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Opinion Editorial -- FORBES -- Investing in Entrepreneurs

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Op-Ed by U.S. Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker

Opinion Editorial, FORBES
Investing in Entrepreneurs

The United States has a tradition of celebrating our entrepreneurs and championing their success. From Ben Franklin to Steve Jobs to Tory Burch, the story of America has been shaped and driven by risk-takers and inventors. 

President Obama understands that the opportunity for business creators to thrive is the foundation for a rising middle class, security and stability, and broad-based prosperity. This is why he has been promoting innovation since his famous speech in Cairo in 2009. When it comes to entrepreneurship, America is the best in the business, and it is our responsibility to share our expertise and help create a culture of innovation in countries around the world. 

That is the message I delivered at the annual Global Entrepreneurship Summit in Marrakesh, Morocco, where the world’s foremost innovators gathered to exchange best practices, learn from their peers, and hear the stories of successful and inspiring business leaders. 

I felt right at home at the Summit. Prior to serving as Secretary of Commerce—I proudly counted myself among the ranks of our country’s entrepreneurs. When I was 28 years old, I launched my first startup with an idea that was untested at the time: independent senior living, assisted living and continuing-care retirement communities. My team and I had a rough first few years, but we persevered. Today, the company—and four others I started—has created economic value and thousands of jobs. 

I was fortunate to have the guidance, direction, capital and fortitude I needed to succeed, but I know many others are not as lucky, especially in countries where a culture of innovation is only just taking root. 

The United States—and the Department of Commerce in particular—has a unique role to play in ensuring all entrepreneurs have access to the support structure necessary to help them thrive. We have a responsibility to share our expertise and our experience, and to show our partners worldwide what it takes to build an entrepreneurial society in their own communities. 

One way we meet this charge is through a public-private partnership called the President’s Ambassadors for Global Entrepreneurship, or PAGE, which I am honored to chair. This initiative brings together 11 of America’s top entrepreneurs, who use their stories and knowledge to mentor and inspire young people and start-ups across our country and around the world. 

PAGE members are making real impacts in communities across the globe. They are leaders like Daphne Koller, co-founder of Coursera, who is developing a new entrepreneurship curriculum to teach entrepreneurs the basics of starting a business. PAGE also counts Hamdi Ulukaya among its ranks, who founded the infamous yogurt company Chobani. He recently launched the Chobani Food Incubator in New York City to help up-and-coming food companies get their foot in the door. And we are proud to work with Steve Case, who co-founded AOL and now invests in up-and-coming entrepreneurs. 

Through initiatives like PAGE, our Department supports startups and new businesses from the instant an idea is sketched on the back of a napkin to the moment a company goes global. Even with the leadership and support of the U.S. government and private sector, we know our efforts can only go so far if businesses do not have access to the basic ingredients needed to turn a great idea into a viable company. 

Entrepreneurs need an infrastructure of opportunity, defined by strong educational institutions, by close relationships between the private sector and local universities, doing research, and by a system where ideas can easily become commercialized and tested in the market. 

Entrepreneurs need strong rule of law, a level playing field, access to financing throughout a company’s lifecycle, and legal norms that protect intellectual property and make it simple for innovators to both start an enterprise and wind it down. 

Entrepreneurs do not and should not depend solely on government or policy makers to achieve success; but with the basic foundation for progress in place, business creators and innovators worldwide will have the opportunity to thrive. As long as those of us in government do our part to cultivate the best ideas and enable our best minds, there is no doubt that entrepreneurs will continue to change societies, communities, economies, and nations for the better.