White House Startup Investment Coincides with Sweeping Changes for TechStars, Y Combinator, Other Incubators: A Road to Recovery, or Another Bubble?

2/1/11Follow @wroush

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80 percent of the population, and converting 80 percent of electrical generation to clean fuels by 2035. He put the spotlight on two specific technology startups—Michigan-based Luma Resources, which makes solar shingles, and Pennsylvania-based Center Rock, which built the drilling equipment used to rescue the Chilean miners. And he called for business-friendly policy changes such as a lowering and leveling of corporate tax rates. Overall, the address is likely to go down as one of the most technology-focused in the history of presidential speeches. “This is our generation’s Sputnik moment,” the president said. By the end of the speech, Obama had used the word “technology” eight times, “innovation” nine times, and “future” no less than 15 times.

The president drove home many of the same themes about “winning the 21st century” in a speech the next day in Manitowoc, WI. Obama suggested he’d picked this working-class town on Lake Michigan for the followup speech because one of the Sputnik satellites crashed on a street there in 1962. (A true story—there’s a little marker in the pavement where it hit. The fact that Wisconsin will be a swing state in the 2012 elections may have had something to do with the decision too.)

But both speeches, it turned out, were just preludes to yesterday’s Startup America announcement. Many months in the making, the launch event at the White House focused on concrete ways to increase government and private-sector investment in startups as a path toward economic recovery. (A White House press release about the event repeatedly paired the word “startup” with the adjective “job-creating.”) The event brought together the president’s top economic advisors and business leaders like AOL co-founder Steve Case, who will chair a new private sector initiative called the Startup America Partnership.

The administration and its private sector partners offered a surprisingly long list of commitments. (Feel free to skip this list, but it’s actually a lot more succinct than the official one.):

• $1 billion from the Small Business Administration in matching capital for investment funds that support startups in underserved communities.
• Another $1 billion from SBA in matching capital for early-stage startups crossing the so-called “Valley of Death” between seed funding and serious venture funding, especially outside the existing innovation hubs of California, Massachusetts, and New York.
• Proposed extension of a bill eliminating capital gains tax on certain investments in small business.
• A planned summit led by Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner on simplified access to capital for small businesses.
• Four new private startup accelerators, funded by the Department of Energy and the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E), to support 100 clean energy startups.
• Two new business accelerators, funded by the Department of Veterans Affairs, to support veterans launching new businesses.
• A fact-finding tour by administration officials to identify federal processes that are burdensome to entrepreneurs and target them for elimination.
• More “DC-to-VC” summits on healthcare IT investing, led by the Department of Health and Human Services.
• $12 million to launch the “i6 Green Challenge,” a Commerce Department program to fund proof-of-concept centers focusing on environmentally sustainable regional development.
• New fast-track patent application examinations for entrepreneurs at the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office.
• Formation of the Startup America Partnership, an alliance of entrepreneurs, investors, companies, universities, and foundations supporting high-growth startups, with seed funding from the Kauffman Foundation and the Case Foundation.
• New programs for young entrepreneurs from the Network For Teaching Entrepreneurship, funded by Ernst & Young, the Pearson Foundation, Google, and New Markets Education Partners.
• Expansion of the Blackstone LaunchPad, a five-year, $50 million entrepreneurship program already active at two universities in Detroit, to universities in five more cities.
• A new virtual entrepreneurship curriculum called the “Artists & Instigators Practicum” at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia.
• $1 million from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce for K-12, college, and post-graduate entrepreneurship education programs.
• A new Virtual Incubation Network at community colleges, led by the American Association of Community Colleges and funded by the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation.
• A new TechStars Network extending the mentorship-driven model developed by the TechStars venture incubator program in its four existing cities (Boston, Boulder, New York, and Seattle) to 15 more regional accelerators.
• More support for the Massachusetts-based MassChallenge startup competition from the Blackstone Charitable Foundation, the Fallon Management Company, MassMutual, Johnson & Johnson, and Microsoft. (Greg reported on the details of MassChallenge’s plans yesterday.)
• A doubling in size of Astia, an accelerator program for women-led startups, with new funding from AOL, the Althea Foundation, Fenwick & West, Moss Adams, and Silicon Valley Bank to match previous funding from the Kauffman Foundation. (I’ll have more to say about Astia in an article next week.)
• $200 million in new capital for U.S. companies from Intel Capital.
• $150 million from IBM for entrepreneur coaching and mentorship programs.
• $4 million from HP for its Learning Initiative for Entrepreneurs.
• 12 to 15 “Startup Days” organized by Facebook to help early-stage entrepreneurs build software that integrates with the Facebook Platform.
• A new Entrepreneurship Center in New Orleans— a collaboration between the Deshpande Foundation, The Idea Village, and Tulane University.
• A new national initiative from Cleveland, OH-based venture development organization JumpStart to support regional innovation and entrepreneurship programs, funded by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and the Surdna Foundation.
• $10 million in new grants to entrepreneurs over the next five years from the National Collegiate Inventors & Innovators Alliance, with support from the Lemelson Foundation.

To be fair, many of these initiatives were underway well before yesterday’s event at the White House. And some are simply business as usual: It’s Intel Capital’s job to invest hundreds of millions of dollars every year, to name one example. The Obama Administration’s role here has largely been to … Next Page »

Wade Roush is Chief Correspondent and Editor At Large at Xconomy. You can subscribe to his Google Group or e-mail him at wroush@xconomy.com. Follow @wroush

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  • AndrewW

    StartUpAmerica is just more useless public relations and cheerleading. Of course we should encourage start-ups, but it is much more important to seek breakthroughs.

    Energy is a good example – DOE and private industry have spent $400 billion in the last 20 years on R+D and financing for green technologies and yet we still haven’t found “clean, affordable electricity.” That’s the goal.

    During the last two years DOE (with Stimulus funds) has spent more than $30 billion on “development deals,” primarily for over-priced and under-performing wind and solar schemes. Most of these projects received 100% “loan guarantees” and those loans can never be repaid. They are grants.

    America (and the world) should get serious about finding a breakthrough by offering a $1 billion prize for a solution. DOE should hold an Energy Summit and review ALL potential solutions. We would either find a breakthrough or understand exactly where we are.

    It is delusional to continue to pretend that wind and solar can meet our energy needs – they never will. America has made progress because of competition and reward and now is a good time to remember that, Offer a PRIZE and let’s get busy seeking a real, sustainable solution.

  • http://www.backupify.com Rob

    I think it would be better if the government stayed out of startups. It’s best left to the private sector.

  • http://www.worldmotoclash.com Stanford Crane

    Has it occurred to anyone that we have a consumer based economy, but no real consumer VCs? Seems odd. A proper number for startup investment would be about $500M and span all industries and geographies. We live in a global community where helping business requires leadership, not the random walk approach.

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