Startup Diplomacy: Announcing the Presidential Ambassadors for Global Entrepreneurship

Not too long ago America was a startup. It was just an idea, forged by visionaries who later became heroes. Through fits and starts they wrote a business plan – the Constitution – hired a CEO – George Washington – elected a board of directors – Congress – and set out to build better lives in a new land. In the process, they were able to change the course of history.

Fast forward to the present: America is now the leader of the free world. It didn’t happen by accident; it happened because we built a stable democracy, and because we built the largest and most resilient economy. We did this by encouraging and supporting entrepreneurs. America’s innovators led the world, first in the agricultural revolution, then in the industrial revolution, and more recently in the digital revolution.

It hasn’t always been easy. The cycles of innovation and entrepreneurism over our 250-year history led to the rise and sometimes the fall of different sectors of our economy, and regions of our country. But the fact remains: entrepreneurs are the bedrock of America’s economic success. Helping them succeed is essential to helping our economy grow, and creating opportunities for future generations. Indeed, our best hope for a bright future is doing everything we can to ensure we remain the world’s most innovative and entrepreneurial nation.

That’s why I joined with the President in 2011 to launch the Startup America Partnership (now UP Global) – a groundbreaking effort that supported the growth of entrepreneurial communities in regions across the United States. It’s why I joined the President’s Council on Jobs and Competitiveness, and before that the National Advisory Council on Innovation and Entrepreneurship. It’s why I advocated on behalf of the Jumpstarting Our Business Startups (JOBS) Act two years ago, and also why I am doing my part to encourage bipartisan support for immigration reform. And it’s why I am proud to now join the Presidential Ambassadors for Global Entrepreneurship (PAGE) – a first-of-its-kind collaboration between American entrepreneurs, the White House, and multiple government agencies including the State Department, the Commerce Department, and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).

The goal of PAGE is simple: to help inspire the next generation of entrepreneurs, both at home and abroad. Of course, we always want to – and should – put our own country first, and be sure we are doubling down on entrepreneurs here in America so we can grow our economy, create jobs and remain competitive. But we need to recognize that it’s in our own self-interest, as well as humanity’s interest, to do what we can to help other countries strengthen their economies and civil societies.

The ethos that pervades America’s vast startup ecosystem – namely, a culture of risk-taking and the willingness to fail in pursuit of a big idea – is one we should actively export abroad. It offers the best hope for opportunity and social mobility, giving people something to strive for and providing the foundation upon which stable economies and political systems are built. We’ve learned firsthand the important role entrepreneurs have played in creating opportunity (“the American dream”) in America, and now it’s time for us to take that message to the world.

Frankly, after advocating stridently for policies to advance America’s own entrepreneurial economy, I was initially reluctant to jump on the global bandwagon. But I saw firsthand the impact an entrepreneurial approach can have when the Case Foundation helped form a venture capital firm in the West Bank. While the challenges in the region remain significant, the startups now emerging in the West Bank are beginning to light a spark of hope. And we’re even seeing some startups employ both Israelis and Palestinians, who are able to work side by side (often, sadly, via remote technologies, given the difficulties of moving back and forth across the border), and this too creates that sense of hope and possibility – especially for a younger generation that is desperately seeking a positive and constructive path to a better future.

More recently, I’ve watched the global expansion of Startup Weekend, a network of passionate leaders and entrepreneurs on a mission to inspire, educate, and empower individuals, teams and communities. The success, growth and promise of Startup Weekend led us to merge the Startup America Partnership with it to create a new umbrella organization, UP Global, which I now proudly chair. Startup Weekend will host over 1,000 events this year – more than 70% of them outside the U.S. And today, in conjunction with the launch of PAGE, we are proud to announce a new UP Global initiative – Entrepreneurs Across Borders – an ambitious program made possible by the support of the Case Foundation and Google for Entrepreneurs that will pair 100 highly successful entrepreneurs with one of 600 cities across the world where UP Global has a presence. We’re excited to share more on Entrepreneurs Across Borders in the coming weeks. I’ve seen firsthand the power of exporting the ideals and principles of entrepreneurship and am incredibly enthusiastic about the good that will come from these new initiatives.

