Academia's Emerging Role In Entrepreneurship Policymaking

While the mounting interest in entrepreneurship in the government and at our universities is encouraging, it is hardly enough to create the kind of broad understanding and policy support that we need to foster new business creation in a meaningful way.
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There is no doubt that the U.S. government has shown greater interest in and support for entrepreneurship in recent years. Discussions of job growth now frequently address the importance of new business creation, and elected officials today regularly emphasize the need for innovation and entrepreneurship to revive our failing economy. More importantly, we are beginning to see real changes at the policy level. The White House Council of Economic Advisers, for example, now includes a Senior Economist who focuses on entrepreneurship and innovation, and in 2011, the Council of Economic Advisers' Economic Report of the President devoted an entire section to small businesses for the first time in recent history. The President held a Summit on Entrepreneurship in 2010, and at the end of 2011, two separate bills with the purpose of helping companies start and grow were introduced in the U.S. Senate.

The role played by university research in these governmental transformations, however, may be less obvious. While the influence of academia on public policy is not often observed directly, academics studying entrepreneurship contribute practical information and real insights that shape and support policy discussions. At the most basic level, university research on entrepreneurship deepens policymakers' understanding of the phenomenon and its importance, giving them the information they need to consider the effects of proposed legislation and existing policies on entrepreneurial activity.

Economists at universities, for example, have highlighted for policymakers the role of new businesses in job creation and economic growth; identified obstacles to new business creation; elucidated the economic and institutional environments in which entrepreneurship flourishes; and pointed to some unintended consequences of existing legislation for entrepreneurs.

But the academic influence on entrepreneurship policy goes beyond analysis and writing. Academics also are deeply involved in improving the sources of data for the study of entrepreneurship. In addition to finding flaws in government data collection and calling for better data collection efforts at the federal level, academics have played important roles in creating independent surveys of new businesses that will allow for more robust databases.

Researchers studying entrepreneurship also occasionally have a direct impact on policy, as these individuals sometimes move between academic positions and governmental offices. The two senior economists who have focused on entrepreneurship for the White House Council of Academic Advisers, for example, were both on leave from academic positions. These individuals bring the passion for and knowledge of entrepreneurship that they developed as academics to their policy work.

These recent academic contributions to policy conversations about entrepreneurship represent an enormous step forward. In the past, entrepreneurship and innovation were almost entirely absent from university campuses. Business schools occasionally included a few courses on creating new businesses, but there was little scholarly investigation of the topic.

It is only in the last decade that we have seen entrepreneurship emerge as an interdisciplinary field of study taking root. The diverse and growing body of research on new business creation, the peer-reviewed journals that are increasingly publishing research on the subject, and the enhanced treatment of entrepreneurship in even introductory university courses all testify to the growing importance and acceptance of entrepreneurship in academia.

Unfortunately, we still have a long way to go. While the mounting interest in entrepreneurship in the government and at our universities is encouraging, it is hardly enough to create the kind of broad understanding and policy support that we need to foster new business creation in a meaningful way. In an effort to encourage more research on entrepreneurship and to build a field of respected scholars, the Kauffman Foundation has funded research by established scholars at leading universities and has created a series of grant programs for the next generation of scholars. More than 100 dissertation grants since 2003 have encouraged the study of entrepreneurship early in academics' careers, and faculty fellowships and prizes support ongoing work on the topic.

More efforts like these to encourage the study of entrepreneurship and to bring the research in universities to the public are needed to truly shape policies that will enhance new business creation in this country. In addition to the direct policy benefits discussed above, the study of entrepreneurship on college campuses has numerous benefits that go beyond academics.

Indeed, we have seen a substantial increase in the number of students seeking to create new businesses during their college careers, and science and engineering departments are increasingly open to the commercialization of their research. Perhaps most importantly, professors who conduct research on entrepreneurship bring it into their classrooms, ultimately educating the next generation of voters and entrepreneurs about the importance of new business creation and fostering the ingenuity and industriousness that they will need for success. In our current economic environment, these future entrepreneurs are more important than ever -- both for our recovery from the recent recession and for our ability to confront the critical national and global problems we will face in the future.

Robert Strom directs the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation's commissioned research, working with the nation's top scholars to advance knowledge in entrepreneurship. Strom also has served on the collegiate and youth entrepreneurship teams during his tenure at the Foundation. Strom has written extensively on topics related to entrepreneurship in academic and professional publications. He is co-editor of three books on entrepreneurship and economic growth, and regularly speaks on entrepreneurship to professional and academic audiences. Strom holds a PhD in economics from the University of Cincinnati.

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