Making the 'Case' for an Entrepreneurial Revival
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The entrepreneurial brains behind the entity that gave rise to the popular 1990s “you’ve got mail” chime has some words of admonition: countries around the world are figuring out the “secret sauce” that makes the United States the most entrepreneurial country in the world. These nations are developing and attracting human talent, creating incentives for capital formation, and investing in research and development. The growth of emerging economies, or the “rise of the rest,” as Steve Case says, threatens America’s standing as the word’s entrepreneurial powerhouse.
Case, who spoke at a September 27 event put on by Empact, an organization devoted to facilitating a culture of entrepreneurship, is a rock star in the entrepreneur community. Most people know him as the co-founder and former CEO and chairman of America Online (AOL), which planted the first seeds of social media and online communities when Mark Zuckerberg was in diapers and feeding from a bottle. Those of a certain age remember AOL’s chat rooms, forums, and instant messaging service. Case left AOL in 2005 after 20 years to start Revolution LLC, a venture capital firm whose mission is “to build disruptive, innovative companies that offer consumers more choice, convenience, and control in their lives.” It’s portfolio of investments includes the daily deals website Living Social and the car-sharing company Zipcar.
In his remarks at the Empact event, Case said that entrepreneurship is too highly concentrated. “Capital is too focused on too few places,” he says. “There are awesome entrepreneurs all across the country… they don’t want to be in Silicon Valley. We need to even out the entrepreneurial engine.” That’s why Case is advocating for the development of 28 regional entrepreneurial ecosystems where talent, ideas, and capital bubble up and combine to form an incubator for startups, which is where “most job creation happens.”
One missing piece of the entrepreneurship puzzle is human talent, according to Case, and alleviating the talent shortage requires high-skilled immigration reform. Case has endorsed multiple bipartisan legislative prescriptions to achieve this goal. While he mentioned the Startup 2.0 Act during his remarks, he is also supportive of the alternative STEM Jobs Act of 2012.
Case was a signatory to an industry letter sent to Congress on September 19 in support of the STEM Jobs Act, which would establish a new green card program for outstanding STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) advanced degree graduates. The letter, in part, reads:
America has been greatly enriched by the contributions of gifted engineers, researchers, and scientists from around the world who have chosen to come here to study and innovate. However, our immigration system has failed to adapt in ways that help ensure we maintain this advantage… H.R. 6429 would prioritize legal immigration status for those earning STEM degrees from American graduate schools. The employer obligation to confirm that qualified American workers are not available would continue, as under current law.
At about the same time Case was addressing Empact conference, the Brookings Institution across town in Washington, D.C., was holding a forum on STEM education and immigration reforms and how they can recharge American competitiveness and economic opportunity. At the event, Microsoft released a National Talent Strategy calling for “a two-pronged approach that will couple long-term improvements in STEM education in the United States with targeted, short-term, high-skilled immigration reforms.”
This approach includes a national Race to the Future initiative that would provide incentives and financial resources for the states to strengthen STEM education through the following:
- Recruiting and training K-12 STEM teachers and implement Common Core State Standards and Next Generation Science Standards that will better prepare students for college and work in these disciplines.
- Broadening access to computer science in high school to ensure that all students have the opportunity to gain this foundational knowledge and explore careers in computing.
- Addressing the national crisis in college completion by helping students who start college to finish it faster and expand higher education capacity to produce more STEM degrees, with a particular focus on computer science.
AOL and Microsoft are two towering icons of American entrepreneurship. Our elected representatives in Washington should take a cue from them and do their part to keep the American Dream and our nation’s entrepreneurial spirit alive and well.