2010 has been the bright spot in the future that we have been looking toward for the past 18 months. When the bottom started falling out in 2008, the immediate future looked abysmal, but we knew that at some point, things would have to turn around. When you recall that some of the country's great business successes were born out of economic slumps, this recent downturn - the Great Recession or whatever you want to call it - could transition into the most striking growth in more than a generation. Tom Friedman's recent Op-Ed in the New York Times is a call to kick-start a 21st century innovation economy. He is right that the time is now. Think of all of the under-utilized talent in the country right now, not to mention the capital waiting on the sidelines. Lab Day and the NFTE are ways that the country can and must continue to develop the entrepreneurs and innovators of the future, but while real education reform based on innovation is critical to long-term success (both my parents were educators - my dad for 42 years - so I believe in the importance of education), there are many things that we should be doing on a much shorter runway.
Here are three things that may help:
- The Start-Up Visa. This country needs to embrace innovation by bringing here and keeping innovators. The startup visa movement is about making sure that technological innovation and the "expanding of the pie" happen in the U.S. In addition to recruiting entrepreneurs and giving them the resources they need, we should raise the HB-1 visa limits to bring more skilled workers that will be needed. Giving visas to those who will create new companies does not take away opportunities for Americans - it expands the pie here to create more American jobs rather than allowing those companies to be created elsewhere. In this regard, the U.S. is lagging behind China, India, and Pakistan, but even behind countries like the U.K. and Canada.
- Green Card Diplomas. The U.S. also needs to reverse the increasing "brain drain" of bringing in and training foreign nationals on student visas and then requiring that they leave the country. On the contrary, we should actively recruit the best and the brightest from around the world, invite them to our higher educational institutions, and then grant them the right to stay in the country if they start businesses and innovate. In the words of John Doerr, billionaire venture capitalist, we should "staple a greed card to the diploma" of these students and get them to set up businesses here. Already, half of the Silicon Valley startups are now started by immigrants, including such pillars as Google, eBay, and Yahoo. We should continue to encourage this kind of innovation.
- Government Investment in Innovation. Government is not a great source of innovation. But proper government policies can encourage the type of innovation that will grow the economy. Eliminating capital gains tax on qualified small business investment and giving tax credits for hiring employees is a start toward general economic stimulus, but the administration should also be focused on finding new ways to fund innovation directly while also staying out of the way.