Home Articles Obama launches Startup America initiative: Should Australia follow suit?

Obama launches Startup America initiative: Should Australia follow suit?


Despite acknowledging there’s no way to predict its success, venture capitalists are “feeling good” about new White House initiative Startup America, according to the Wall Street Journal. So, when can we expect the launch of ‘Startup Australia’?

Startup America partners private companies with investors to promote entrepreneurship in America. You may have heard of the organisations involved: Facebook, Hewlett-Packard, IBM, HP, Google, and Intel Corp.

They’ve committed both money and resources to the effort, which aims to replicate community-based entrepreneur programs, expand entrepreneur education, and commercialise university research.

While playing the Star Spangled Banner on repeat (allegedly), Startup America chair and AOL co-founder Steve Case said: “America’s story has been forged in large part by entrepreneurs who have against great odds created innovative products and services that have changed the world – and created millions of jobs.”

Randy Hawks, a managing director with Claremont Creek Ventures, told the WSJ: “At a minimum it’s a good showcase for what everybody’s already doing. It helps the policy makers understand how much force is behind the entrepreneurial economy.”

How have our Australian pollies reacted?

The launch of the scheme prompted the Australian Federal Opposition to accuse the Government of failing to look out for small businesses. As luck would have it, the Coalition claim they’re the only party with a strategy similar to Startup America.

Sounding a tad like a catty schoolgirl, Shadow Small Business Minister Bruce Bilson told Startupsmart.com.au: “Unlike the Government in Australia, Obama recognises the need to get behind businesses.”

“Small businesses are the engine room of the economy but the Government has an indifference towards them. Its policies are geared towards big business. It doesn’t even have the Small Business Minister in the cabinet,” Senator Bilson miaowed.

Senator Nick Sherry, the Small Business Minister, was having none of it.

“According to a new report by the World Bank and the International Finance Corporation, Australia is in the top 10 of 183 economies on starting a business, getting credit and ease of doing business,” he claimed in an escalating war of media statements.

So, naturally, we turn our collective attention to the views of industry.

Council of Small Business Organisations of Australia Executive Director Peter Strong said to Startupsmart both parties were a bit rubbish when it came to small business, as Australia had been lacking a broad small business strategy for “the past 20 years”.

“It’s been very piecemeal – there’s nothing you could hang your hat on.”

“The US (mentorship) of young entrepreneurs sounds fantastic. We’d like to get involved with education here as they identify good academic skills but not entrepreneurial behaviour.”

What are the goals of Startup America?

Launching the initiative, President Barack Obama said:

“Entrepreneurs embody the promise of America: the idea that if you have a good idea and are willing to work hard and see it through, you can succeed in this country. And in fulfilling this promise, entrepreneurs also play a critical role in expanding our economy and creating jobs.”

This partnership has several goals, including:

  • Expand access to capital for high-growth startups throughout the country;
  • Expand entrepreneurship education and mentorship programs that empower more Americans not just to get a job, but to create jobs;
  • Strengthen commercialization of the about $148 billion in annual federally-funded research and development, which can generate innovative startups and entirely new industries;
  • Identify and remove unnecessary barriers to high-growth startups; and
  • Expand collaborations between large companies and startups.

Like Australia, small business has a big impact on the US economy. It’s estimated that there are 29.6 million small businesses in the United States, employing half of the private sector workforce.

The U.S Small Business Administration Office of Advocacy said in September 2009 that small business hires 40 percent of high tech workers, such as engineers and scientists.

The framers of Startup America hope it could lead to more:

  • Creative ideas for new or expanded initiatives to meet the goals of Startup America;
  • Fortune 500 companies partnering with and investing in startups, and sharing best practices on how to do this effectively;
  • States, regions and cities putting innovation and entrepreneurship at the center of their economic development and job creation strategies;
  • Successful entrepreneurs and investors nurturing the innovation ecosystem in regions that currently do not attract much investment for startups; and
  • Universities “mainstreaming” entrepreneurship as a career option, and accelerating the transition of ideas from the lab to the marketplace.

These are all good things, right? Lofty goals? Presidential treatment? Acknowledgment that SMEs and entrepreneutrs form the backbone of a successful economy?

So, should the Australian Government and local VCs pony-up some cash to launch a similar program?