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Promoting Entrepreneurship in America

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

What does it take to be a successful entrepreneur? Amy Wilkinson, a senior fellow at Harvard's Kennedy School, and a public policy scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, has spent years studying "high-impact entrepreneurs," a term describing founders of fast-growing businesses or social enterprises. She shared some common aptitudes among successful entrepreneurs at the Atlanta Fed's Public Affairs Forum in October. Those traits include the ability to identify untapped opportunities, manage speed and complexity in a fast-changing world, and fail wisely.

Fostering entrepreneurship is a key topic for Atlanta Fed economists, who, among other things, study the role of young and small businesses in job creation and local economic development. Indeed, young, rapidly growing firms play an important role in the U.S. economy, accounting for a significant share of new jobs. Wilkinson detailed a few steps U.S. policymakers could follow to foster entrepreneurship, including expansions to the H-1B program. Immigrants and first-generation Americans are responsible for a large share of Fortune 500 companies and Silicon Valley start-ups, but the number of immigrant founders has declined in recent years, she explained.

Wilkinson also identified several demographic groups where entrepreneurship could potentially flourish. Baby boomers are the fastest-growing demographic group for first-time entrepreneurs, followed by the Generation Y cohort. Women—who make up more than half of the labor force, earn half of graduate degrees, and represent 70 percent of valedictorians—also show promise. "We can look for ways to help women access capital. We can also look for ways for women to access networks of other people that will help them build products," she said.