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Remarks from U.S. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker at the Kauffman Foundation's 2015 State of Entrepreneurship Address

Wednesday, February 11, 2014
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Today, U.S. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker delivered remarks on the leadership of the Department of Commerce and the entire Obama Administration in promoting entrepreneurship across the United States at the 2015 State of Entrepreneurship Address, hosted by the Kauffman Foundation. The remarks were delivered to various business leaders, experts, non-profits, and government officials to address the impact and importance of America’s entrepreneurs in our country’s economy.
As the driving force behind the Administration’s focus on entrepreneurship, the Department of Commerce partners with businesses to set the conditions for innovators and new businesses to test new ideas, take risks, find financing and customers, and ultimately thrive. Many of the Department’s core responsibilities help create the essential infrastructure of opportunity for entrepreneurs – whether issuing patents that protect intellectual property, making investments in local economic development, collecting and disseminating data to inform better decision making, expanding access to broadband, or protecting a free and open internet.
In her remarks, Secretary Pritzker discussed key ways that the Department of Commerce is working to support entrepreneurship at home and abroad: from the Presidential Ambassadors for Global Entrepreneurship to the National Network for Manufacturing Innovation to efforts to build regional ecosystems across the nation. The Department is dedicated to unleashing the power of the American entrepreneur.
In addition, the Secretary highlighted two new efforts. First, the Startup Global pilot program will feature a series of incubators in Cincinnati, Nashville, Arlington, TX, and Washington, D.C., where entrepreneurs can get technical assistance with how to export. Second, the new partnership between the Census Bureau and the Kauffman Foundation will help improve the way entrepreneurship is measured and enable the federal government to gain a better understanding of the dynamics and challenges faced by U.S. entrepreneurs.
Remarks as Prepared for Delivery
Thank you, Wendy Guillies, for your introduction. I want to thank the Kauffman Foundation for your stellar work studying and promoting entrepreneurship in the United States.
I also want to acknowledge all of the business leaders, experts, non-profits, and government officials here, including:
  • Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard, an Army veteran and a key voice of a new generation in Congress; and
  • Congressmen Jared Polis and John Delaney, both bringing the perspective of entrepreneurs to the House of Representatives. 
I join you today as Secretary of Commerce and as President Obama’s point person on entrepreneurship. But first and foremost, I am an entrepreneur myself. I spent 27 years in the private sector and started 5 businesses. I understand what it is like to have a concept, but not know how to turn it into a business plan or into an entity that can attract funding. I understand the fear and excitement of starting a new business and trying to attract talent when you have no revenue, no customers – just an idea. I understand what it means to adapt and modify your product to meet market demands – and then have the market change. It is both terrifying and exhilarating to be an entrepreneur. I was fortunate to have the guidance, mentorship, capital, and fortitude to succeed. But that is a rare situation.
Our entire Administration wants to ensure that all of our entrepreneurs have the best opportunity to succeed – because start-ups are key sources of economic growth and job creation. In fact, across a wide range of sectors and regions, entrepreneurs and small business owners have generated more than 65 percent of net new jobs over the last two decades. And start-ups in high-tech hubs alone account for over 40 percent of new jobs each year – despite comprising only 1 percent of all businesses. As President Obama has said, entrepreneurship is one of our country’s greatest assets. And as all of you in this room know, entrepreneurship is an essential – and fundamental – ingredient in our nation’s economic prosperity.
From the President to the Department of Commerce to the entire Administration, we know that government has a critical role to play in supporting America’s entrepreneurs. Our government does not create new companies. But we can help set the conditions for entrepreneurs, like you, to take risks, to collaborate, to find financial support, to find customers, and, ultimately, to thrive. Our job is to implement smart programs, institute smart policies, and make smart investments. Our job is to be a catalyst – by helping communities build capacity to bring new inventions to market and by ensuring businesses have the tools to innovate and grow.
Our job is to support and maintain a strong infrastructure of opportunity including:
  • A strong education system;
  • A skilled workforce;
  • The rule of law;
  • Strategic investments in R&D;
  • Intellectual property protections;
  • Access to traditional and innovative forms of capital;
  • Access to high-speed internet; and
  • A culture and legal system with a high tolerance for risk-taking – and where failure can be a stepping stone to success.           
I am proud that the Department of Commerce serves as the driving force behind the Administration’s focus on entrepreneurship – and that our core responsibilities include supporting start-ups and empowering entrepreneurs.
Every day at our Department:
  • We issue patents that protect intellectual property.
  • We make investments in local economic development that support incubators and accelerators, where entrepreneurs can develop their concepts and start putting their ideas into practice.
  • We collect and disseminate data that informs better decision-making and helps build businesses.
  • We work to expand access to broadband and to protect a free and open internet – which is an absolute necessity for any firm in the 21st century. 
Since becoming Secretary, my team and I have expanded our work.
For example, to inspire the next generation, I am proud to chair the PAGE initiative. Since the launch of PAGE last spring, our dynamic ambassadors have been everywhere. 
  • I joined Steve Case on his “Rise of the Rest Bus Tour,” which raised the profile of entrepreneurship in nine up-and-coming startup U.S. cities.
