Co-written with Evan Engstrom
The American Dream is built on the premise that regardless of who you are or where you’re born, if you work hard you can achieve greatness. Over the past century, entrepreneurs have embodied this ideal. The son of a Syrian migrant created one of the world’s most valuable companies out of his garage in California. Companies that were started in dorm rooms and university labs have changed the way we live and work.
Today, startups are the backbone of our nation’s economy. They drive growth and innovation, create jobs, and transform communities. According to research by the Kauffman Foundation, small, young firms have created an average of 1.5 million jobs per year over the past three decades, accounting for nearly all net new job growth. Fortunately, this growth is no longer limited to traditional tech hubs like Silicon Valley. It is happening all over the country. In towns across America—from Salem to Nashville to San Diego—new startup hubs are rising, capitalizing on local assets to bring ideas to life and transform local economies.
There is a growing recognition that creating a national and local environment where startups can thrive and scale is critical. While a great idea creates a foundation, fostering an entrepreneurial ecosystem that connects startups with partners in education, investment, and government is essential to transforming that idea into reality. There is an increasing awareness in Congress that pushing policies that foster startup innovation brings new businesses and jobs to their districts.
Still, a gap between startups and policymakers remains. Many members of Congress are not aware of the enormous impact these young companies are having in their own districts. On the other side, many startups are not aware of the outsized impact that government policies and resources can have on their chances at success. Startups help to bridge this gap, but nothing compares to a direct relationship between an elected official and his or her constituents.
As a former entrepreneur and current member of the U.S. House of Representatives, and as the head of a non-profit organization that works tirelessly to amplify the voice of startups in D.C., we recognize the tremendous importance of building a lasting dialogue between policymakers and startups. That’s why we were excited to partner with a number of other organizations and the members of the Congressional Caucus on Innovation and Entrepreneurship for the fourth-annual Startup Day Across America, which took place last week.
On August 4, dozens of members of Congress participated in events with entrepreneurs, incubators, and accelerators to celebrate the ingenuity and innovation taking place in their districts and states. In cities and towns around the country, elected officials had the chance to see firsthand how startups are leveraging the power of technology to develop new products and services at an unprecedented rate and drive economic growth in their districts. At these same events, entrepreneurs had the opportunity to showcase their work and tell policymakers how and why supportive policies make a difference.
In Massachusetts, we organized a roundtable discussion that featured an impressive group of local entrepreneurs that highlighted how startup companies in the Sixth District are creating jobs and producing innovative products to solve real-world challenges.
Entrepreneurs often take substantial financial risks in order to get a business off the ground, and it is critical that local entrepreneurs have the support of their elected representatives.
Whether it’s a tour of a local incubator, a demo from a startup, or simply a phone call with an entrepreneur in your district, these important conversations don’t just have to take place on a single day in August. We encourage lawmakers to schedule conversations with startups throughout the year and consistently connect and build relationships with the innovators driving economic growth in their communities. From protecting net neutrality to finding ways to drive capital to diverse entrepreneurs, lawmakers have the power to craft and champion policies that support startups. It’s critical that policymakers make an effort to understand what those policies are, according to the startups creating change right in their own backyards. And who knows—one of us may meet the next Steve Jobs, chasing the American Dream from his or her very own garage.