Washington Post

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A friend of mine asked me to share my opinion on where the current presidential candidates stand on entrepreneurship. It struck me that despite the 24/7 political coverage, there is surprisingly little information to be had on this topic.

True, there is some campaign talk on topics entrepreneurs should care about such as lower taxes, less regulation or immigration reform. There are plenty of red meat issues being provided by both sides of the political spectrum that are emotive and many of them are expressed through a prism of business and entrepreneurship. For example, references to “job-killing regulations,” or universal college education to create an educated work force are uttered often by politicians campaigning for a job in the White House.

Even though those issues definitely relate to an entrepreneur’s life — taking a stance on them is very different from creating policies that support and reward risk-taking, small business formation and entrepreneurship.

This matters because most job creation in…

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I interviewed more than 100 entrepreneurs over the last few months as part of research into how our region can stay ahead of the curve in tech and innovation in the decades ahead.

I started with a simple question — yet heard surprisingly divergent answers.

The lack of uniformity concerns me, now more than ever. After all, there are terrific opportunities for our region when it comes to the application and development of technology. We have proven that we can literally make billions of dollars in this sector. However, to truly succeed in reaching the highest goals, we must first have consensus on what we are building towards.

The variability of answers is instructive. One entrepreneur even quipped, “Why are we even talking about ‘D.C. Tech’? Technology is everywhere. Companies with chief technology officers baffle me. Isn’t that kind of like having a chief electricity officer? It’s meaningless.”

Most of the interview subjects agree that…

 

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ROME — “Déjà vu all over again” is a phrase attributed to Yogi Berra, the Yankee all-time great. He uttered it watching teammates Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris hit back-to-back home runs repeatedly.

The malapropism was strangely apt as I walked through this Italian capital during a short holiday last week. It is a beautiful city, and one that I recommend highly for a break. Surrounded by the ruins of a 2,500-year-old culture, it got me thinking about our society and our democratic system.

We have a tendency in the United States to see ourselves as unique and exceptional. Different and better than all who came before. Yet spend some time wandering through the ruins of the Roman Forum, or the catacombs below the Coliseum, and you will realize we are not all that unique.

Everywhere in Rome, there are echoes of a highly advanced society similar to our own. Gladiators were backed by entrepreneurs, who trained them to triumph in the Coliseum. Romans lived in apartment buildings, and ate out at restaurants…

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Few topics in the world of entrepreneurship are subject to such meaningless nonsense than the concept of failure. You’ll know what I mean if you have had to sit through a glib TED Talk glorifying failure, or listened to a start-up savant tell entrepreneurs to “fail fast.”

Failure is not something to be sought, nor is it something to be trivialized into some sort of mantra. Failure stinks. Makes you sad. Keeps you up at night. And, is always a possibility when you are an entrepreneur.

Being an entrepreneur is to know that feeling of arriving home at the end of a horrible business day and thinking to yourself, “I cannot feel any more beaten down than I am at this moment.” And then, after a good night’s sleep, returning to the office the next day and realizing that you were wrong the night before. It is…

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I am an entrepreneur, constantly working to advance my businesses and consistently supporting those seeking to grow theirs. In this current election cycle, political commentators describe with growing dismay the anger of the American electorate, and I am left wondering whether the pundits truly understand what is at the root of that anger.

Many blame issues of social values, race relations or income distribution. I‘ve got a different explanation.

For most of our history, political scientists have noted the importance of entrepreneurial opportunity to U.S. democracy, for an individual to positively affect his or her life through hard work. And the aspiration of self-determination through the sweat of one’s own brow sits at the heart of …

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Living in the greater Washington region means you are probably not the smartest person at that cocktail party. That’s a plus. Yet being close to the federal government is often seen as an impediment to entrepreneurial activity.

The truth is, this region is intensely entrepreneurial; many are surprised to hear that over the past several years, more new businesses are formed here than in both Silicon Valley and Boston.

Entrepreneurs here know how to build an emerging industry within government regulations. We here acknowledge that in a highly complex post-industrial society, rules will always exist and government will likely set them. Some suggest that entrepreneurs should ignore rules and regulation and “disrupt” them. The point is more nuanced, though, because even when a business seeks to disrupt existing practices, it needs to understand the regulatory environment it is entering. Uber may be disrupting the taxi industry by not working within existing regulations, but it is fully aware of them. It defines its business model and practices by offering more than its regulated competitors.

An entrepreneur who ignores existing regulations fails to understand the competitive environment within which he or she operates. It’s what sets our region’s entrepreneurial successes apart: the differentiator is that many founders here actually played an active role in shaping rules and thinking ahead of them. It’s about both proximity and insight — insight that comes from…

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I have provided capital for many start-up businesses, and raised money for a few of my own. I am often asked for advice on how or whether an entrepreneur should seek venture capital. My initial advice is simple: Don’t.

Entrepreneurs usually start businesses because they need autonomy and independence; they cannot work for someone else. As my granddad used to tell me, “no one gives you money for nothing.” That is certainly true for investors. They give entrepreneurs cash because they want to make more cash. They expect to be listened to, or at least have their financial interests regarded as the entrepreneur uses their capital to grow his or her business. Boom. Just like that — by taking outside capital — the entrepreneur sacrifices autonomy.

That’s not all. By taking outside capital, the…

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Yesterday’s technological breakthroughs are — quite literally — now sitting in the palm of your hand.

The semiconductor, GPS, Internet protocol — and even that annoying know-it-all Siri — are all in your smart phone, and they were all invented by scientists financed by national security research spending.

The indisputable link between national security spending and development of new industries can be seen in railroads, highways, aviation, telecommunications, and computer software and hardware.

Next year, the federal government plans to spend more than $140 billion on…

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We are living Groundhog Day in the capital region.

The greater Washington region is poised for growth if we learn from the past. Sometimes you need to keep having the same conversation repeatedly to be able to define differences and opportunities.

I have been at a few discussions recently about regional economic growth — and some passionate business people admitted that sharing their ideas felt a little like the Bill Murray movie “Groundhog Day.” They have said to me, “What’s different now?”

You might remember that Murray’s character keeps repeating the same day over and over. What you might not remember is that…

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Trying to make sense of current financial markets is next to impossible when you consider that complex software is a crucial part of the equation.

Since 2008, world financial markets have become more and more driven by short-term considerations. Markets used to reflect educated human sentiment about economic and business opportunities, but not anymore. Trading technology plus the compensation model for financial asset managers make reading the markets very difficult.

Software that autonomously prices and executes trades across world markets is pervasive and is still expanding. In fact, observers suggest that a majority of trading in markets such as foreign exchanges, commodities and equities is now undertaken by software, and the percentages are increasing.

The trades are not made by humans looking to purchase that commodity but rather by…

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