Is America Encouraging the Wrong Kind of Entrepreneurship?

Is America Encouraging the Wrong Kind of Entrepreneurship?

Last month, economist William Baumol passed away at the age of 95. His death was universally mourned by the economics community, many of whom shared the view that he had passed before receiving a much-deserved Nobel Prize. One of us had the great privilege of working with him, befriending him, and being able to regularly witness his economic wisdom, even in his later years.

Among his many contributions to economics, Baumol is most famously known for his “Cost Disease”, which explains why high-productivity industries raise costs and therefore prices in low-productivity industries. This insight is particularly relevant now, as economic activity has shifted into low-productivity services like healthcare and education, where price increases are devouring public and household budgets, and whose continued low productivity has weighed down U.S. productivity growth overall.

However, a lesser-known work of Baumol’s is equally relevant today, and may also help explain America’s productivity slump. Baumol’s writing raises the possibility that U.S. productivity is low because would-be entrepreneurs are focused on the wrong kind of work.

Feeling Isolated? Build a Diaspora

Talent flight is a real problem. Not just for college towns, but for major cities and regions outside of coastal innovation and knowledge hubs like Silicon Valley and New York. The US Midwest, for example, is notorious for producing high rates of engineering and science graduates from top-flight schools, only to see them flee for the coasts (though, this trend may be changing somewhat).

Over the long-term, city leaders need to think hard about how to make sure that would-be local entrepreneurs and other talented individuals have the resources they need to stay at home. But, let me suggest another course of action that can be taken right away: build a diaspora.

Ridesharing hits hyper-growth

The last year has been rough for ridesharing app Uber, what with a litany of regulatory challenges, lawsuits over intellectual property infringement, and questions about gender relations in the workplace. The new year even brought a Twitter-driven #DeleteUber campaign.

So, how’s the business of ridesharing doing? Well, we don’t have good government statistics for 2016 yet, but we do now have such data for 2015, and these show that the hyper-growth of ridesharing that we documented last year is, if anything, accelerating. In fact, just-released data from the U.S. Census Bureau on “nonemployer firms,” which tracks the activity of freelancers (as in the gig economy), shows that 2015 saw the strongest growth of ridesharing yet. Ridesharing through Uber, Lyft, and other apps showed no signs of plateauing in 2015, and instead, the evolving industry spread—including into new metropolitan areas.

How Big is the Tech Sector?

Earlier today, Tyler Cowen had a post titled "Why are there so few computer science majors?", which was prompted by this Dan Wang post on the subject. Among other things, Tyler wonders if there are relatively few computer science majors simply because the tech sector is actually pretty small. Since I was already working with economic data today for another project, I thought it was worth taking a quick look to find out just how big the tech sector really is.

Colorado and the Importance of Startup Density

Last week, the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation released its annual Kauffman Index of Entrepreneurship, detailing “new venture creation” in the United States through 2016. The index reported that the rate of entrepreneurship in America held steady last year, up sharply from lows reached during the Great Recession.

Also included are measures across all 50 US states, the40 largest  metropolitan areas, and along various dimensions of entrepreneur characteristics (race, gender, nativity, education, and age). Colorado ranked sixth in terms of “startup density” (new firm formations per capita) and Denver was tenth among the largest metropolitan areas for the same measure.

But, these rankings mask important details—they doesn’t distinguish between growth-oriented entrepreneurship and small business formation (this distinction matters for public policy and for economic growth), and the geographic boundaries may be too broad. Fair enough, data limitations abound for this high-level view of activity, and Kauffman provides an informative, timely, service no less.

What remains clear is that density matters a great deal for growth-driven, innovative enterprise, and we can learn something from the places that continually produce these types of businesses.

Chicago's Startup Ecosystem: Some Reading

Chicago's Startup Ecosystem: Some Reading

I'm going to Chicago tomorrow to attend the wedding of an old friend over the weekend. Chicago has always been a special place for me—I lived there for a few years after college and received a first-rate education on the city's south side. Chicago is awesome.

A lot has changed in the city since then, including the development of a booming tech and startup scene. Some of this I've learned about through conversations with active participants in the startup community there, and some has been through a series of research that has been published in the last few months.

As such, I'll use this opportunity to share some of these items with readers who might be interested. The collection of readings—which span academic working papers, analytical blog posts, and business case studies—are all great. They are informative, well-written, and resourceful. And please, if you know of others, add them to this thread in the comments section. Enjoy.

First Round Capital: Collapse or Return to Normal?

Yesterday, an article in the Wall Street Journal talked about some adjustments in the venture capital funding market. The general thesis: fewer companies are getting funded, those that do are raising more capital than ever, and those that don't are left to die (zombie companies). I don't have the time right now to re-assess or validate that analysis in a meaningful way, but on the surface, it appears to be relatively sound.

However, it did make me curious about what's happening in funding markets, and since it's been awhile since I've done any analysis in the area, it prompted me to take a deeper look at funding trends. One thing stood out to me was a sharp reversion in first-fundings since 2015—particularly compared with relatively stable funding trends in later rounds.

