by Brian Bassett
So why were Larkin and Todd Nuckols in our nation's capital on February 5th? After nailing Larkin down for 20 minutes, I'll try and explain ...
In the aftershocks of the financial crisis of 2008, the US government realized just how vital innovation can be to our nation and how much it matters to our economy. No longer could government just expect massive businesses to yield the same results year over year. No longer could the increase in property values be considered a given. No longer could government afford to spend more if they were going to have less in their coffers. So as the nation worked to rebuild from a recession, where was growth strongest? In entrepreneurship.
Since then, government realizes that whether innovation needs to start at home inside government operations, or through the very frameworks they set up for the private sector, government is trying to create an economic culture that fosters runaway growth of new businesses who are delivering new products and services to the economy.
With the help of non-profits like The Case Foundation, The Kauffman Foundation and Startup America, government is seeking to appreciate how innovation, entrepreneurship and a new paradigms for business creation and generation are what will be fuels our economy moving forward.
To that end, a whole day was planned in Washington where ten states like Texas, Arizona, Maryland and Virginia were invited to participate in discussions on innovation and present their regional work and their findings to Todd Park, the Chief Technology Officer of the United States, amongst others.
The day started with a breakfast that the Case Foundation hosted where the states represented had breakfast with Steve Case (former CEO of AOL) along with his wife Jean (champion of the Case Foundation's "Be Fearless" campaign) and Startup America's Scott Case in an informal setting. The best part of that event according to Larkin? "It's good to know people around the country now with whom we can share our ideas and roadblocks," Larkin said. "Arizona has some similar challenges that we do in Virginia. Most notably creating density with the resources we do have to spur innovation. So, being able to share what's worked for us and hear what's working for them is a big help."
The State of Secret Sauce
After spending the morning at the Case Foundation, the Kauffman Foundation held their fourth annual State of Entrepreneurship at the National Press Club. The focus of the event was to openly address the challenges and opportunities in financing young companies.
In opening the event, the junior Senator from the State of Kansas, Senator Jerry Moran told the audience that entrepreneurship is vital to the sustainability and growth of the American economy. "When entrepreneurs succeed our communities and our nation succeeds," Moran said. "For the last three decades, entrepreneurs and their young companies have been responsible for almost all the net job creation in our nation ... an average of three million jobs per year."
Even so, Moran warned that unless the nation acted soon, entrepreneurship would become an endangered ideal in the United States. "The state of entrepreneurship is not as strong it once was -- I had someone in my office recently who told me ... [that] .. they know what the American Dream is, but that it's being lived someplace else. We need make sure the American Dream is being lived in America."
Pitch the Plan
A lot has changed in how entrepreneurship works in the last fifteen years. While harnessing new ideas is what has always powered our economy, the way those ideas come to fruition is changing. Bank debt, regulation, venture capital, IPOs and crowdsourcing are all changing and changing the ways new businesses get off the ground. Startup America as well as the Case and Kauffman foundations are pushing for quick action by regulators to address the hurdles that exist right now, specifically in crowdfunding.
While venture capital is a more traditional model at this point, VCs are looking for more than just a buttoned up business plan according to Jeff Fagnan, a partner at Atlas Ventures. "The business plan is outdated ... I've never funded a startup with a business plan," Fagnan told the audience at the State of Entrepreneurship financing panel. To Fagnan the sum of the parts is more important to successful entrepreneurship team than an airtight five-year plan. "I fund projects on idea, talent and network."
For most venture capitalists, it comes down to ideas, the ability to iterate, and their flexibility to respond to market validation. Even so, funding entrepreneurship via venture capital can't be the only way to start a business. Donna Harris of Startup America told the panel, entrepreneurs should not underestimate the role of large corporations in the startup ecosystem. Corporate procurement of the products and services that the startups can quickly deliver to them can be key to a young business's long-term viability.
After the State of Entrepreneurship, the ten states were all allotted a three minute pitch at the Executive Office Building in front of the new CTO of the United States Todd Park, the head of the SBA, delegations from the Kauffman and Case Foundations as well as many other luminaries.
During Virginia's three minutes, Larkin spoke to the group and told them that the state is working on a number of projects whether in Blacksburg, Charlottesville, Newport News, Northern Virginia or in Richmond in different industries and that as a whole, the group agrees that for entrepreneurship to be more effective in Virginia, everyone "must join forces to treat the entire state like a startup in order to succeed. We are breaking down barriers to connect the commonwealth to collectively improve manufacturing, healthcare, government, cyber security and public education."
On the whole, Larkin said that the day was an exciting and life-changing experience. That it was a chance for her to be encouraged in knowing that other states are dealing with some of the same issues, but also that there are champions working in the halls of power in Washington to effect the same change that she's working on every day here in Richmond.
Learn more about the day:
Kauffman: State of Entrepreneurship Address
Kauffman: State of Entrepreneurship & Financing Press Release