Thank small businesses for making nation great

Thank small businesses for making nation great

Published Saturday, November 24, 2007

As we prepared for the Thanksgiving holiday this
year, I was reminded once again how grateful we should feel to live in
a country that, over the past 20 years, has economically outperformed
the world and helped create wealth and prosperity for so many others

Much of that prosperity was realized through the enormous efforts of
our nation’s entrepreneurs. At this time – and throughout the year – we
need to thank them and celebrate their achievements not only in
creating businesses and jobs but also in creating the quality of life
and endless opportunities we enjoy in our communities.

The United States leads all major industrial economies in the range
and prevalence of entrepreneurship. In 2005, there were nearly 23
million Americans active as owners/managers of a firm, and 12.4 percent
of the population had taken steps to start a business.

The majority of those firms are what we refer to as "lifestyle"
entrepreneurs – those who start a company to provide employment for
themselves and a few employees. These are the firms that create the
diverse and wonderful fabric of our communities. They are the gift
stores, the restaurants, the landscaping firms, the salons, the
child-care facilities, the artists and the contractors that make our
region a great place to call home.

The "high-growth," or what some call the "high-expectation,"
entrepreneurs launch firms for the sole purpose of growing them, often
selling them and moving on to the next great thing. These firms are the
innovators – those who seek to do things better, faster, stronger.
These are the software developers, the engineers, the life scientists,
the nanotechnologists and the physicians who want to develop a new
product, process or service. Best estimates are that there are 2.9
million of these entrepreneurs among the nation’s 23 million. These
companies often are smaller, and the payoff they create in terms of
jobs, sales and economic outcomes often is longer in coming because the
commercialization cycle often takes several years.

In our center, we are privileged to work with both lifestyle and
high-expectation entrepreneurs. They make our days and duties varied
and exciting. We might meet with a local restaurateur in the morning
and a faculty member developing nanotechnology for homeland security in
the afternoon. Our conversations in one day might include how to price
homemade soaps and crafts and the commercial potential of a
weevil-resistant soybean. It’s that kind of interesting diversity and
the ability to constantly sit in awe of such creative folks that makes
our work so interesting. For that, we are grateful.

Imagine sitting across the table from the folks who first visualized
Hewlett-Packard, Google, Genentech or Amgen – all of which started as
university spinoffs. Small firms like this have been the incubators of
amazing, world-changing ideas. And they all started with an idea
developed by a handful of creative minds in communities not unlike
ours. The rich research culture of our own University of Missouri has
sown a fertile field for these ideas. Our role in helping them to the
marketplace is not only a joy for us – it is a privilege.

Now for some sobering statistics:

● Foreign-owned companies and inventors account for nearly 50 percent of all U.S. patents.

● Only six of the world’s most competitive IT companies are in the United States. Fourteen are in Asia.

● Sweden, Finland, Israel, Jordan and South Korea each spend more on
research and development as a share of the gross domestic product than
does the United States.

● The venture capital industry – traditionally a U.S. strength – is
rapidly globalizing, with more than half of the U.S. firms planning to
expand into foreign markets, particularly China and India.

● Since 1998, venture capital spending has grown at an annualized
rate of 2 percent in the United States compared to 18 percent in the
United Kingdom and 40 percent in Japan.

Obviously, the playing field for high-expectation, high-technology
and innovative entrepreneurs is changing rapidly. In addition to things
moving more quickly than ever before, they are moving on a more global
landscape than ever before. The United States is quickly being put in
the position of playing catch-up.

We must do all we can in Central Missouri to ensure that our region,
state and nation remain competitive. We can start on a regional level,
where we will be most effective. After all, innovation is a contact
sport, and the more closely we are connected to one another, the
quicker and more effective we will be.

In my next few columns, I’ll be sharing some stories of
high-expectation entrepreneurs in our community. Their innovations are
unique, and their future is promising. And they are right here in our
own backyard.

Give thanks.


Mary Paulsell is the director of the University Center for
Innovation and Entrepreneurship at the University of Missouri-Columbia.
Reach her at or visit


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