So while we should continue to do all we can to build the U.S. economy and support our own entrepreneurial sector, now’s the time to broaden our focus, and seek to inspire the world. That’s what the Presidential Ambassadors for Global Entrepreneurship will aim to do. It’s a big challenge, to be sure, but it’s one we need to tackle. I am thrilled to join with Rich Barton, Tory Burch, Helen Grenier, Reid Hoffman, Sal Khan, Quincy Jones, Daphne Koller, Hamdi Ulakaya, Nina Vaca and Alexa von Tobel as the initial ambassadors. And I am grateful for the leadership and support of President Obama, Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker, Secretary of State John Kerry, and USAID Administrator Raj Shah.

Together, we are committed to creating for others the same opportunities that were afforded us – with the hope, and the expectation, that perhaps this entrepreneur-centric effort can play a small part in helping to build a safer and more prosperous world.

Starting Up America: A Progress Report

Three years ago, we launched an effort to bring entrepreneurs back into the national spotlight as critical drivers of the American economy. When we launched the Startup America Partnership at the White House in January 2011, the goal was to bring entrepreneurs to the forefront of the conversation about revitalizing the American economy. Study after study shows that fast-growing, young companies are responsible for nearly all of the new jobs in our country. However, even before the financial crisis hit, the number of new companies getting started was on a decline, and the momentum for young companies was headed in the wrong direction. It was clear we needed a way to unleash the next wave of American innovation – and so the Case Foundation and the Kauffman Foundation came together with incredible partners in the public, private and non-profit community to embark on an effort to help young, high-growth companies flourish and build a brighter future.

Since that time, we’ve made significant progress. The efforts of the Startup America Partnership mobilized hundreds of volunteer leaders who promoted startup communities in places like Des Moines, Missoula, Phoenix, and Atlanta. From mega events like Startup Week in Denver with more than 6,000 participants; to Startup Job Fairs in Arizona helping promising new enterprises find the talent they need; to annual bus tours activating and inspiring the entire state of Maryland, and even the opening of major new entrepreneurship buildings in Nashville, Dallas, and DC, the Startup America Partnership has stood shoulder to shoulder with some of America’s most promising entrepreneurs to provide support and a network for sustained success.

We’ve also made important strides in the policy arena – beginning with the creation of the National Advisory Council on Innovation and Entrepreneurship (NACIE), which helped lead to the creation of the broader Startup America initiative, and through the work of President Obama’s Jobs Council, important issues that affect the ability of young companies to access capital and talent received a hearing at the highest levels of government. Because of these efforts, Congress passed and the President signed the Jumpstarting Our Business Startups (JOBS) Act, a seminal piece of legislation that overturned eighty years of antiquated regulations governing how businesses can raise money and for the first time, legalizing equity crowdfunding.

The benefits of these efforts are starting to be felt – IPOs are up, more people are involved in startups than ever before, more regions are seeing significant momentum in their entrepreneurial ecosystems and policymakers – regardless of their partisan affiliations – agree on the critical role that entrepreneurship plays in fostering growth, stemming inequality and generating jobs. Recent data published by the National Venture Capital Association revealed another hopeful trend: the amount of venture capital flowing to startups in 2013 increased by 7 percent, but some regions saw an explosion of growth including my hometown of Washington D.C. – up 104 percent, Texas – up 38 percent, New York – up 35 percent, and the Southeastern U.S. – up 63 percent. The effect is clear: while Silicon Valley remains the dominant center of high-tech, venture backed startups, more and more capital is flowing to the rest of the country that has historically been starved of needed investment.

As we celebrate the progress of the last few years, we remain acutely aware that more work is needed to enliven America’s entrepreneurial economy. That’s why we chose last year to combine the efforts of the Startup America Partnership with Startup Weekend to create UP Global, bringing together two great organizations working to enhance entrepreneurial ecosystems around the globe. In addition, we have more work to do to ensure the competitiveness of the US entrepreneurial economy – including passing immigration reform that will enable us to win the global battle for talent, and ensuring the successful implementation of crowdfunding, which will provide unprecedented access to new capital for young companies no matter where they are located.

