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Want to grow more entrepreneurs? An open letter to Sen. James Risch

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Norris Krueger

Dear Senator: Remember back in the day when you, Nancy Bergman and I sat in the back of an economic development event. You wondered aloud how do we get the best information and resources to Idaho’s new and small businesses? Loved how you got it.

Fast forward 15 years, and you’ve helped do much for entrepreneurs and SMEs, not just in Idaho. (Selfishly, I am particularly thrilled at your help re the Idaho Women’s Business Center, likely a true game-changer. Thanks again!) The work is far from done, but the way forward is much clearer. And you can help!

I was thinking about this during the UN’s Global Small Business Day [a] last week as I delivered my remarks and even more as the event unfolded. A stark reality kept surfacing: Who leads economies out of recession? Innovative new and small firms. Data from OECD, ILO, EU, everyone agrees — every country on earth, in every recession, it is new and small firms that lead us out. Yet why does most policy not reflect that? PPP is a good start (on a recent Zoom with Macedonia’s economic leaders, I found they’ve copied us just like Japan copied SBIR), but we can do more. Much more. And a lot cheaper than CARES, etc.

Ask #1: Let’s have a public discussion on this! How can we best help those who will lead us out of this mess? Deal with the strong policy efforts that see only high-growth/high-tech startups or, worse, discount entrepreneurs having any role. Bring together the best thinkers and doers [b]. And host it here in Idaho!

In my last IBR piece, I again argued that the current crises call for a Great Re-Think. Businesses have the opportunity to see how critical assumptions of their business model have changed, then innovate ways to capitalize. (The piece was also an open letter to the local economic task force. I’ll bet you’re not surprised that neither Boise nor the state responded but, Senator, they both need our help!) Meanwhile, strategies to grow local economies already have had a Great Re-Think. This can help the country and definitely can help Idaho. Only if we listen.

As I’ve traveled around the country and the world, I see that Idaho is not all that different in terms of its hurdles and in… its potential. There are some very clear ways forward. Many are not easy, but the path is clear and the cost is surprisingly little. You and I may understand that local economies grow bottom-up, led by the entrepreneurs, not top-down led by big institutions and power players. You and I also know just how hard it is to overcome that institutional inertia. So what can we do together?

Senator, I know you are familiar with the good folks at the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation. Their current venture, ESHIP, works to grow bottom-up ecosystem building as a field and profession. I’ve been blessed to be at the heart of ESHIP, and I can safely say that the USA is blessed with many remarkable ecosystem builders. In city after city, they have stepped up and redoubled their efforts in the face of COVID-19 and social unrest. Their ability to connect locally and beyond can’t be matched [c]. Quite stunning, really.

Yet, these linchpins of local entrepreneurial development face increasingly scarce resources. As valuable as CARES was, why did all the ED money go to the top-down, the institutions and entrenched power players?

Ask #2: In the next round of stimulus funding, what if we specifically funded those grassroots organizations? Fund the true game-changers? The ones who actually understand entrepreneurs and how to grow them? Help them to help their entrepreneurs and their communities? Give them a fighting chance? I have a plan. (And what if I knew a way you could support ecosystem builders without waiting for the next stimulus bill? Call me.)

And what about Idaho specifically? Wouldn’t Idaho be a marvelous “living lab” to show how bottom-up, entrepreneur-led entrepreneur development can transform an economy?

Ask #3: You’ve seen that “Extreme Makeover” show… why not “Extreme Entrepreneurial Makeover” for Idaho? Imagine the world’s best ecosystem builders helping build… us? So many talented people will happily help Idaho, and together we could build astounding entrepreneurship training and education, nurture our grassroots initiatives, develop brilliant metrics, and accelerate Idaho’s economy even before COVID runs its course.

Innovative firms figure things out before the recession ends. Innovative communities do it too. Senator, you’ve always had an eye for this. Will you help?

[a] Technically, UN Global Medium, Small, and Micro Enterprises Day ;) www.icsb.org/msmedays

[b] For a great list of affordable, effective policy ideas: www.StartUsUpNow.org

[c] Startup Genome (#1 data mavens on developing entrepreneurship) points out a much ignored leading indicator of an entrepreneurial ecosystem advancing from early-stage (like Boise) to the accelerating stage is stronger connectivity, locally and especially globally.

Norris Krueger is a Goal Champion for the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation’s ESHIP initiative to grow ecosystem building. He is also a leading academic expert on growing entrepreneurial communities, active mentor for Venture Capital.Org and a much-decorated entrepreneurship educator and global consultant to OECD, EU and others. He can be reached at Norris.krueger@gmail.com, on social media or at www.norriskrueger.com/my-last-12-months.

About Norris Krueger