Startup America & Startup Virginia: Fire Up the Startups

Earlier today, I attended the launch of Startup Virginia (@Startup_VA), part of the privately-funded Startup America Partnership launched by President Obama one year ago today. Startup Virginia is designed to encourage entrepreneurship, offer entrepreneurs help and resources, and get them working together. Although the event took place in Arlington, VA at George Mason University’s Founders Hall, Startup Virginia is designed to operate statewide, from Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, to the state government in Richmond, and beyond. The challenge is to knit together the currently disparate centers of innovation into one group. Additionally, Startup Virginia will also work closely with Startup Maryland and Startup DC to create a regional innovation group.

Panelists at the event stated that they wanted to bring some elements of Silicon Valley’s spirit of entrepreneurship to the mid-Atlantic region. In particular, they are organizing with local universities to create intern job fairs to encourage students to work with startup businesses. Additionally, they wanted to educate other businesses that attempting to start a business and then failing should not be seen as a blight on an employee’s resume. Instead, this can be a positive experience. Another panelist mentioned the idea of “reverse pitching”: getting local big businesses to create a wishlist that local entrepreneurs could then fulfill. Instead of going to Silicon Valley, Startup Virginia wants businesses to solve their problems locally and for big defense contractors to commercialize their technology locally. In response to an audience question, one panelist summed up Startup Virginia by saying this is about connecting the dots between entrepreneurs and businesses, not collecting IP rights from small businesses.

Another presenter was Aneesh Chopra, America’s first Chief Technology Officer. He broke some news at the event, saying that today, President Obama would announce a legislative agenda designed to break down a lot of barriers for entrepreneurship and encourage small business job growth in the U.S. This agenda will include tax cuts for small businesses, ways to make it easier for small businesses to go public, and removing some of the backlogs and headaches surrounding highly-skilled immigrants. Keep an eye on this agenda. Various pieces already have some bi-partisan support, so we will see if having the support of the President helps.

Lastly, Steve Case gave the closing remarks. Case is the former co-founder and CEO of America On-Line, and currently serves as the head of his investment company, Revolution, as well as the chair of the Case Foundation and the chairman of the Startup America Partnership. He stated that his goal was to spur entrepreneurship and growth on national, regional, and individual levels. He said the U.S. is in a “global battle for talent,” and the Startup America Partnership is a way to attract the best talent to the U.S. Regionally, he compared the Virginia of today with the Virginia of 20 years ago when AOL first went public. Back then, all his funding came from outside Virginia. Now, companies are growing rapidly all over the Commonwealth. Individually, Case hoped Startup Virginia would serve as a platform to not only encourage entrepreneurship, but also make it easier for small businesses to grow.