Wendy Guillies | Courtesy of the Kauffman Foundation

Entrepreneurs have ‘enormous potential’ but need help overcoming barriers, Kauffman CEO says

For entrepreneurs, now is a time of “enormous potential, but also significant challenges,” Wendy Guillies said. Guillies, the president and CEO of the Kansas City-based Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, delivered the foundation’s annual State of Entrepreneurship address Wednesday in Washington, discussing the current climate for entrepreneurship and the foundation’s plans to help eliminate barriers for new businesses.

Early in her address, Guillies discussed some concerning data on American startups: Entrepreneurship rates are half of what they were a generation ago, despite new businesses accounting for nearly all net job creation in the country.

Also troubling, Guillies said, is that the demographics of American entrepreneurs don’t reflect the diversity of the country as a whole.

“The U.S. population is increasingly diverse, educated and older,” she said. “Yet our entrepreneurial population is not changing as fast.”

That, Guillies said, gets to the heart of the Kauffman Foundation’s current efforts: “How do we take our advantage of our longstanding heritage of entrepreneurship and extend it … to every interested American?”

The foundation is attempting to do that, she said, through its Zero Barriers effort. Launched in February 2017, Zero Barriers aims to engage entrepreneurs, support organizations, researchers and policymakers in identifying and eliminating barriers to starting businesses.

Guillies cited some specific efforts to that end, including a summit of entrepreneurial ecosystem builders from across the U.S., the launch of a suite of free online entrepreneurship resources and the release this week of a national survey of entrepreneurs.

The survey revealed overwhelming optimism among American entrepreneurs: 61 percent of respondents rated their firm’s performance last year positively, and 88 percent said 2018 would be even better, Guillies said.

However, those entrepreneurs also acknowledged the importance of startup-friendly government policy and of supportive networks to help grow their businesses.

“We’re focused on increasing inclusion,” Guillies said. “But Kauffman’s efforts alone will not be enough.”

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