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INNOVATION

President Barack Obama: The Entrepreneur-In-Chief?

Obama Signs the JOBS Act SOURCE: AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster Barack Obama signs the Jumpstart our Business Startups (JOBS) Act, in the Rose Garden of the White House In April, 2012, as Lawmakers, including Republican Eric Cantor, look on. The JOBS Act includes a provision that allows companies to sell stock to a larger number of investors without going through the hassle and cost of registering with the Securities and Exchange Commission through a mechanism commonly referred to as "crowdfunding."

We are in many ways a nation founded by entrepreneurs. But entrepreneurship is not just a core American value, it is also a principle source of economic growth, according to economists.

According to the Small Business Administration, small businesses employ about half of all Americans and are the source of two-thirds of new net-job creation over the past 17 years. And high-growth technology companies in clean tech, information technology, advanced manufacturing, and biotechnology are some of the hottest sources of innovation and brightest hopes for our economic future in the technologically competitive global marketplace.

But despite the vital role of small business and entrepreneurship to our economy, we’ve heard fairly little from either political party about these issues, either during the election season, or since. This is especially puzzling given the prominent role of economic issues as rationale for both parties’ positions in the the current “fiscal cliff” legislative battle.

The reality is that President Barack Obama has taken some robust actions to support small-business owners and entrepreneurs, and has in fact loosened some regulations for small businesses. But what’s really surprising is how little the president, let alone the television news networks, talks about these accomplishments.

Though it didn’t cost him the election, President Obama’s failure to communicate his small-business and entrepreneurship oriented economic policies may have cost him votes. A pre-election poll from Wave Accounting showed that 45 percent of small-business owners nationwide say they are “definitely” planning to vote for Romney, while only 32 percent said they would “definitely” vote for Obama.

President Obama has shown real commitment to driving economic growth from the bottom-up by supporting America’s entrepreneurs, with policy accomplishments and proposals on the table that range from common sense to very bold.

Common sense

To start, just look at the president’s common sense initiative this year to make government paperwork easier to navigate for small-business owners and entrepreneurs. BusinessUSA.gov, which the Obama administration launched in January, brings together the resources of dozens of federal agencies in one easy-to-use place organized so that U.S. companies can more-easily understand and access the services they need to compete for grants, training, technical assistance, financing assistance, and export market intelligence.

Bold and bi-partisan

Next, take a look at the Jumpstarting Our Business Startups, or JOBS, Act, which passed with overwhelming bipartisan support, and was signed into law by President Obama earlier this year (in the image above, Republican House Majority Leader Eric Cantor looks on as Obama signs the bill into law). Contrary to accusations during the campaign season that Obama’s policies increased regulations on small businesses, the bill contained provisions that actually loosen regulations on small businesses.

Specifically, the bill introduced new mechanisms for small businesses to use so-called “crowdfunding” to source capital from many small investors and loosened some reporting requirements to make it easier for small businesses to raise money by going public. The bipartisan move took guts, as critics from the president’s own party balked at some the provisions, arguing they loosen requirements too much and potentially open the door to fraud and abuse. Whether or not the pros outweigh the cons, the bill showed President Obama’s willingness to be bold in putting small businesses ahead of political ideology.

Reorganizing government?

President Obama also took the unprecedented step this year of elevating Karen Mills, administrator of the Small Business Administration, to his Cabinet, so that the small business community could have a louder voice in the White House.

And even bolder, the president went on a limb in January by asking Congress to grant him the authority to reorganize dozens of federal agencies and departments into “one department, one website, and one hotline” with one mission: promoting small business competitiveness.

In a political climate where Republicans are loathe to offer the president even the smallest victory, a major piece of bipartisan legislation and a sweeping proposal to reorganize the federal government’s trade, technology, economic development, and workforce programs to promote small business competitiveness takes both grit and guts.

Supporting startup communities and innovation clusters

Through a variety of elaborately named programs at these agencies—the Jobs and Innovation Accelerator, i6 proof of concept centers, the National Additive Manufacturing Innovation Institute, and the NSF Innovation Corps, to name a few—the Obama administration has deployed millions of dollars of federal resources to help translate federally funded research happening in universities around the country into new businesses, new jobs, and new American industries.

But it doesn’t stop there. The Obama White House also helped launch the Startup America Partnership, an innovative public-private collaboration that is seeding the country with startup incubator programs aimed at helping entrepreneurs get the counseling and capital they need to build new businesses, and cultivating the culture of entrepreneurship in every region of the country.

The best part is that this initiative doesn’t cost taxpayers anything. Startup America leverages private sources of funds, including corporate and foundation support, and has “not received a dollar from any government organization.”

Whether or not all of these policies will stand the test of time, President Obama deserves some real credit for being entrepreneurial himself in promoting some forward thinking entrepreneurship policies.

Sean Pool is managing editor of Science Progress at the Center for American Progress.

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