Last year I was visiting the New York Stock Exchange when I came across a framed letter written by a telegrapher named Thomas Edison. Dated August 24th, 1882 and made out to the President of the Exchange, the three-sentence letter was Edison’s offer to speed up the process of communicating stock prices by introducing “a quotation instrument which shall furnish quotations much more rapidly than by the present system…I propose to do this with my own personal means.”
The ticker tape machine was purchased for $1 million in today’s dollars, launching Edison’s renowned career as an inventor and businessman.
That vision to see what others cannot see, and the willingness in the face of failure to try turning an idea into a business, embodies the entrepreneurial spirit of the United States. We emerged as the world’s most prosperous nation because pioneers crossed an ocean seeking a better life. Through hard work, imagination, and steady confidence, they built businesses, cities, and entirely new industries. Each chapter of the American story was written by entrepreneurs disrupting the status quo: from the agricultural revolution in the 18th century, to the industrial revolution in the 19th century, to the media and financial services revolution in the 20th century, to the information technology revolution in the 21st century. Iconic American businesses like U.S. Steel, FedEx, and Apple began not as publicly traded Fortune 500 companies, but as the dreams of Carnegie, Smith, and Jobs.
As founding CEO of the Startup America Partnership, I’ve had the opportunity to travel the country meeting the next generation of America’s entrepreneurs. Ben Milne of Dwolla is reinventing the financial services industry in Iowa, Alex Lasky of Opower is increasing energy efficiency in Virginia, Albert Santolo of Carecloud is transforming healthcare in Florida, and Brandi Tysinger-Temple of Lolly Wolly Doodle is revolutionizing retail in North Carolina. These men and women make critical contributions toward job creation and economic growth. Over the last three decades, startups created 40 million new jobs – all the net-new jobs produced in the U.S. during that period. Indeed, our powerful military, robust social-safety net, and public universities are supported by successful businesses that create wealth and grow the tax base.
That is why the announcement of a new initiative to establish a National Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation (NCEI) in Washington, D.C. is so critical. To maintain our lead as the strongest economy in the world, it is imperative that we celebrate yesterday’s entrepreneurs to help encourage tomorrow’s. There is no textbook for teaching ingenuity, but by establishing a Center, such as NCEI, dedicated to retelling the story of American entrepreneurship to tens of thousands of visitors each year in our nation’s capital, we can inspire a new wave of innovators.
To learn more about the National Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation (NCEI) and their vision visit www.ncei.us.
T. Scott Case is the Founding CEO of Startup America Partnership; Mr. Case is also Founding CTO of Priceline.com
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