For the past several years here in the U.S., supporting entrepreneurship has been touted as a high priority by President Obama, Secretary of State Clinton, presidential candidate Mitt Romney, and numerous leaders in the private and NGO sectors. There have been countless symposiums, conferences, white papers, speeches, and programs dedicated to understanding and then finding ways to support entrepreneurs.
With this much attention at the senior leadership level, it is all the more troubling that our policies -- and specifically our visa policies -- are actually working against our stated priorities. Rather than encouraging and welcoming entrepreneurs, America is turning them away in droves, and our competitive edge, not to mention our smart power reserves, will pay the price.
This issue was underscored in a recent issue of The Economist with a pair of articles, "Let the job-creators in" and "Where creators are welcome," both of which highlighted how the U.S. is losing out to countries like Chile, Singapore, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and the U.K., countries that are all actively incentivizing and investing in entrepreneurs. America has no specific visa for foreign entrepreneurs, while its visa requirements for foreign investors are so high -- an investment of around $1 million, usually -- that its annual quota of 10,000 is rarely filled. America, more than any other country, should understand the importance of entrepreneurs to our prosperity, but as "Let the job creators in" points out, "Like governments elsewhere, America's politicians are pretty lousy venture capitalists."
Imagine a World Without Ebay, Google, or Intel
In past posts and articles I've called attention to the impact entrepreneurs have on our economy, as oftentimes the context is missing, particularly during heated debates on immigration. It is important to remember that according to the U.S. Small Business Administration's 2004 report "Small Business by the Numbers," entrepreneurs in the U.S. represent more than 99.7 percent of all employers, provide 70 percent to 80 percent of the net new jobs annually, and employ roughly 130 million U.S. workers.
In this month's Public Diplomacy Magazine, I coauthored a piece with Entrepreneurs' Organization's global chairman, Kevin Langley, entitled "Harnessing the Power of Entrepreneurs Globally," in which we outline the myriad ways entrepreneurs, with EO spearheading a global movement, are on the front lines of diplomacy encouraging and guiding governments -- most recently at the G20 -- to find creative ways to inspire and support entrepreneurs at every stage of their development. Clearly, many governments not only listened but are taking action. As we noted in our article, the countries that get it right and do everything they can to embolden, support, and, where appropriate, just get out of the way of aspiring and leading entrepreneurs are the ones who will reap the security and economic benefits in the long term.
We ended our article by remembering one of the great American entrepreneurs, Steve Jobs. Twenty-five years ago, EO hosted Jobs as a speaker for one of their first events. Back then he was challenging everyone to "think different." Looking back over his career, it is extraordinary what one entrepreneur was able to create in a lifetime. Imagine recognizing and supporting thousands, even millions, of entrepreneurs like Jobs and what they could create if given the chance.
If America is serious about our economic recovery and competitive edge, we need to be serious about truly welcoming and supporting not only high-growth, high-potential entrepreneurs but the entire entrepreneurial ecosystem. Our policies -- from our educational system to our visa programs -- need to match our priorities. Can there be any better investment in our economic future?
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