  • Daphne Koller is creating a free entrepreneurship curriculum through her company, Coursera.
  • Tory Burch is working to provide female entrepreneurs with access to affordable loans and networking opportunities.
  • Hamdi Ulukaya started the Chobani Food Incubator, a program to invest in and cultivate emerging food entrepreneurs. 
The list could go on. In the coming months, we will announce the expansion of PAGE – bringing new voices and initiatives into the fold to empower the next wave of entrepreneurs in the U.S. and across the globe.
Next, to provide companies with access to cutting-edge technology, our Department leads the National Network for Manufacturing Innovation, or NNMI. This initiative creates ecosystems, where industry, academia, and government come together to help local manufacturers not only propose new ideas, but scale and implement their latest innovations. From 3D printing to lightweight metals to photonics, NNMI can, and will, ensure that our entrepreneurs stay competitive in the global economy – and shape the next wave of advanced manufacturing in the 21st century.
To bring the best ideas to the table at the Commerce Department, we re-established the National Advisory Council on Innovation and Entrepreneurship, where top academics, business and non-profit leaders offer advice on innovation, entrepreneurship, and industry-driven skills training. In the group’s first meeting in December, these leaders identified tough issues to tackle, such as: how to better define and measure innovation; what the future of business incubation looks like; and how to modernize labor market data to help entrepreneurs find the talent they need to grow.
Finally, to strengthen America’s entrepreneurial ecosystems, our Economic Development Administration leads the Regional Innovation Strategies competition. This program advances innovation and capacity-building activities in regions across the country. This initiative provides grants to reinforce infrastructure through feasibility and planning studies for science and research parks; invests in centers that help entrepreneurs move early-stage ideas from the garage and lab to production and sales; and expands access to early stage capital by increasing the flow of seed funding to promising startups.
To give one example, this effort enabled Georgia Tech to create a new center where entrepreneurs have resources to turn early-stage medical devices into prototypes that can attract capital and customers. In Georgia and nationwide, these investments help entrepreneurs turn ideas into sustainable companies.
In addition to these existing efforts, in the coming months, we will kick off the Startup Global pilot program in Cincinnati; Nashville; Arlington, Texas; and Washington, D.C. This initiative will help entrepreneurs and early-stage companies to think global from day one by providing the know-how and technical assistance they need in order to export their goods and services. Startup Global will expand our International Trade Administration’s client base to include startups – a critical part of ensuring that Commerce partners with American firms, whether small businesses, medium-sized enterprises, or large multinationals.
Today, we are strengthening our work through a new partnership between the Census Bureau and the Kauffman Foundation. The goal of this partnership is to improve the way our government tracks entrepreneurship. Through this effort:
  • Census and Kauffman will modernize and enrich the Survey of Business Owners.
  • Census will conduct the survey every year, instead of every 5 years. And rather than wait 3 years to publish the data, we will release it more frequently.
  • This information will provide critical insights into the health of companies of all sizes, as well as tell us how firms are financed, how they conduct R&D, how they improve the production process, and how they innovate in general. 
This partnership between Kauffman and Census is one way that government can work with you to better measure, understand and, thereby, promote entrepreneurship.
At Commerce, we will continue to do our part. However, we want your continued guidance on where the federal government should improve and where we should get out of the way.
We want your ideas. For example, what can we do to help small businesses and self-employed Americans hire at least one person? How can we get more capital flowing to promising firms? Where are opportunities to solidify regional strengths? How can we ensure more companies use our data to create jobs, and how can we empower more Americans with the skills and training they need to succeed?
Working together, we can shape the next great era of American entrepreneurship and innovation. To best incorporate your ideas, I want you all to meet Josh Mandell, my Senior Adviser for Innovation, who is here today. Please use him as a resource for incorporating feedback into our policy.
Despite all of the challenges we face today, the ingenuity, creativity, and optimism of our country’s entrepreneurs give us hope.
As Commerce Secretary, I have seen the entrepreneurial spirit in Missoula, Montana, where a former music professor turned his passions for coffee and product design into a multi-million dollar company called Liquid Planet; in Cincinnati, Ohio, where programmers are working on ways to better plan road trips across America; in Phoenix, Arizona, where two young people used Kickstarter to develop a new shovel handle that has turned into a company supplying an entire product line of ergonomic tools.
I saw this spirit at The Idea Village in New Orleans, a business-led effort to cultivate the city’s entrepreneurial ecosystem. The leaders of this incubator gave me one of my most prized possessions, a sign that sums up the true spirit of entrepreneurship: “trust your crazy ideas.”
That spirit has defined our nation’s history – carried forward by everyone from Ben Franklin to Steve Jobs to Elizabeth Holmes. That willingness to trust crazy ideas has been a source of strength to our economy. That courage – to try new inventions, even at the risk of failure; to challenge convention, even if you do not succeed at first; to dream big and ultimately achieve your goals – that is what makes our entrepreneurs agents of change and the living embodiments of the American dream.
Thank you to the Kauffman Foundation. And thank you all for coming together today to discuss the current state and future of entrepreneurship.