For many entrepreneurs, 2009 was another year of slumping sales and frustratingly tight credit. Their expectations for this year aren’t shaping up to be much better. One big reason for this lack of optimism: uncertainty. Entrepreneurs are worried about how pending policy decisions will affect recovery, according to recent polls and conversations I’ve had with business owners from across the country.
So earlier this afternoon, when I watched a webcast on the state of entrepreneurship in the U.S. led by Kauffman Foundation head Carl Schramm held at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., I brightened up a bit. Schramm, along with Commerce Secretary Gary Locke, entrepreneurs Reggie Aggarwal (Cvent) and Mary Naylor (VIPdesk), and educator Frank Douglas (Austen BioInnovation Institute), acknowledged the need to reduce the uncertainty facing entrepreneurs and offered fixes for policymakers to consider.
During his half hour speech, Schramm proposed reworking the EB-5 visa program to favor founders, making some of the Sarbanes-Oxley rules optional for small companies at shareholders’ discretion, temporarily exempting businesses less than 5 years old from payroll taxes, making it easier for professors and students to commercialize research, and developing interest in entrepreneurship at a younger age (he cited the nonprofit Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship’s success with high school students).
After Schramm’s speech, Locke spoke briefly about fostering the right kind of conditions for entrepreneurs, acknowledging that “too many of our brightest minds were busy engineering credit default swaps,” aiming solely for short-term gains. He urged policymakers to “start promoting the right kind of risk.”
Later, during the panel discussion, Schramm talked broadly about the need to recognize that small businesses, not large corporations, have created almost all of the net new jobs in the U.S. in the past 30 years. He urged policymakers to act on this “unspoken so” and target entrepreneurs.