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A Weeklong Festival for Entrepreneurship

Organizers behind the first annual EntrepreneurshipWeek USA hope to promote innovative thinking across the country

Entrepreneurship is a hot topic these days, so it's no surprise that there's now a week in February devoted to promoting it. As part of EntrepreneurshipWeek USA, more than 1,000 organizations and universities from across the country will host activities from Feb. 24 through Mar. 3 to promote entrepreneurship and innovation. Under the tagline, "What's Your Big Idea? Take It On!," the initiative is meant to encourage young people to think creatively and to turn their ideas into action. Most of the events are free and open to the public.

It's the result of an idea that originated in November, 2004, when Carl Schramm, the president of the Kauffman Foundation, the nation's largest foundation to promote entrepreneurship gave a keynote address at Britain's first annual Enterprise Week (see Video, 10/17/06, "Exporting Entrepreneurship"). He was wowed by the enthusiasm of the young participants, so he decided to organize a similar national event in the U.S.

Despite being the event's first year, over 3,000 local activities are planned around the country, and almost all are volunteer-run. "We didn't go and pull together corporate sponsors to try to make this a massive media advertising effort. With a fairly modest effort, we've had phenomenal participation," says Jonathan Ortmans, executive director of the event and the president of the Washington, D.C.-based Public Forum Institute, which promotes dialogue on entrepreneurship.

Games and Names

The weeklong initiative is also designed to appeal to seasoned entrepreneurs, according to Ortmans, with events that encourage them to tap into young talent, as well as locally-organized speaker series' and contests. "We're trying to send a message to [more experienced entrepreneurs] that there's a great value to including younger people who are more open to new ideas," says Ortmans, who also hopes the events will elevate national consciousness about the importance of some of these serial entrepreneurs.

Innovation and action are common themes throughout the individual events, which range from the St. Louis Race to Entrepreneurship, an adventure race that combines teamwork, physical exercise, and entrepreneurship trivia, to Denver's Cleantech Innovation Competition, which is seeking business plans that "capitalize on emerging-market conditions and propose business concepts that promise significant financial reward while enhancing ecological sustainability," with $25,000 in cash awards.

Big names are another theme. The list of speakers includes Thomas Friedman, a columnist for "The New York Times;" Shane Battier of the NBA's Houston Rockets; Fran Tarkenton, an NFL Hall of Fame quarterback; and Dr. Randal Pinkett, CEO of BCT Partners and winner of season four of "The Apprentice;" along with members of Congress.

Over 200 universities have committed to staging activities in honor of the weeklong celebration, including Stanford University, which will devote each day of the week to a different aspect of entrepreneurship, including dealing with failure and raising venture capital.

"A Way of Life"

Brown University will also sponsor a day-long speaker series. Debra Lee, the president of Black Entertainment Television; John Sculley, the former CEO of Apple (AAPL); and others, will speak to students and other members of the community on Feb. 24. Brown's Entrepreneurship Program co-president and a senior at the school, Robby Klaber, says the event is designed to show young people "that entrepreneurship isn't just about business, it's a way of life." He notes that although people might not think CEOs are entrepreneurs, the way Lee and Sculley go about their jobs shows that the entrepreneurial mindset can be applied across any field.

Other national events will include a policy summit in Washington, D.C., with Labor Secretary Elaine Chao and Small Business Administration chief Steven Preston that will examine policy areas aimed at promoting economic growth and innovation, while lowering barriers to starting and sustaining new businesses.

More policy initiatives in the form of studies and white papers will include the Information Technology & Innovation Foundation's 2007 State New Economy Index—a study to be released Feb. 27 with detailed rankings on how states are adapting to the challenges in the last 15 years from the shift to "a global, entrepreneurial, and knowledge-based economy." The Kauffman Foundation will also release a white paper that examines how to infuse entrepreneurship into the educational system, how to make health care affordable for smaller companies, how to promote innovation, and how to limit regulation and liability litigation.

Clearly, the organizers hope for more than a week of fun and games. They see it as way to put a national spotlight on the power of entrepreneurship to create new ideas and businesses—and to keep America competitive in the global economy (see, 10/17/06, "A Better Way to Build Democracy").

Jeffrey Gangemi is a freelance writer based in Mendoza, Argentina.

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