Q&A: Startup America CEO talks obstacles, goals and surprising states


Scott Case identified four states that have been particularly active in the start-up space this year - and his picks may surprise you. (Creative Commons licensed from The DEMO Conference on Flickr )
January 31, 2012

Happy birthday, Startup America.

One year ago, President Obama launched the Startup America Partnership, a national initiative meant to encourage and educate new businesses and spur private investment in entrepreneurship. Marking the anniversary, the partnership on Tuesday launched nine regional chapters and is hosting more than a dozen events around the country to promote young, high-growth businesses.

Startup America chief executive and Priceline co-founder Scott Case recently spoke with us about the challenges of the group’s first year, the states he says showed the most progress, and of course, his hopes and expectations in the months ahead.

On Small Business: Looking back, what were the most critical goals you needed to accomplish in the partnership’s first year in operation?

Scott Case: We recognized that young companies are the driving factor in the economy and that we needed to hone in on a special class of start-ups, the ones that were committed to pursuing aggressive growth, if we wanted to create enough jobs to get our country back on track. This first year, we focused on developing partnerships at a local and national level, both with corporations and government officials, so that we could create tools and resources that benefit entrepreneurs and give them a better chance to grow and grow quickly.

OSB: What were the major milestones and accomplishments last year?

Case: So far, we have registered about 3,000 start-ups online and we have created some great programs and tools for them, including roundtables with venture capitalists and angel investors, legal support services, pitch coach sessions, programs to teach entrepreneurs how to reach new customers, develop a board of advisers and a number of other services they can access for free by registering. Of course, a large part of that is the $1.2 billion in resources that have been pledged by corporations like Microsoft, American Express and Dell.

We also launched eight regional start-up initiatives and will add another nine on the one-year anniversary, and we started the process of highlighting those companies and their work by showcasing some of them at Eureka Park at the Consumer Electronics Show and recently rang the bell with a half-dozen start-ups at the New York Stock Exchange.

OSB: What has been the biggest surprise?

Case: The overall response from the private sector surpassed all my expectations, just the fact so many companies stepped up in such a big way to support entrepreneurship. I’ve also been impressed with some of the serial entrepreneurs and venture capitalists who have put so much time and energy into building the ecosystems in their states. Many of them clearly take pride in their states and want to make them the best possible place for young companies.

OSB: Did any states’ efforts stand out to you over the course of the first year?

Case: Not necessarily that they did anything more impressive than any of the others, but there were four states that I think made an exceptional amount of progress. Tennessee, for starters, has done an amazing job integrating leadership at the local level, the state level and the university level, much of that headed by a serial entrepreneur named Michael Burcham. There’s also a real movement in Iowa, centered in Des Moines and Cedar Rapids, where we have some great start-up momentum building. There’s a lot of wealth in that state and some great businesses have started there.

Colorado is the next one, with much of the activity happening in Boulder. They have come a long way in the last year or so thanks to a lot of support from the community and people like Brad Feld, a longtime investor and entrepreneur. I also think there is something percolating in Florida, which is the gateway to trade with South America. People like Susan Amat at The Launch Pad and others at the University of Miami are really promoting international exporting down there for businesses.

OSB: What are the biggest obstacles you continue to face?

Case: One of the biggest challenges we face is that local governments and universities historically haven’t engaged with or understood the start-up community, and a lot of groundwork still needs to be put in place to explain how these companies are different and why their unique interests are vital to the economy. Not that large corporations and small businesses aren’t important, but just that this particular class of young, high-growth companies has been long underserved and needs more support from them in the years ahead.

OSB: What are the immediate goals as you turn the page to your second year?

Case: Now it’s all about execution and scale. We want to quickly increase the number of start-ups we have registered online now that we have valuable tools and programs waiting for them, and we want to continue to cultivate the entrepreneurship ecosystem both at a national level and at a local level with these new state initiatives. We are also partnering with GE to develop some new resources to help young companies tap into global markets, because who better to help with that than GE. We also plan to make a big push to get the big corporations in this country to consider implementing start-up channels into their companies. Many already have formal programs to work with small and medium-sized businesses, but their efforts could be better leveraged in some cases by focusing specifically on start-ups.

OSB: Ideally, where would Startup America be on its second birthday?

Case: I want to see us have about 100,000 firms registered online and using the services that we created this year and that we’ll continue to add in the coming year. I know that’s ambitious, and we have a long ways to go. But that’s the plan.

Do you have a start-up? You can register for Startup America at this address and please tell us in the comments how the partnership could best serve you and other entrepreneurs in its second year.

Follow On Small Business and J.D. Harrison .

J.D. Harrison covers startups, small business and entrepreneurship, with a focus on public policy, and he manages the Post's On Small Business blog.
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