A few weeks ago, I had the chance to do just that -- lead a group of Startup NC regional champions on a trip to Washington DC, where Startup America Partnership is headquartered.
I had some pretty awesome company - I was joined by Brooks Bell (Brooks Bell), Chris Heivly (TSF), Adam Hill (Packard Place), Adam Klein (American Underground), Scott Moody, and Rick Terrell. Our group was joined by entrepreneurial leaders from 10 other states, including Colorado, Texas, Arizona, Maryland, Tennessee and Indiana.
Our job was to pitch and present on our state's entrepreneurial ecosystem to an audience of senior White House officials. It's not every day you get time and attention from the likes of Karen Mills, senior administrator of the U.S. Small Business Administration; Todd Park, U.S. chief technology officer; John Holdren, director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy; and Teresa Stanek Rea, acting undersecretary of commerce for intellectual property and acting director of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.
Pitching North Carolina's entrepreneurial ecosystem was relatively easy. Our entrepreneurial ecosystem is booming and we have a wide variety of entrepreneurial assets that we can thank for that boom.
Briefing senior officials on entrepreneurship was also relatively simple. It was easy (and valuable) to explain the differences between a small business like a coffee shop and a high growth tech startup, especially when it comes to their relative potential for aggregate job creation. It was easy to explain that entrepreneurs can't afford to wait months for the government to process paperwork and make decisions. For entrepreneurs, the game can totally change in a matter of weeks, let alone months.
What Can the Government Do for Us?
The piece that had me scratching my head was what the federal government could do to help *us* move the needle for entrepreneurship in NC.
Sure, there is a lot of talk about the Startup Visa, comprehensive immigration reform, and the Startup Act 2.0, but I'll believe them when I see them (just like the crowdfunding provisions of the JOBS Act the SEC has yet to release). I happen to think most of these concepts address needs that should have been met -- or solve problems that should have been fixed -- decades ago.
Presenting at the White House was a once in a lifetime experience that I'll never forget, but we wanted to make sure we could identify something tangible before we boarded our flight back to RDU. One win we can point to is confirming the nation's first regional Datapalooza in conjunction with the US CTO's office, to be hosted in the Triangle later this year.
A datapalooza is a sort of hackathon where the government releases datasets and APIs of government data and gets out of the way, letting entrepreneurs access, monetize and build products and services around those datasets. It's this type of open government data that already powers the national weather service, enabling The Weather Channel, and global positioning system (GPS), enabling the array of location based services like Foursquare.
And come to think of it, it's exactly the model for how government can help.
Listen to entrepreneurs, deliver what can be delivered (as fast as possible, please), and then get out of the way. Don't get me wrong, entrepreneurs have to come to the table and do their part too. We have a duty to identify problems, suggest solutions and participate in the implementation of those solutions.
For the saavy entrepreneur, there happens to be plenty of opportunity in each of those phases.