Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation: Friend-Raising for Idaho?

Since the Idaho Innovation Council & others have had some discussion about their ideas and/or have seen their sizable presence on economic policy issues, it dawned on me that some readers might want a brief overview of the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, the world's #1 champion for more entrepreneurial economies. (And since at the end of the month I'm headed to KC to see my friends** there, it seems timely.)

The Foundation is (unsurprisingly) the legacy of Ewing Marion Kauffman, founder of Marion Merrell Dow & a champion of entrepreneurship & of opportunities for youth. WOTS is that the endowment is ~$5 billion and its mission is to vigorously support Mr. Kauffman's passions. They are by far the #1 funder of entrepreneurship programming in the world & the #1 funder of research into what's needed to grow entrepreneurs.

They helped more than a dozen campuses to raise $20 million or more for major university entrepreneurship programs, usually crosscampus. (They've also helped developed multi-school programs as well.) Note that a $20 million endowment yields ~$1 million annually - imagine what that can do! While some of these programs fell victim to university politics, others have continued to prosper amazingly.

If you go to their website (www.kauffman.org) you'll see a wide array of policy papers as well as examples of the innovative programs they have supported. However, they are increasingly a provider of resources, online and otherwise, for entrepreneurs -whether in developing countries or in high-tech. (Example: The newly revamped FastTrac program is the best introductory entrepreneurship training program available & is now rolling out online. Interestingly, they are rolling it out as a social venture that will be technically self-sustaining.) So, yes, they have the capability to fund programs but their expertise (and connections!) might be even more valuable.

It is imperative to recognize that they have the ear of NSF, SBA, EDA & the President's innovation commission. All these entities are talking to each other & supporting the same ideas, so Kauffman is well worth listening to. And well worth earning back their friendship.

Kauffman is the key player behind the enormous Global Entrepreneurship Week effort (www.unleashingideas.org) - last year, >2 million people in >100 countries participated (largely young people). GEW has some featured events that include the insanely fast-growing Startup Weekend (www.StartupWeekend.org). Because of Idaho, SW got connected to Kauffman & GEW. We can build on that.

My question to the readers is:
What message should I take to them from Idaho? They've had some very bad experiences with Idaho in the past but they are nonetheless willing to listen. Like NSF & EDA & SBA, they know a lot more about Idaho than we realize - in someways they may know us better than we do ourselves. They see our hurdles. They see our immense potential.

I would love to deliver multiple letters from groups like the Idaho Innovation Council. Simply offering our friendship & asking their advice would be a nice start. They are a great believer in Jim Collins's maxim about getting the right people on the bus (and the wrong people off the bus) so if we can show that we 'get it' too, we can move forward.

Example: A proposal from North Carolina's Innovation Council to ramp up collaboration & communication between all the state Innovation Councils. (They have invited Idaho to help with this - but that's a topic for a separate post.)

So... what would you like me to pass along?

** in spirit of full disclosure, my TEAMS program was partly funded under the Kauffman Collegiate Entrepreneurship Network. They still remember how well Idaho students distinguished themselves. also, I regularly co-present with Kauffman staff and other experts that they support.