Restart America: Startup-Friendly Policies in the “Third Wave”

If you haven’t done so already, I highly recommend reading The Third Wave: An Entrepreneur’s Vision of the Future, a New York Times Bestseller by Steve Case that published one year ago. Steve is back in the news, with an expanded version (in paperback) out this week that adds a chapter on startup-friendly policies in the post-election environment.

RD Huffstetler for the Virginia 5th

RD Huffstetler for the Virginia 5th

Yesterday, my friend and colleague Roger Dean ("RD") Huffstetler announced his candidacy for the United States Congress, representing the 5th District of Virginia. He will run as a Democrat, which, given the district, would give a typical candidate an uphill battle—and against an incumbent no less. But, this is no ordinary candidate. It won't be easy, but he can win. And he should win. That would be a great thing for Virginians and for Americans. Here's why.

Joining the Startup Revolution

Yesterday, I made my first contribution to the Startup Revolution blog. In it, I discussed my move to Boulder to work on a sequel to Startup Communities with my co-author Brad Feld, and my early impressions of the community here (hint: they are good!). Last night, I got to attend Demo Day for the 2017 Techstars Boulder class—it was fantastic! A lot of great companies to watch out for.

But, as this has mostly been a blog populated by Brad’s writings—and more recently, by Chris Heivly who I’ll also be collaborating with on startup communities—it’s probably a good idea to take a step back and provide a personal introduction.

Startup Communities and Saturday Morning Coffee

A recent article in 5280 Magazine caught my attention. It profiled the economic vitality of the Boulder-Denver region, dubbing it “The Most Exciting and Innovative Tech Hub in the Country.” While I expect every local publication to champion its own hometown, this one happens to be on stronger footing than most others. You see, at least in terms of innovation and startup activity, Boulder is unique among its peers.

The article—which is excellent by the way—couldn’t have come at a better time for me personally. A few days ago, I moved myself and my family to Boulder to work on a book about startup communities. Not only did I come here to work closely with my friend and co-author Brad Feld, I also wanted to experience first-hand what makes this place so special. I came here to learn… and to contribute.

The Third Wave of digital technology meets the Rustbelt

Much excitement has been building over what feels like the beginning of an era of immense technological advance, the central role that entrepreneurs will play in its development, and the potential for a wide range of regions to reap the rewards. But progress won’t come easy. Significant challenges are likely to follow as digital technologies expand into relatively untapped areas of the economy.

Two excellent books out in as many months—and a quick data analysis here—persuasively drive these points home.

Our Robots, Ourselves: Robotics and the Myths of Autonomy (Book Review)

If you’re like me, and in search of a much-needed reprieve from the professed doom and gloom of a hyper-autonomous and apparently jobless future, then I have just the book for you. Our Robots, Ourselves: Robotics and the Myths of Autonomy, out last fall, takes a hard look at the realities of the coming wave of automating technologies, such as advanced robotics and artificial intelligence, and the role humans will play in an increasingly digital future.

What Startup Accelerators Really Do

Accelerators are playing an increasing role in startup communities throughout the United States and beyond. Early evidence demonstrates the significant potential of accelerators to improve startups’ outcomes, and for these benefits to spill over into the broader startup community. However, the measurable impact accelerators have on performance varies widely among programs — not all accelerators are created equally. Quality matters.

Accelerating Growth: Startup Accelerator Programs in the United States

Startup accelerators support early-stage, innovation-driven companies through education, mentorship, and financing, in a fixed-period, cohort-based setting. This process of intense, rapid, and immersive education aims to accelerate the lifecycle of high-potential companies and the experiential learning of their founders. Accelerators are playing an increasing role in startup communities throughout the United States, but are commonly misunderstood or mistakenly lumped-in with other early-stage supporting institutions. Early evidence demonstrates the significant potential of accelerators to improve startups’ outcomes, and for these benefits to spill over into the broader startup community and local economy. However, the measurable impact accelerators have on performance varies widely among programs. To that end, an accelerator pioneer offers some best practices.

Better Late Than Never: Creativity, Inc.

Although it's been out for nearly two years, I finally managed to read Creativity, Inc.—the first hand account of Ed Catmull, the genius behind Pixar, about his journey in building the company. While the book contains engaging stories behind some of the most commercially successful and entertaining animated films of all time, it's really a book about managing a fast-growing, innovation-driven, entrepreneurial, creative enterprise.

A cure for health care inefficiency? The value and geography of venture capital in the digital health sector

Relative to other affluent countries, the United States devotes disproportionate resources to health care with disappointing results. Recognizing these problems, entrepreneurs are increasingly applying information technology to health care equipment, monitoring, treatment, and service delivery, creating a sector known as digital health. These technologies, once embedded and distributed around the country, hold the potential to substantially alter the efficiency and quality of health care through the better generation, processing, and use of information; the reduction of overhead costs; and the empowerment of patients. This analysis finds that digital health venture capital investment is a substantial and growing share of total venture capital, creating, even in its infancy, valuable returns for owners. Venture investments in digital health are more dispersed geographically than total venture capital, yet digital health entrepreneurship has no geographic relationship to the traditional health care sector. Rather, the presence of workers in advanced service industries strongly predicts digital health investment at the metropolitan scale.