Senator Mark Warner and an Entrepreneurship Roundtable

Mark Warner

Mark Warner with his eye shut (I’m lacking in photography skills) talking with Zack, a JMU student with a budding business.

I spent time today taking to Senator Mark Warner about entrepreneurship in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia.    It wasn’t just me and Mark throwing back tequila shots and shooting the breeze, but it was pretty darn cozy. I am elated Senator Warner  took the time to organize this series of talks (get on the wagon Bob Goodlatte).   In my humble opinion, Mark Warner is a capable speaker, with direct and honest answers.  But the best part of the meeting was the opportunity for me to talk to, and hear from, other area entrepreneurs.

As to Mark Warner’s comments, he discussed how start up enterprises can help accelerate  job creation.  Mark cited a 2010 study by Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation that shows a connection between successful start-ups and jobs. The thrust of the message is existing companies don’t make any appreciable difference in job growth.   Which is interesting, but also a bit obvious.  New business, on average, creates jobs. Particularly if you don’t count the ones that fail.  But as a bullet point in the introduction to a talk on Entreprenuership, it’s a good statistic.   Senator Warner also noted that job growth tends to happen around university towns and metropolitan areas – not in urban areas.  The Senator commented that if the internet can create jobs anywhere, why can’t it create great tech jobs in western and southern Virginia?  Why indeed.    He also spoke about keeping good talent here in the States – providing mechanisms to allow graduate students from other countries to stay, rather than forcing them back to their native countries.

Senator Warner’s final comments, and many of the questions he answered focused on the initial capital needed to get a start-up business off the ground.  That’s right.  Money. He spoke in detail about the SCC and pending legislation that will effect Virginia Businesses.  This was all well beyond my capacity to follow.  I have trouble even typing the word “ligisa…” without being distracted by my cat walking by or  by dust particles floating in the air — look it’s a rainbow!. But I was interested to see the buzz around crowd sourcing.  The potential power of letting individuals help foster and invest in business ideas.  Mark talked about the success of organizations like KickStarter (which just helped get the RedBeard brewery here in Staunton off the ground) and Kiva.  He also spoke about how to legis…. leg … gleal …. LEGislate such organizations when it comes to expectations of a “RETURN ON YOUR INVESTMENT”.  Which seems to be the big tipping point for the US government – where you go from “yea yea whatever” to “hey, that sounds like money”.  Anyway.  If you care about crowd sourcing and aren’t hyper excited about new ways to legislate,  then be alert.

Back down to little Staunton, Virginia, the small community where I make my butter.  There are a few things about start-ups here in this valley that interest me.  The first is this LightCastle business – which we started out of our basement, and that is slowing and patiently growing with the help of our community.  The second is the Staunton Creative Community Fund – an organization that helps small “Start-up” businesses get their feet on the ground when they can’t get loans the typical way.  And yet another is giv2giv where people are donating their time and efforts to build out a non-profit organization with a truly original and powerful idea.   But based on what I heard today, and my understanding the Jobs Act, and the SCC’s forthcoming legislature none of the start up companies I care about are on the radar.  A radar that apparently only pings when it encounters numbers larger than 1 million.  Mark Warner hit the nail on the head when he said that the only real progress to be made at this level is LOCAL.  And Local, is EXACTLY where I wanted to be all along.

Chart of job creation by year.

Jobs created by year – taken from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jobs_created_during_U.S._presidential_terms