Promoting Entrepreneurship in America

Amy Wilkinson, senior fellow,Harvard Kennedy School Center for Business and Government, and public policyscholar, Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars

Whatdoes it take to be a successful entrepreneur? Amy Wilkinson, a senior fellow atHarvard's Kennedy School, and a public policy scholar at the Woodrow Wilson InternationalCenter for Scholars, has spent years studying "high-impact entrepreneurs," aterm describing founders of fast-growing businesses or social enterprises. Sheshared some common aptitudes among successful entrepreneurs at the AtlantaFed's Public Affairs Forum in October. Those traits include the ability toidentify untapped opportunities, manage speed and complexity in a fast-changingworld, and fail wisely.

Fosteringentrepreneurship is a key topic for Atlanta Fed economists, who, among otherthings, study the role of young and small businesses in job creation and localeconomic development. Indeed, young, rapidly growing firms play an importantrole in the U.S. economy, accounting for a significant share of new jobs. Wilkinsondetailed a few steps U.S. policymakers could follow to foster entrepreneurship,including expansions to the H-1B program. Immigrants and first-generationAmericans are responsible for a large share of Fortune 500 companies andSilicon Valley start-ups, but the number of immigrant founders has declined inrecent years, she explained.

Wilkinsonalso identified several demographic groups where entrepreneurship couldpotentially flourish. Baby boomers are the fastest-growing demographic groupfor first-time entrepreneurs, followed by the Generation Y cohort. Women—whomake up more than half of the labor force, earn half of graduate degrees, andrepresent 70 percent of valedictorians—also show promise. "We can look for waysto help women access capital. We can also look for ways for women to accessnetworks of other people that will help them build products," she said.