Kauffman launches ‘Zero Barriers’ campaign, aims to eliminate startup obstacles

The Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation on Wednesday launched an effort to identify and remove hurdles to entrepreneurship across the country. The “Zero Barriers” campaign” kicked off with the objective of starting conversations with entrepreneurs across the U.S. to identify the challenges they face in starting and owning a business, and then to work with policymakers to design solutions to spur the growth of entrepreneurship. The final goal is to make it easier to start a business.

Staff from the Kansas City-based foundation joined Congressional staffers and entrepreneurs at a Washington bar Wednesday for a discussion about the barriers and problems in entrepreneurship and business creation.

“We want to hear what people who start companies see as barriers,” said Barb Pruitt, director of communications at the Kauffman Foundation, explaining the launch of the campaign.

In a video live stream of the event, Kauffman Foundation researcher Arnobio Morelix talked about the new demographics that were going to be important to American growth over the next few decades. Pointing to the fact that the American population was getting more diverse, Morelix mentioned the entrepreneurship diversity problem.

“Entrepreneurship is still mostly white,” he said. “Minorities start and own businesses at half the rate of non-minorities.”

Morelix said that if the diversity gap in entrepreneurship was eliminated and minorities started and owned businesses at the same rate as non-minorities, it would generate an extra 1 million new businesses and 10 million new jobs in the U.S.

Natasha Kirsch, founder of the Kansas City-based nonprofit Empowering the Parent to Empower the Child, spoke about the barriers facing a beginner entrepreneur like herself, especially someone starting in the nonprofit world. “Getting the first funder is the biggest challenge for a nonprofit,” Kirsch said on the live stream. “It took us four years to find our first funder.”

Jason Wiens, a policy director in entrepreneurship at the Kauffman Foundation, spoke about the necessity of a campaign like the Zero Barriers campaign in order to bring together various stakeholder groups to facilitate dialogue, compile a list of barriers and identify solutions in a collaborative manner.

“Just think about all the events going on today, vying for the attention of our elected officials,” Wiens said on the live stream. “Entrepreneurship is one of the most critical issues facing the nation today, and they need to be paying attention to that. That’s why we’re here today in Washington.”

Victor Hwang, vice president of entrepreneurship at the Kauffman Foundation, said the launch of the campaign was just the beginning of efforts to reach out to the entrepreneurial community and seek out the best ideas for the growth of entrepreneurship.

Too often, Hwang said, when we think of policy, we think of someone with a great idea telling others what to do. “We are flipping the narrative,” he said on the live stream. “We want to go to the ground and look for people to be finding answers for us.”

Hwang said Kauffman will be looking to empower people on the ground, looking for good ideas and facilitating them and giving ordinary entrepreneurs the opportunity for their voices to be heard.

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