Mueller Jackson
Jackson Mueller
Associate Director, Center for Financial Markets
Jackson Mueller is an associate director at the Milken Institute's Center for Financial Markets. He focuses on fintech, capital formation policy and financial markets education initiatives. Prior to joining the Institute, Mueller was an assistant vice president at the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association (SIFMA), where he focused on...
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Brian Knight
Associate Director, Financial Policy, Center for Financial Markets
Banking and Business and Capital Access and Capital Markets and Finance and Financial Innovations and FinTech and Global Economy and Job Creation and Public Policy and Regulation and U.S. Economy
Brian Knight is an attorney with significant experience in new sources of capital, financial technology, and entrepreneurial issues. He is interested in the interplay between technological, regulatory, and market innovation and how best to improve access to capital for businesses of all sizes.
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Reinvigorating the entrepreneurial spirit in America

By: Jackson Mueller and Brian Knight
January 15, 2015

This week at the Milstein Symposium, a project of the University of Virginia’s Miller Center and the Batten Institute, members of the Milstein Commission on Entrepreneurship and Middle-Class Jobs, including co-chairs Carly Fiorina and Steve Case, released a new report, Can Startups Save the American Dream?. The report advances five ideas on how to encourage greater entrepreneurial activity in the U.S.: 

  1. Unlock Capital for Main Street Entrepreneurs through improvements to the Community Reinvestment Act and Community Development Financial Institution Fund.
  2. Accelerate Impact Investing through Program-Related Investments (PRIs) by revising PRI regulations and expanding PRI awareness among foundations and entrepreneurs.
  3. Build a Regulatory Roadmap to help emerging companies navigate the complex regulatory landscape at the local, state, and federal levels.
  4. Empower the Next Generation of Entrepreneurial Leaders by enhancing awareness among K-12 students of the opportunities entrepreneurship can provide.
  5. Equip Civic Leaders to Build Entrepreneurial Ecosystems by implementing an “Ecosystem-in-a-Box” concept – to provide civic leaders with a playbook on how to reinvigorate entrepreneurship in their communities.

The panel presenting the report also included commission members Lenny Mendonca, Entrepreneur and Director Emeritus at McKinsey & Company; Ross Baird, Executive Director at Village Capital; and Brian Meece, CEO of RocketHub.

Key themes emerged from the discussion that influenced the report, including:

There’s No Silver Bullet: The right capital, regulatory environment, leadership, and ecosystem all need to be in place to facilitate entrepreneurship. All five ideas advanced in the report are necessary, with no recommendation outweighing the others. Taken together, the recommendations do not necessarily require legislative action, panelists noted, but may require clarity from relevant government agencies including the Treasury Department.

Entrepreneurial Equality: The ability of entrepreneurs to gain access to capital and support varies widely, depending on the entrepreneur’s type of business and location. Location can hamper entrepreneurs (and the communities they support) who are not in a funding hub or working in a “hot industry”. Panelists noted that entrepreneurial spirit doesn’t just live in Silicon Valley, but across the U.S. in every state and sector. It’s crucial to help investors recognize this and encourage them to invest not only in the next Google, but in the person opening a laundromat across the street, one panelist remarked. Yet a “level playing field” does not exist at the moment. As Case pointed out, in 2014, 76 percent of venture capital investment went to only three states: California, Massachusetts, and New York. And yet 76 percent of Fortune 500 firms are from the other 47 states. In developing the report, the Commission focused on how to create an atmosphere where an innovator with a small business is celebrated just as much as the next tech entrepreneur, according to Fiorina.

Capital Desert: Participants discussed the difficulty of securing financing, with entrepreneurs having to focus significantly on fundraising throughout the startup process. The good news, as explained by Baird, is that huge pools of capital already exist that can help fund startups, provided that certain regulations are tweaked. The report calls for changes to the Community Reinvestment Act (CRA), specifically calling for the Federal Reserve to adopt a more uniform process for determining which investments meet CRA requirements. The report also recommends revision to the definition of “assessment area.” In addition, revisions to regulations regarding program-related investments (PRIs) would provide foundations with additional tax clarity when providing capital to startups. At present, only one percent of foundations make such investments.

Regulatory Quagmire: For the first time in a long time, more businesses are failing than are being created – to Fiorina, a deeply troubling fact that calls for fundamental reform to the complexity and size of government that is “weighing on the entrepreneurial spirit.”

She added, “when was the last time we did an inventory of all regulations on the books? It’s like geologic sediment – we have eons of rules and regulations at the fed, state, and local level.” Fiorina added that big government works “very well” for big businesses, which can deal with the added complexity, but Main Street cannot.

Case pointed out that there has and will continue to be an ongoing battle between the attackers (entrepreneurs) and the defenders (existing companies that support the status quo). The key question is, “how do you make sure regulations that were put in place for the right reason aren’t unintentionally protecting the incumbent versus enabling disruptors?”

Panelists pointed out that a regulatory roadmap, as detailed in the report, could provide enough clarity to new and emerging businesses looking to navigate the complex local, state, and federal regulatory structure currently in place.


  • Great post!

    I do think that the way forward for the world is to create more entrepreneurs and make it easier for them. The world needs a mentality shift.

    I think though that the entrepreneurial spirit is something that can't really be taught.

    You can encourage it by making things easier and more accessible but that just highlights the fact that there is a lack of entrepreneurship in the first place.

    For me the essence of being an entrepreneur is being like a child again.

    Not afraid to fail and move spontaneously with energy into the world, without the fear of not being good enough.

    Lack of a creative force in people results in more policies to make things easier.

    I think that is the true illness. Lack of a driving energy is a result of deep seated fear which in turn freezes the body and makes it cold and stiff.

    The guy that's in his couch all day won't get up even if there are opportunities out there.

    I think the first thing you must do if you're an entrepreneur is to access those deep driving energies within yourself that make you move into the world.

    That's what I'm into and that is what I truly believe.

    Posted by Claude Borel, 02/24/2015 (4 years ago)

  • I have invested the last 20 years to advance the cause of sustainable community development finance and while we have made some progress we need more targeted resources to induce the private sector to invest in young people for low income neighborhoods and communities of color.

    How do I help this effort to advocate for these sorely needed changes!

    Posted by Michael Banner, 01/19/2015 (4 years ago)

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