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Remarks at National Advisory Council on Innovation and Entrepreneurship Forum, Chapel Hill, North Carolina

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AS PREPARED FOR DELIVERY
Tuesday, March 15, 2011
CONTACT OFFICE OF PUBLIC AFFAIRS
202-482-4883

Commerce Secretary Gary Locke
Remarks at National Advisory Council on Innovation and Entrepreneurship Forum, Chapel Hill, North Carolina

Press Release

Thank you for that introduction and thank you all for being here today. 

The thinkers and business people assembled here have been working very hard to strengthen America’s capacity to innovate and to foster entrepreneurship.

Yours is a vitally important task because innovation and entrepreneurship fuel America’s economy.  It’s what enables our businesses to:

  • Grow;
  • Create new products and services; and
  • Generate good jobs.

And that is the foremost priority of the Obama administration and the Commerce Department.

The Commerce Department announced the creation of the National Advisory Council on Innovation and Entrepreneurship, or NACIE, in late 2009.  And in 2010, we welcomed this esteemed group as its founding members.

We launched this advisory panel because we knew that our public policies and our regulations needed to more effectively incentivize innovation and entrepreneurship. 

And we knew a key part of this effort would involve explaining the urgency of our effort to the American public.

As we’ve just discussed, in our first year as a committee, we are making important strides. 

Our current focus – improving the commercialization of university research; improving access to capital; and celebrating entrepreneurship —are projects that are very important to the Administration.  These are areas where NACIE now provides, and will continue to provide, critical advice and counsel.

It is great to see the progress that Mary Sue Coleman and the Collaboration Subcommittee have made since our last NACIE meeting. 

University leaders, our team at the Commerce Department and other stakeholders have been working very hard to ensure that more of the ideas generated in our university labs make it to the marketplace in the form of new industries, new businesses and new jobs. 

Now, I get the sense the universities are saying “we’ve heard you and we are ready to respond.” 

The letter that the Collaboration Subcommittee presented today to the full committee incorporates a wide range of stakeholder input.

Once the letter is signed by a large cross-section of university leaders, we will have made a big step forward -- in the way that universities prioritize their commercialization efforts both internally and externally through partnerships. 

The next step for NACIE -- after blessing the letter -- is to start a signature drive to get as many university leaders and other stakeholders as we can to embrace the letter’s objectives and push for results.  We need universities from around the nation to:

  • Upgrade their programmatic efforts to teach entrepreneurs;
  • Enable innovation by faculty;
  • Accelerate technology transfer to the private sector; and
  • Foster regional economic development.

Of course, while we're justifiably focused on research commercialization, it’s just as important that we have talented students and scientists who can churn out that quality research in the first place.

That’s why improving the quality of American primary and secondary education, and increasing access to higher education is such a central priority of President Obama.

Our education investments are supporting reform at the state and local level using the successful model developed with Race to the Top.

We are incentivizing a flexible and focused accountability system that promotes:

  • Shared responsibility;
  • College and career readiness, and
  • A focus on measurable achievement.

And we’re providing more resources to the nation's persistently low-performing schools, to help work towards the ultimate goal of a great teacher in every classroom, and a great principal in every school.

With the United States lagging behind international competitors in science, reading, and math, the need for swift reform has never been greater. 

As we undertake these reforms, we’re also ensuring students have the resources to go on to a college education.  That’s why even in this tough fiscal environment, the president still strongly supports Pell Grants and other key forms of financial aid.

I want to commend Mary Sue and her team for their work to push for curricula that will better prepare college students for the real world.  The pledge in your letter to “develop new cross-college, cross-disciplinary programs that connect business with science, math, technology and engineering fields” is exactly what we need.

I hope that in your small group session this afternoon, Mary Sue, your subcommittee can pay particular attention to the challenge of getting more universities to sign on to these commitments.

Desh, I also want to thank you and your teammates for your efforts to define the steps government and other leaders can take to sustain innovators’ and entrepreneurs’ access to capital.

It is a long, difficult road to transition from pure start-up mode where you’ve got maybe 10 dedicated innovators, into a stable business supporting, say, 1,000 jobs.

Sustainable access to capital is essential to this type of economic development and job creation. 

