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Do Startups Really Create Lots of Good Jobs – Harvard Business Review

Posted on Jun 15, 2016 in Articles, Authored, Harvard Business Review

Cross-posted from Harvard Business Review, June 6, 2016 Eskimos have 50 words for snow. Humans only use 10% of our brains. We hear these types of “facts” all the time — but are they true? Scientists are now saying, “Not so simple.” We have all seen how repetition of a particular statement or idea tends to lend it legitimacy – the so-called “truth effect.” This effect is likely strengthened when the assertion is made in a serious context by intelligent people with authority. Consider the idea, increasingly an assumption of fact, that “startups create jobs.” Since President Obama exhorted Americans to create startups, and the U.S. government, the Kauffman Foundation, and other partners launched the Startup America Partnership (which launch I attended), startups have been increasingly put forward as drivers of economic growth, in large part because it’s become accepted...

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Using Supply Chains to Scale Up Your Business

Posted on Dec 4, 2015 in Articles, Harvard Business Review

By Daniel Isenberg and Timothy Coates   This article appeared on November 20, 2015 in the Harvard Business Review. Until a few years ago Steve Cronce’s Raphael Industries did $1 million dollars a year of specialized industrial painting for customers within driving distance of their plant in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. One of them happened to be GE Healthcare, which sent Raphael “dead” X-Ray tube parts for re-coating and re-commissioning. Challenged by other entrepreneurs in Scale Up Milwaukee’s Scalerator program to come up with a plan for rapidly ramping up his business, Cronce wondered: “What if I redefined Raphael as a strategic link in the global medical imaging supply chain, rather than as a paint shop?” This supply chain epiphany is taking Raphael toward $10 million of work a year by burrowing into GE’s global network as well as serving its competitors. He...

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The Right Way to Plan an Innovation Tour

Posted on Dec 3, 2015 in Articles, Authored, Harvard Business Review

This article by Daniel Isenberg first appeared in the Harvard Business Review July 7, 2015. Innovation tourism: it’s a thing. The tourists are entrepreneurs looking for the right economic microclimate to start a business; corporate scouts looking to expand their company’s reach or improve their supply chain; policy makers trying to figure out the right balance of rules and infrastructure to create a thriving economy; investors searching for the next crop of opportunities. These well-intentioned professionals travel the world in pursuit of the secret sauce of innovation. Typically, tourism involves guided tours, pitch events, conferences with lots of panels, and well-planned visits to companies, universities, and government agencies tasked with increasing entrepreneurship and innovation. The problem is, all of these good people are often guided to see a distorted reality. Not that more formalized presentations and assessments are necessarily Potemkin...

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Judge an Economy by the Number of Scale Ups, not Start-Ups

Posted on Oct 2, 2014 in Authored, Harvard Business Review

Originally published in Harvard Business Review on October 1, 2014. Co-authored with Fernando Fabre. More new businesses are better for society, right? That’s a common assumption. For instance, take this recent Washington Post piece, headlined, “More businesses are closing than starting. Can Congress help turn that around?” Sounds ominous at first. But wait a minute – is starting more new businesses always a good thing? Isn’t it a basic economic tenet that well-functioning markets will have many entrancesand exits, that weak businesses (including thousands of one-person enterprises) will get recycled quickly (fast failure) and that over time, vigorous, well-regulated markets will support strong and growing companies, which in turn provide dignified jobs and prosperity? This conflation of startups with entrepreneurship, and more broadly with “business dynamism,” has become so widespread it can muddle even the most serious research. For example, the admired Brookings Institution recently purported to explain an apparent decades-long decline in American entrepreneurship....

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How to Finance the Scale Up of Your Company

Posted on Aug 19, 2014 in Articles, Authored, Harvard Business Review

Originally published in Harvard Business Review on August 18, 2014. Co-authored with Daniel Lawton. Tom Szaky knows well the meaning of the saying “Beware your dreams, for they may come true.” With the 2004 Christmas retail season rapidly approaching, he was trying everything he could to scale up TerraCycle, a two year old venture selling liquid worm poop as fertilizer in used PET bottles. So far, he had been successful distributing through lots of smaller retailers, but had encountered a flood of rejections from the big box stores. Undaunted, Szaky finally landed a 15 minute meeting with Walmart Canada’s buyer. Instead of telling Szaky to “drop off the face of the earth” (he had been warned this was likely) Walmart Canada placed a huge order — for every one of its stores. But as he recounts in his engaging book, achieving his dream quickly turned into a...

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What an Entrepreneurship Ecosystem Actually Is

Posted on May 12, 2014 in Authored, Harvard Business Review

Fostering entrepreneurship has become a core component of economic development in cities and countries around the world. The predominant metaphor for fostering entrepreneurship as an economic development strategy is the “entrepreneurship ecosystem.” It should come as no surprise, however, that as any innovative idea spreads, so do the misconceptions and mythology. Here is a quick true-false test that will serve as a reality check on entrepreneurship ecosystems, and on the connection between entrepreneurship and development more generally. It’s important to get this right, because the emergence of entrepreneurship as a policy priority has paralleled (and is at least partly in response to) disappointment with dictated industrial policy, barren “cluster” strategies, and the failure of a limited focus on a set of macroeconomic framework conditions (the so-called “Washington Consensus”). If we’re to prevent the enthusiasm for entrepreneurial ecosystems from also fizzling out,...

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