Presidential Ambassador for Global Entrepreneurship

I’m very proud to share that I was named a Presidential Ambassador for Global Entrepreneurship and am heading to the White House today. I’m proud to join the likes of Steve Case, Reid Hoffman, Tory Burch, Sal Khan, and Daymond John in an incredible group.

I started Venture for America because I remember what it’s like to be a struggling entrepreneur myself. My first company flopped back in 2001. My investors lost about $250,000 – it seemed like a ton of money at the time.

I learned and got stronger by working with more experienced builders and leaders, and eventually became the CEO of an education company that was acquired by the Washington Post/Kaplan in 2009.

Entrepreneurship is like many other things – you can get better over time. And you can learn by working with people who are further down the road than you are.

The entrepreneurs you hear about in the news, like the ones listed above, tend to be shiny and successful. But they’re also anomalous and becoming even more rare. Today, only 3.6% of households headed by adults younger than 30 own a stake in a private company, a 24-year low. This figure was 10.6% in 1989 and 6.1% in 2010, showing a dramatic decline. Similarly, the proportion of people ages 20 to 34 who started a business dropped to its lowest level in at least 17 years in 2013 according to the Kauffman Foundation.

The decline in entrepreneurship among young people is part of an overall decline in new business formation, as the U.S. startup rate – the ratio of new firms to all firms – fell by nearly half between 1978 and 2011. The number of new firms shrank from 562,000 in 2006 to only 400,000 in 2010 and 2011 and has stayed there since. Reduced business dynamism was cited by the Fed as one of the biggest problems that our economy faces.

This is a slow-motion economic trainwreck with ripple effects for years to come. Stillborn businesses today mean fewer jobs tomorrow, fewer owners and more people looking for opportunities that may not be there.

I started Venture for America to change this and to provide a pathway to entrepreneurship for our young people. Our mission is threefold:

To revitalize American cities and communities through entrepreneurship.

To enable our best and brightest to create new opportunities for themselves and others.

To restore the culture of achievement to include value-creation, risk and reward, and the common good.

We recruit and train top college graduates and send them to work in startups and early-stage companies in Detroit, Baltimore, St. Louis, New Orleans, and other U.S. cities that could use an economic boost. Then, if they want to start a company after 2 years, we have an accelerator and a seed fund to support them. Our goal is to help create 100,000 new U.S. jobs by helping early-stage companies expand and training the next generation of entrepreneur.

We help them learn the way I learned – by working with more experienced builders and mentors.

In the next several years, we will recruit and train 500 aspiring entrepreneurs here in the U.S., including at least 200 women and 100 underrepresented minorities. Our first VFA alums have already started productive companies and raised millions of dollars.

Being named a Presidential Ambassador for Global Entrepreneurship is a tremendous honor, but I feel that we still have a long way to go in order to achieve our potential. We learn all the time.

One of the biggest things that I’ve learned in the past several years is that if you want to start companies, you have to cultivate people who have the will and capacities to take on that challenge. Our progress will be measured in companies, jobs, investment and revenue, but all the moreso in the hearts, minds and spirits of our young people.

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