Entrepreneurs Wanted: A Practical Approach to Promoting Entrepreneurship

By: Karl R. LaPan, President & CEO, The Northeast Indiana Innovation Center

Our economy depends on entrepreneurs to thrive. From job creation to innovation to social influence — there is a whole host of reasons policymakers need to support and embrace their efforts. But how? I’ve included a few actionable steps to meaningfully leverage entrepreneurship as a national competitive advantage.

  • Boost the Safety Net: Kauffman Foundation has concluded that boosting the safety net through social insurance programs targeting entrepreneurs would strongly encourage more entrepreneurial efforts. While self-employment is often confused with entrepreneurship, they are not the same. Self-employment does not create the jobs and companies that drive a community’s standard of living. Would be entrepreneurs need support mechanisms that encourage the leap because they are the job creators, industry disruptors and company founders who raise the standard of living and contribute to a higher quality of place.
  • Lean into Failure. Our country must lean into failure to see more entrepreneurial successes. However, there is a Scarlet Letter of shame in places like the Midwest. Once a failure always a failure is the pervasive mindset, and there is a lifetime look back on failure. In innovation, quantity of ideas is a precursor to better quality of ideas. Our entrepreneurial ecosystem must provide the support services and create the culture that embraces robust churn and rapid reinvention.
  • Re-focus economic development in the US to more broadly address the four pillars of entrepreneurial success to solve the real start-up venture challenges. While it takes capital (bootstrapping or third parties) to launch and grow a profitable enterprise, it is as important to address the talent gaps and shortages that impair today’s entrepreneurs from building scalable and enduring businesses in their community. State entrepreneurship efforts have overdosed on capital at the expense of the most important pillar of entrepreneurial success – talent. As a nation, we simply must focus on growing our own and building the pipeline of future entrepreneurs. Regulatory environment, tax policies, the educational system and our free enterprise culture play a big role in cultivating or discouraging higher levels of entrepreneurship.
  • Embrace social enterprises. Many Millennials are passionate about integrating social change into their business model. Today’s entrepreneurial support organizations and service providers should incorporate and legitimize social enterprise into their programming. Traditional support sources don’t often target this underserved segment. Our world needs both types of entrepreneurial mindsets – economically driven and socially minded entrepreneurs. While hybrid organizations (not all social enterprises are hybrid organizations) might engage in a social mission while conducting commercial activities, sustainability and impact are the common denominators.
  • Promote the development of a more inclusive entrepreneurial community. Our country is becoming more diverse every year, and the entrepreneurial community should reflect national trends. A recent Harvard Business Review blog reconfirms that “one quarter of entrepreneurs in the U.S. are immigrants yet immigrants represent only 15 percent of our U.S. population.” Women start businesses at twice the rate of their male counterparts, but minority business owners face access and equity issues. In addition, they can be isolated, feel excluded or simply do not have level playing field access to important resources essential to success – capital, talent (including mentorship), place-making and connectivity.

We have taken entrepreneurship for granted in the U.S. We face three decades of decline. If entrepreneurship were easy, more than the 13% of Americans would have started or run a new business. Here’s a challenge for all of us: what are strategies to turbocharge the pace and rate of new entrepreneurial ventures in our communities and in our country?


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