This past week the top young entrepreneurs from across the nation were invited to Washington DC to discuss how government agencies can further support economic development in the United States. The event was part of Our Time‘s Buy Young Campaign, a non profit organization that stands up for people under 30 years old in corporate and political issues. Young entrepreneurs from across the country met with elected officials at the US Chamber of Commerce, Capitol Hill, and The White House.
The day started off with a panel and roundtable discussions at the US Chamber of Commerce as well as a keynote address by Ed Rensi, the former CEO of McDonald’s. The dialogue allowed young entrepreneurs to voice their opinions on job creation and legislation to make it easier for small businesses and startups to succeed. Founders such as Gilt Groupe’s Alexis Maybank and Living Social’s Aaron Batalion at the event which was in part a celebration for this group of entrepreneurs who have created a combined 7,000 jobs.
The momentum began to build as we climbed the steps of Capitol Hill. At this point a slew of Senators and members of Congress including Senator John McCain, (R-AZ) and Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) joined us. McCain shared a story of a Tunisian boy who’s country restricted his right to free enterprise and banned him from selling fruit at his local market this past year. This same boy proceeded to cover himself in gasoline and light himself on fire, marking the start of revolution. “The fire began in Tunisia and burned throughout the entire Middle East” where young people rallied to bring themselves the same inalienable rights we take for granted everyday in America.
After lunch, which included an assembly with members of the senate and congress, who continued to stress the importance of increasing our country’s exports and urged entrepreneurs to manufacturer their products in America, our group moved to The White House. Representatives from the White House’s Startup America Partnership, a coalition of mentors, advisors, funders, major corporations and service providers, led by AOL founder Steve Case, had various one on one meeting’s with entrepreneurs on how we can reduce the rate of failures in small businesses and spark innovation in our country. Startup America is actively looking for ways to allow entrepreneurs to access new resources and is looking to spread awareness through partnerships like Under30CEO.
The White House’s liaison to the youth, Kal Penn, hosted the White House’s portion of the day and unfortunately made no jokes about partying with former President George W. Bush, as he did while playing the lead role in the blockbuster hit Harold and Kumar. Penn formally moderated a panel with representatives from the US Small Business Administration and other White House officials. The emotions that fostered from the hour long Q+A session put pressure on officials to realize the need of real results from the government, instead of just empty promises to support entrepreneurship. If representatives could not fully answer the entrepreneurs questions, they promised a private followup conversation with those that needed more research. Questions were raised about disruptive industries such as transportation, hospitality, music, and entertainment, who’s playing fields have been leveled due to technology platforms that now allow everyday people to enterprise where barriers to entry were once much higher. These disruptive technologies are creating jobs very quickly at companies such as AirBnB, Zaarly, Uber, and GetAround, who’s platforms are changing the way commerce is done in the 21st century.
The final roundtable discussions of the day were carried out in the White House’s West Wing, where entrepreneurs brokeout into smaller groups and met with appointed Presidential advisors. One of the main topics was how to use technology to make it easier for small business owners to access information used to run a business. The entrepreneurs told officials that business owners face massive amounts of confusion when it comes to issues such as healthcare, incorporation, accounting, acquiring startup visas and paying taxes. To counter these problems, the group proposed various solutions for the government to create more organized information accessible to the public, or as one young leader suggested “hire Google”.
These young entrepreneurs are offering discounts on their products as part of the Buy Young Campaign marketplace. All in all, while there is no shortage of challenging problems to be solved, because of organizations like Our Time coupled with technologies to organize people, break down barriers and disseminate information, young leaders agreed there has never been a more exciting time to be involved in something you are passionate about.
Matt Wilson is co-founder of Under30CEO and was in attendance at the Buy Young Campaign in Washington DC.