On the Q&A platform Quora today, Chief Technology Officer Todd Park answered a question about President Obama’s efforts to fuel innovation and entrepreneurship. Read Todd's response below, or join the conversation on Quora.
Quora question: What efforts has President Obama made while in office to encourage entrepreneurship and innovation? I'm looking for specific examples of things the Administration has done to foster innovation in the US.
President Obama’s efforts to fuel innovation and entrepreneurship are wide-ranging and unprecedented. As Chief Technology Officer of the United States (a position created for the first time by President Obama), I see these efforts first-hand throughout the Administration—and as an entrepreneur who cofounded a company at age 24 and took it public ten years later, I have a special appreciation for how startups and innovation create jobs and prosperity across the country.
Let’s focus on three areas where the President’s leadership is making a huge impact: promoting high-growth entrepreneurship, helping accelerate technology breakthroughs, and investing in the “building blocks” of innovation. This is by no means a comprehensive list of every Administration effort to foster innovation across the United States, but every example below is specific, impactful, and well underway.
Promoting high-growth entrepreneurship
Unlocking capital: This spring President Obama signed the Jumpstart Our Business Startups (JOBS) Act, a bipartisan bill that allows startups to raise capital from investors more efficiently, among other initiatives, by allowing small-dollar crowdfunding investments, expanding mini-public offerings, and creating an “IPO on-ramp” consistent with investor protections. This is on top of an Administration commitment of $2 billion to match private investment in high-growth companies over the next five years through vehicles such as Impact Investment Funds and Early Stage Innovation Funds. The Small Business Investment Company program just had a record year in 2011 of helping over 1,000 businesses get $2.6 billion in capital.
Nurturing entrepreneurial talent: President Obama has taken executive action to make it much easier for graduates to manage student loan debt and pursue an entrepreneurial path. The Administration has launched new mentorship and training opportunities for thousands of entrepreneurs starting new high-growth companies—including military veterans, undergraduate engineers, and clean energy entrepreneurs and students—and is engaged in sustained efforts to attract and retain immigrant entrepreneurs who create jobs here in the US.
Speeding up “lab to market” research: The President has directed all federal research agencies to help accelerate innovation by speeding up grants to startups. The National Science Foundation launched an Innovation Corps to get teams of scientists out of the lab and starting new companies. Over twenty federal agencies have cooperated to fund regional entrepreneurial ecosystems, and are dramatically streamlining patent licenses for entrepreneurs in clean energy and biotech.
Liberating data to fuel innovation: The Administration has launched a series of Open Data Initiatives—in health, public safety, education, and energy—to stimulate entrepreneurial innovation using newly unleashed data from government and other sources. As a model, decades ago, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration began making weather data available for free electronic download by anyone. Entrepreneurs utilized these data to create weather newscasts, websites, mobile applications, insurance, and much more. Today, entrepreneurs are using freely available government data and building apps and services that help Americans in an expanding number of ways – e.g., apps and services that help people find the right health care provider for their family, identify the college that provides the best value for their money, save money on electricity bills through smarter shopping, keep their families safe by knowing which products have been recalled, and much, much more.
The Startup America Partnership: In response to the President’s call to action to support American entrepreneurs, the nonprofit Startup America Partnership has mobilized well over $1 billion in private-sector commitments to help support startups and has launched entrepreneur-led coalitions in Startup Regions across the country.
Helping accelerate technology breakthroughs
Biotechnology: The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has launched a new National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (NCATS) to speed up the development of new diagnostics, treatments, and cures by building new bridges between the lab and clinic.
Nanotechnology: The National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI) is investing in areas such as nano-electronics, to foster a revolution in computing comparable to the transition from the vacuum tube to the transistor.
Advanced manufacturing: President Obama launched the Advanced Manufacturing Partnership (AMP), a national effort that brings together industry, universities, and the federal government to invest in the emerging technologies that create high-quality manufacturing jobs and enhance our global competitiveness (read the AMP Steering Committee report). As a first step in building a National Network for Manufacturing Innovation, the Administration is funding a pilot institute for additive manufacturing (3-D printing). The President has also launched a National Robotics Initiative and a Materials Genome Initiative to help accelerate manufacturing innovation.
Space exploration: Guided by the President’s National Space Policy, NASA, the Department of Defense, and other agencies are advancing U.S. capabilities and expanding American industry’s role in developing next-generation applications—including the historic docking of the SpaceX Dragon spacecraft with the International Space Station.
Health care technology: Building on the Recovery Act and the Affordable Care Act, the Administration is continuously engaged in major efforts to promote health information technology adoption, reform payment incentives to reward value instead of volume, and liberate health information for the benefit of patients while protecting privacy.
Educational technologies: To advance technologies that will transform teaching and learning, the President launched the Digital Promise partnership and championed a new Advanced Research Projects Agency for Education (ARPA-ED).
Clean energy: The Administration is working to accelerate game-changing energy breakthroughs by funding the Advanced Research Projects Agency – Energy (ARPA-E) and d Energy Innovation Hubs, while pursuing 21st century grand challenges like SunShot (making solar energy cost-competitive with fossil fuels) and EV Everywhere (making electric vehicles as affordable and convenient to own and drive as today’s gasoline-powered vehicles).
Investing in “building blocks” of innovation
Research and development: The market innovations that drive economic progress so often depend on breakthroughs in fundamental science. President Obama has implemented the largest increase in federally funded research and development (R&D) in history, and is making continuous investments to fuel “Big Data” research and double funding for key basic research agencies.
Education: The President has led the charge to provide every K-12 student in America with a world-class education, including the historic Race to the Top investments to drive comprehensive reform at the state and district levels. The Investing in Innovation (I3) fund supports school districts and nonprofit partners to develop, validate, and implement innovative evidence-based practices that accelerate student learning and achievement. And the President has doubled down on education in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) by launching a STEM Master Teacher Corps along with public/private investments to scale up high-quality STEM programs, prepare 100,000 STEM teachers over the next decade, and graduate 10,000 more engineers every year.
Internet: The President signed legislation to invest $7 billion in broadband infrastructure, computers, and training for consumers and businesses nationwide, and has moved to dramatically expand high-speed wireless service for consumers and first responders through both direct executive action and legislation. Through the US Ignite partnership, the Administration has also laid the groundwork for next-generation ultra-fast broadband networks. And during the national debate over the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and related legislation, the Administration made clear that the important task of protecting intellectual property online must not threaten an open and innovative internet.
Smart grid: To build a 21st century electric system, the President led the charge to make over $4.5 billion in smart grid investments for electricity delivery and energy reliability modernization, along with new smart grid initiatives to empower consumers, improve the reliability of the electric grid, and spur innovation.
Patent system: President Obama signed the bipartisan America Invents Act after nearly a decade of efforts to reform the nation’s outdated patent laws. The new law is helping entrepreneurs and inventors avoid costly delays and unnecessary litigation so they can focus instead on innovation and growth.
Again, this list is not comprehensive—for more details, check out the White House Startup America Initiative and the President’s Strategy for American Innovation. And I have barely touched on all the ways that President Obama has fostered massive innovation within government, from unprecedented use of prizes and challenges to the new Presidential Innovation Fellows program that pairs top innovators from outside and inside government to implement cutting-edge solutions for the American people.
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