We need to encourage risk, but it’s got to be the right kind of risk – not the kind of reckless speculation we saw in the past decade.  Your Subcommittee is right in this zone. 

On the plane ride down this morning, I had the chance to go through the draft outline of the subcommittee’s report.  Both in reading that document and in hearing your presentation just now, I have to say just how heartened I am by the ideas the subcommittee has come up with. 

From my conversations with NACIE’s Tom Alberg – a venture capitalist from my home state – I know how significant angel investing has become to early stage growth, and how the tax code might have to be adjusted to recognize angels’ expanded role in the economy. 

We also need to look closely at policies that might induce venture capitalists to invest in funds that target under-served regions.  I realize that this is a challenging area, so I appreciate the creative thinking taking place in the subcommittee. 

At the risk of stating the obvious, it is very important that the subcommittee not just finalize its report, but that it also make clear how it ranks its recommended priorities. 

And in setting priorities, I would like to see a final report that focuses on achievable, actionable goals – including ideas on who should provide leadership in pursuing those goals. 

When you are close to completing construction on a house, you always have a punch-list of what needs to get done and who is going to do it.  I would like to see the Access-to-Capital Subcommittee go from generating ideas to formulating that punch-list.

Finally, turning to the work of Steve Case and the Celebration Subcommittee, it’s hard to know where to start, because we’ve had so much positive momentum. 

Both with the efforts of the Subcommittee members – and many others around the country – we obviously have been very engaged in celebrating the role of innovators and entrepreneurs. 

Just look at all the interest this event has generated here in Chapel Hill.

In his State-of-the-Union address, the president talked about how “winning the future,” would require America to “out-innovate, out-educate and out-build the rest of the world.”  

And those priorities are reflected in the President’s 2012 budget.  While the budget overall calls for steep domestic discretionary spending cuts, it also ensures that we aren’t shortchanging investment in things like education, R&D and infrastructure that are so essential to the success of our innovators and entrepreneurs.

It’s important for the American public to understand what it takes to support entrepreneurship. 

That’s why the White House launched Start Up America.

Within the Start Up America framework, both private sector entities – like Steve Case’s foundation -- and government agencies – like the Department of Commerce and the Small Business Administration – have announced projects aimed at empowering entrepreneurs.  

Just last Thursday, for instance, the Commerce Department launched the i6 Green Challenge, following the success of our inaugural i6 Challenge last year.

This year, we and our partner agencies will award more than $12 million in competitive grants to innovators and entrepreneurs to accelerate commercialization of green technologies across the country. 

In the coming year, the Start Up America initiative will continue to serve its marketing function – promoting innovation and entrepreneurship around the country. 

Congress has also added its support to our effort by recently reauthorizing the America COMPETES Act, which essentially codified NACIE’s role. 

Under this new law, the Department of Commerce is tasked with convening a national advisory council – that is you – to help the U.S. government reshape the legal and policy landscape in order to promote innovation and entrepreneurship. 

And I am happy to see that all of you have reaffirmed the importance of NACIE’s work. 

In the year ahead, President Obama will be focused intently on creating policies that improve America’s economic competitiveness.

NACIE can and must have a major voice in shaping those policies, and in ensuring that the needs of entrepreneurs remain front and center when we’re discussing issues ranging from tax to regulatory policy. 

NACIE’s input will continue to be critical:

  • To the Commerce Department,
  • To the president’s newly formed Council on Jobs and Competitiveness;
  • And to the president himself.

So I urge you to keep up the good work and to maintain your focus.  What you're doing is important. 

I want to close by thanking you all once again for your time and effort. 

For much of the last year, NACIE’s members have been reaching out – in forums and one-on-one conversations – to gather the best ideas for spurring innovation and entrepreneurship.

And we’re going to continue that in the next hour

While we are here in the heart of the Research Triangle, we want to capitalize on your interest and experience. 

And all of us up here welcome your questions and comments. 

NACIE members represent an accomplished cross section of stakeholders. Please take this opportunity to ask them about their personal experiences, the perspective they bring to their work assisting me and the Administration, and their views on how to create jobs and economic growth. 

So, let me turn back the microphone to Chancellor Thorp so we can keep the momentum going.

Thank you.