Kansas City entrepreneur Ewing Marion Kauffman was one-of-a-kind. Founder of pharmaceutical giant Marion Laboratories, he began the venture in his basement packaging vitamins, netting $1,000 in his first year of business, and grew it into a $1-billion-per-year company. He believed deeply that entrepreneurship was one of the highest expressions of the human spirit.
Not surprisingly, Kauffman dedicated his namesake foundation to fostering economic independence through education and entrepreneurship. “Every individual we can inspire, we can guide, we can help start a new company is vital to the future,” he once said. The Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation exists today to execute his vision and raise up a new generation of enterprising individuals and thriving communities.
With that vision in mind, The Philanthropy Roundtable convened a meeting in May on “Great Ways Donors Can Support Entrepreneurship.” Held at the Kauffman Foundation in Kansas City, the meeting featured a look at the inner workings of the Foundation and a full day of networking and informative sessions from some of the nation’s top entrepreneurial funders and practitioners. So what are some great ways donors can support entrepreneurship?” Here are a few ideas the group discussed:
- Find effective and experienced mentors. Sherwin Greenblatt of MIT Venture Mentoring Service began our day by highlighting the importance of effective mentors, and the readiness of entrepreneurs to receive guidance from experienced and technically savvy elders. At MIT, the Venture Mentoring Service has paired 2,300 students with mentoring guides, and currently has a waiting list of mentors anticipating students.
- Build strong partnerships with like-minded organizations. Amy Stursberg of Blackstone Foundation and Deborah Hoover of the Morgan Foundation explained their investments in entrepreneurial ecosystems—Stursberg throughout the nation, and Hoover specifically in Northeast Ohio. Each emphasized the need to choose strong partners who can get jobs done.
- Encourage peer-to-peer discussions. Thom Ruhe and Nate Olson of the Kauffman Foundation highlighted the need for entrepreneurs to share experiences and challenges with peers. They highlighted Kauffman’s One Million Cups program, a weekly gathering of start-up entrepreneurs in Kansas City who share ideas over coffee.
- Support second-stage entrepreneurship. Penny Lewandowski of the Lowe Foundation described efforts to support entrepreneurs when their companies hit a critical second stage of growth. She challenged attendees to think again about their definition of entrepreneurship and recognize that second-stage company growth often produces the most jobs and benefit to home communities.
- Engage your local community college. Tracy Green and Paul Corson of Lorain County Community College encouraged putting an entrepreneurship emphasis right in a college’s mission. Respondents explained how foundations can help elevate the attractiveness of entrepreneurship as a college and career path.
- Remove barriers to entrepreneurship. John Kramer explained the work of the Institute for Justice and highlighted regulatory barriers that needlessly stunt economic growth.
- Use the power of entrepreneurship to help economically challenged populations. Patrick O’Brien of Prison Entrepreneurship Program, Mike Haynie of Syracuse University, and Ajuah Helton of BUILD illustrated how entrepreneurship can promote self-sufficiency among struggling populations. Haynie’s program works with veterans with disabilities, Helton’s with at-risk youth, and O’Brien’s with prison inmates.
- Encourage young people to become entrepreneurs. Andrew Yang of Venture for America discussed why top college graduates don’t consider entrepreneurship, and suggested a remedy: a selective fellowship program that places bright graduates in startup companies in mid-size U.S. cities, thus broadening the pool of graduates interested in business, and strengthening post-manufacturing cities searching for human capital.
- Spread a “make a job” mentality. In the spirit of Ewing Kauffman, foster the risk-taking, courage, and perseverance it takes to start a successful endeavor. Ask non-profits, government, and businesses to help. Reward organizations that prioritize self-sufficiency and hard work.
To obtain a copy of the slide presentations from the conference or learn more about The Philanthropy Roundtable’s Economic Opportunity Project, please contact Ashley May (firstname.lastname@example.org).