Leonsis urges Maryland to do more for start-ups


Ted Leonsis, center, with Fairfax Capital Partners adviser Vincent Pica, left, and retired Army Gen. George Casey. (Evy Mages/FOR THE WASHINGTON POST)
April 13, 2014

We write a lot about entrepreneurship here at Capital Business because the art of creating businesses is so fundamental to the act of producing a thriving economy. It’s my belief that the skills necessary for shaping a business are also necessary ingredients for building a successful career.

When you pay such close attention to a subject, you can sometimes develop a skewed view of the world. It’s easy to see a business starting up, but much harder to see one that isn’t.

Last week, our On Small Business Web channel offered an update on where the nation actually stands. The percentage of Americans who started a new business last year slipped to 0.28 percent from 0.30 percent in 2012, according to a new analysis of government data by the Kaufman Foundation, a research organization focused on entre­pre­neur­ship. Kaufman analysts said the slower pace is not necessarily a bad thing. Part of the reason fewer people are starting businesses is that they are finding work in existing companies again.

This makes sense to me. I know plenty of people who started their own public relations firms and consultancies during the downturn when they found themselves unexpectedly between engagements.

That doesn’t mean we are all better off with creating fewer new businesses. The region is still lagging in generating the kind of job growth needed to fully revive the local economy.

Which is why we keep hearing about all these attempts to create incubators and accelerators and new venture funds. Everyone is trying to generate a spark. Former AOL executive and sports team owner Ted Leonsis added his encouragement last week after accepting a lifetime achievement award from the Tech Council of Maryland.

Leonsis noted that while he is a Maryland resident, many of the businesses he’s been part of or backed reside in Northern Virginia, and Virginia loves to trash talk about Maryland. Leonsis challenged his audience to show some spunk of its own, and join the “rise of the rest,” a campaign to spread start-up fever outside places such as Silicon Valley.

“Set a goal and metric that,” Leonsis urged.

After all, everybody needs a push. Leonsis himself originally planned to pass on an opportunity to buy the Washington Capitals and Wizards. Then his wife reminded him that one of the 101 lifelong goals he had set for himself was to own a sports franchise. What if you accomplish all the other goals but missed owning a team because you passed on your one chance, she asked him.

The next day he made an offer.

Dan Beyers is the founding editor of Capital Business, The Washington Post’s go-to source for news about the region’s business community.
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