We live in a golden age for entrepreneurship. Access to information, networks and investment are rising and technology is leveling the playing field, making it easier for young companies to start and scale from wherever their founder calls home. It would be easy to dial back our efforts and claim victory, but the work is not done and the need to support entrepreneurs – the heroes of our economy – has not waned.

The Startup America Partnership: Moving UP

When the Case Foundation and the Kauffman Foundation launched the Startup America Partnership at the White House in January 2011, it was designed as a three year initiative to celebrate, inspire and accelerate high-growth entrepreneurship in the U.S. We’re proud of the progress we’ve made over the past two and a half years, including launching 32 startup states, substantial corporate partners and resources, and building a network of more than 13,000 startups nationwide.

So, where do we go from here?

I’ve lived in Washington for nearly thirty years, and in that time I’ve seen many Washington efforts launch and continue operating so long as they had enough dollars to keep the doors open – never pausing to seriously ask the questions: Are we still needed? Are we having an impact? That’s why we gave ourselves a three year mission with Startup America – to maintain a sense of urgency and to give us a deliberate moment in time when we would stop and ask ourselves those very questions and make a hard decision if we should double down or shut down.

For the past several months, Scott Case, CEO of the Startup America Partnership and our board has been scouring the landscape, connecting with partners and supporters to determine if we should stay or go. And, if we stay, should we stand up a new independent organization or expand our reach by partnering with an existing like-minded organization. At the end of this exhaustive process, here’s what we’ve found:

First, there was resounding and virtually unanimous feedback that the country, entrepreneurs need the Startup America Partnership to continue celebrating entrepreneurs, creating meaningful connections, building cross-sector bridges and sparking much-needed conversations.

Second, we realized that the best path forward was to partner with an existing like-minded organization that would be interested in joining forces to exponentially increase the reach, depth and impact of our singular work.

Third, we found that perfect match in an organization that shares our values and our goals, Startup Weekend. Startup Weekend is one of America’s most innovative and promising social enterprises, led by one of America’s most innovative and purpose-driven entrepreneurs, Marc Nager. The organization supports the development and expansion of entrepreneurship through events worldwide that educate aspiring entrepreneurs by immersing them in the process of moving an idea to market. It has built a network of more than 100,000 alumni, thousands of volunteer organizers and over 100 trained facilitators spread across more than 400 cities in more than 100 countries.

Today, we’re excited to announce that the Startup America Partnership is joining forces with Startup Weekend to create UP Global, a combined organization dedicated to empowering the entrepreneurial community and building networks that drive collaboration and strengthen entrepreneurs worldwide. Together we will offer startups at every stage (from idea to IPO) programs and expertise to continue to advance ecosystems and build a truly national startup network with deep roots in communities.

Both Startup Weekend and the Startup America Partnership will retain their brand names and missions, joining with Startup Digest, Startup Next and NYSE Corporate Connections, all closely collaborating and all powered by UP Global. I am delighted to serve as the first chair of UP Global and I will continue to serve as chair of the Startup America Partnership advisory board. Marc Nager will serve as CEO of the combined organization. And, Scott Case will become interim CEO of Startup America Partnership and join the board of UP Global. The Kauffman Foundation and the Case Foundation will support both Startup America Partnership and UP Global. And, we’re delighted that Google for Entrepreneurs, Microsoft and the Coca-Cola Company are all founding funders of UP Global as well.

There’s an African Proverb that’s a hallmark of the Case Foundation’s Be Fearless campaign that says, “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” In this unique and fearless partnership we plan to do both. We will quickly become the world’s leading entrepreneur organization, providing clear pathways for regions to jumpstart their entrepreneurial ecosystems. And together, there’s no limit to how far we can go to celebrate entrepreneurs and give them the tools they need to invigorate sluggish economies and strengthen communities in need.