On January 18-19, 2018, the Frank H. Kenan Institute of Private Enterprise convened its second-ever Frontiers of Entrepreneurship Conference, bringing together academic researchers, policymakers and industry leaders to share their experiences, insights and ideas for improving the entrepreneurial climate in the United States and beyond.
The conference, held at The Breakers Palm Beach, facilitated discussions between the private and public sectors and academic researchers with the goal of developing actionable items to advance entrepreneurship globally.
On the first day of the conference, Gallup CEO Jim Clifton focused on the economic recession’s negative effect on entrepreneurship, and suggested that America’s youth hold one of the keys to recovery. He described how Gallup partners with the University of Nebraska to mentor young entrepreneurs and encourage innovation at an early stage. “I don’t think [America] will boom until we can identify a systematic application of entrepreneurs…creating new energy,” said Clifton.
As part of the evening’s dinner presentations, Brett Palmer, president of the Small Business Investor Alliance, hosted a fireside chat with Scott Kupor, managing partner at Andreessen Horowitz and chairman of the National Venture Capital Association. Kupor discussed the decline in venture capital investment and its effect on start-up activity. He said that, despite the drop in funding, the state of entrepreneurship is relatively healthy, but needs to be balanced out across the U.S., rather than concentrated in a few geographic areas.
A highlight of the evening was a presentation by the 2015 Nobel Laureate in Economic Sciences and Eisenhower Professor of Economics and International Affairs at Princeton University, Sir Angus Deaton. Deaton focused his discussion on the correlation between mortality and education levels among various populations. He found that among younger, white, non-Hispanic males, those without at least an undergraduate degree had more difficulty finding jobs, worked for lower wages, and had higher death rates from suicide and alcohol or drug abuse – so-called “deaths of despair.” Deaton’s conclusions showed the current U.S. economy – with its outsourcing, consolidation, globalization and demand for highly technical and specialized skills, is affecting the health and lives of those who have not kept up with the educational paradigm.
On the second day of the conference, Carolyn Rodz, founder of Alice, spoke about the scarcity of female and minority entrepreneurs and how the startup ecosystem itself contributes to the problem. Eighty-three percent of seed funding goes to male-led start-ups, due in no small part to the affinity of venture capitalists for industry sectors traditionally dominated by men, such as the tech sector. Rodz said that Alice aims to level the entrepreneurial playing field, acting as a virtual accelerator to empower women and minority entrepreneurs in all geographies and industries to connect to funding. Rodz emphasized the need to redesign processes to create an “open city” model, using strategically-placed digital and physical hubs to connect entrepreneurs with investors, resources and other startups.
High-impact topics were discussed at these sessions, centering on the state of entrepreneurship and how current economic trends present different obstacles from those of previous decades, as well as what policy changes are needed to take entrepreneurship activity to the next level.
A session on entrepreneurship as a career analyzed such factors as job satisfaction, security, wages and health benefits from the local, national and international perspective. Leora Klapper, lead economist for the World Bank’s Development Research Group, participated in a panel on entrepreneurship in difficult circumstances, defining what qualifies as a difficult environment, and exploring the influence of administration and regulations on start-up activity.
Other sessions covered the concept of the business world as an ecosystem and how entrepreneurs operate within it, how to teach entrepreneurship in schools and various approaches to entrepreneurial finance. Researchers from distinguished academic institutions, including Stanford University, Rice University, the University of California at San Diego and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill discussed their approaches to teaching entrepreneurship, from traditional business school courses to hands-on fieldwork. Other sessions examined the effects of disruptive technology on entrepreneurial growth, and ways to bring more female and underrepresented minority entrepreneurs to the table.
The event brought more than 100 practitioners from various fields and backgrounds to discuss these relevant issues and contribute to the education of a new generation of entrepreneurs, unveiling some of the complexities of the current startup climate and the necessary changes to training, diversity, economics and even the very definition of entrepreneurship, in an effort to encourage entrepreneurial success.
As Carolyn Rodz cautioned, “If we don’t change the model, we’ll never change the world.”