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Posted: February 17, 2011

Entrepreneurs + mentors = jobs

That's what the Startup America Partnership is all about

Brad Feld

I was at the White House recently to help announce the Startup America Partnership. As part of this, TechStars announced the TechStars Network, an affiliation of TechStars-like programs across the country along with our commitment to the Startup America Partnership to help 5,000 experienced mentors work with 6,000 entrepreneurs to create 25,000 new jobs by 2015.

For an awesome description of Startup America, please read Aneesh Chopra's (the United States CTO) post on TechCrunch titled Startup America: A Campaign To Celebrate, Inspire And Accelerate Entrepreneurship. By the way, I think it is awesomely cool that the CTO of the United States blogs on TechCrunch!

Over the past 18 months I've gotten to know a number of people in the executive brand of our government, especially at the Office of Science and Technology Policy and the National Economic Council. In general, I don't engage that much with government, but I have with issues that I care deeply about like the Startup Visa and entrepreneurship. In this case I've been blown away by the intelligence, thoughtfulness, tirelessness, and capability of folks in OSTP and the NEC.

When I was first involved in discussions around entrepreneurship that later evolved into the Startup America Partnership, I was originally skeptical about what I was hearing. Nine months and a bunch of discussions later, I think the White House has approached Startup America in a very smart and powerful way and I believe that everyone involved has a major clue about entrepreneurship, the importance of it to our economy and our country in general, and how to help celebrate, inspire, and accelerate entrepreneurship across America.

When I was first approached to talk about how the White House could help entrepreneurs, I focused most of my comments on trying to help the folks I talked to understand the difference between high growth entrepreneurs and small business people. They are both important to our economy, but have very different needs and until recently I didn't feel like the White House, or other branches of government, really understood the difference between the two.

Fortunately, the White House listened to a number of smart people, including the amazing folks at the Kauffman Foundation. I worked closely with the Kauffman Foundation in the mid-to-late 1990′s both through their partnership with the Young Entrepreneurs Organization as well as being an "entrepreneur-in-residence" (a fancy word for "one day a month consultant") where I worked with a team on better understanding high growth entrepreneurs.

I continued to spend time with the Kauffman Foundation over the past decade, but lost touch with many of the people I'd worked with as the organization evolved. In the past few years, under the leadership of Carl Schramm, the Kauffman Foundation has reasserted itself as the most significant organization thinking about, researching, and advocating for entrepreneurship as part of its mission to accelerate entrepreneurship in America. I've gotten to see them in action first hand through work that I've done with Lesa Mitchell, Paul Kedrosky, and Bo Fishback and I can confidently say that Mr. K's legacy is in great hands.

Along with Kauffman, Steve Case, the co-founder of AOL, his wife Jean and the Case Foundation, has been working hard to help the White House craft a public / private partnership to shine a bright light on entrepreneurship and help accelerate it across the country. I've never worked closely with Steve but have always admired him from afar and love the leadership team of Steve and Carl heading up the Startup America Partnership.

As David Cohen and I talked about the idea for the TechStars Network over the past few quarters, it became obvious to us that it would be a natural part of the Startup America Partnership as we both strongly believe that mentorship is a core attribute of growing entrepreneurs and entrepreneurship. We both believe that TechStars like programs can existing in over 100 cities in the US, covering many different industry segments (not just software and Internet), and the value of coordinating the mentor, entrepreneur, and investor activity across the entire country is extremely powerful.

We had already identified over 100 different accelerator programs in the US that were modeled after TechStars and had helped a number them get started, so as we put together the original members of the TechStars Network, we were psyched that 16 high quality accelerator programs joined us at launch.

It's important to realize that each of the TechStars Network member programs will be locally owned and operated. We strongly believe in the power of a network model in the construct of expanding entrepreneurship, not a hierarchical centrally owned and controlled one. We think entrepreneurship across the US is not a zero-sum game and we want to play our part in expanding it. TechStars will still run programs that it owns and operates in Boulder, New York, Boston, and Seattle, but we'll continue to aggressively expand the overall network across the US as well as the world.

I'm extremely excited to play my small part in the Startup America Partnership. For those of you out there questioning how government and entrepreneurs intersect, I encourage you to give the Startup America Partnership a chance. Start by looking at the 27 private organization commitments to the partnership. And, if you want to engage in any way, just email me and I'll try to figure out how to get you plugged in.

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Brad has been an early stage investor and entrepreneur for more than 20 years. Prior to co-founding the Boulder-based Foundry Group, he co-founded Mobius Venture Capital and Intensity Ventures, a company that helped launch and operate software companies. Brad is a nationally recognized speaker on the topics of venture capital investing and entrepreneurship and writes widely read and well respected blogs at www.feld.com and www.askthevc.com. He holds bachelor's and master's of science degrees from from MIT. Contact him at brad@feld.com

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Readers Respond

I'll hope for the best but expect the worst when our Congress is involved and trust me, I don't care which party it is. I've been an entrepeneur since I was about six and have owned 58 businesses. I don't think the most important ingredient CANNOT be taught; that's being a risk taker. If someone isn't one, they will NOT understand someone who is one, although they will think that they do. Obviously there are other factors, but business is business; ALL else is details that can be learned. Since being a risk taker can't be taught, imho, then there only needs to be a system that allows the spark to burn and not interfere. Be there to teach etc, but don't think that you can understand what motivates the risk taker. Oh well, I guess I'm just getting old By John Wray on 2011 02 18
As a country, I think we need to build up our competitive strengths - including Entrepreneurship. The U.S. is not the top country for entrepreneurial activity per capita and other governments are investing more in innovation than we are. Anything we as a nation can do to improve start-up success rates has my support. Oh... and if TechStars and the Kauffman Foundation are involved with StartUp America, I'm sure the entrepreneur's perspective is well represented. By Becky DeStigter on 2011 02 18
I still would question that ANY government agency will understand small business, especially when all they talk to are BIG businesses. Oh well, I'll wait and see. By John Wray on 2011 02 17

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