full potential and make every community a strong place to build and scale a new company.
Two regions in the fall of 2011 have now blossomed into 26 regions, with more than 20 others planning to join.
Today, there are nearly 1,000 entrepreneurial leaders committed to making their home states more vibrant and supportive for high growth startups.
What began as an interesting idea has become a mechanism to connect the entire U.S. startup economy into one cohesive ecosystem, rather than silos operating solely on a community basis.
The startup regions are entrepreneur-led, grassroots initiatives: driven by a community of volunteers, operating in an open and transparent way, having honest conversation about what's working and what's not, then rolling up our collective sleeves to get creative and solve the challenges. Each region fashions its own unique approach to overcome its own particular set of obstacles in any of the following nine areas:
1. Leadership: Strong group of entrepreneurs who are visible, accessible and committed to the region being a great place to start and grow a company.
2. Intermediaries: Many well-respected mentors and advisors giving back across all stages, sectors, demographics, and geographies as well as a solid presence of effective, visible, well-integrated accelerators and incubators.
3. Network Density: Deep, well-connected community of startups and entrepreneurs along with engaged and visible investors, advisors, mentors and supporters. Optimally, these people and organizations cut across sectors, demographics and culture engagement. Everyone must be willing to give back to his community.
4. Government: Strong government support for and understanding of significance of startups to economic growth. Additionally supportive policies should be in place covering economic development, tax and investment vehicles.
5. Talent: Broad, deep talent pool for all levels of employees in all sectors and areas of expertise. Universities are an excellent resource for startup talent and should be well connected to community.
6. Support Services: Professional services (legal, accounting, real estate, insurance, consulting) are integrated, accessible, effective and appropriately priced.
7. Engagement: Large numbers of events for entrepreneurs and community to connect, with highly visible, and authentic participants. The events include meetups, pitch days, conferences, happy hours, startup weekends, boot camps, hackathons, celebrations and competitions.
8. Companies: Large companies that are the anchor of a city should create specific departments and programs to encourage cooperation with high growth startups.
9. Capital: Strong, dense and supportive community of VCs, angels, seed investors, and other forms of financing should be available, visible and accessible across sectors, demographics and geography.
Already, the results have been quite incredible.
• Startup Tennessee launched a year ago with an entrepreneurial core in Nashville. Since then, they have created a statewide mentoring network, launched nine local accelerators and connected them all to each other to cohesively link startups to resources, experts and investors statewide. This has not gone unnoticed by the press, with over 400 media mentions of Tennessee startups and the statewide ecosystem in the last year alone.
• After their January 2012 launch, the Startup DC team identified the need for more corporate engagement and access to early and mid-stage capital as two key initiatives to focus on for 2012. Already, in the six months since launching, they have implemented a creative program for identifying potential local investors regionally, rather than relying on outside sources of capital. In November they will host the national event “Reboot America” to engage startups and corporations in dialogue about disruptive businesses.
• Startup Iowa is dissolving cultural and geographic roadblocks to a flourishing Midwestern startup scene. Progress can be seen in Silicon Prairie (refuting that only Silicon Valley and the Research Triangle are fertile ground for tech startups), Silicon Sixth Avenue in Des Moines (a tight-knit community of founders, branching out to Ames, Iowa City and Cedar Rapids) and elsewhere.
• Startup Colorado is applying the Boulder entrepreneurship model to other front-range cities. In their first year, they added teams in Denver and Colorado Springs to the national ecosystem. In addition, they began tackling technical talent gaps by creating a “Startup Summer” program to immerse local college students in the Colorado startup scene.
What every community is doing and how they are doing it is different, but the underlying commitment is the same: make each local community as strong as it can be for startups, then share what’s working so the entire nation collectively gets the benefit of everyone’s work. Through an online community, regular calls and in-person summits, Startup America connects the national network of champions to each other, and helps to provide the tools, resources, ideas, connections and support the regional champions need to be successful.
Donna Harris is Startup America’s managing director for startup regions. Twitter: @dharrisindc