by Monika Mitchell
Last fall, I attended a start-up pitch clinic in a Soho loft presented by the New York Venture Capital Association and hosted by NYSE Euronext. Among the speakers were NYSE Euronext CEO Duncan Neiderauer and Steven Case, founder and former CEO of AOL. Both Niederauer and Case spoke of the innovation and importance of America’s entrepreneurial spirit in rebuilding the economy. The NYSE CEO told the largely GenX and GenY crowd that the two century-old New York Stock Exchange was no longer “your parents’ stock exchange.” Evident everywhere during the event was that an entrepreneurial revolution was taking place in America. New York City was at the center of the action.
Steven Case discussed his venture capital firm, “Revolution” – a funding platform for start-ups and his newest initiative “Start-Up America Partnership,” an innovative service organization supporting pre-launch, early stage and growth companies from start-up to scale. He explained that his firm looks for start-ups, “with a big change the world idea.” “Think big,” the world-class entrepreneur told his capital-hungry audience. Case and his VC group look for entrepreneurs with a “passion for the idea, confidence in the future, humility and the ability to be a good listener.”
Duncan Niederauer detailed how NYSE Euronext was the largest “B2B marketplace in the world.” Yet, the company is keen to “build a platform that supports SME’s” (small to medium sized enterprises). He encouraged entrepreneurs growing their businesses to maintain their conviction that they have “the right idea.” He added, “Don’t be distracted (from your vision); every meeting is a learning opportunity.” The NYSE CEO told the attentive early stage entrepreneurs, “You would be surprised by our level of interest.”
This past March, Niederauer and Case backed their enthusiasm for small business and launched a national initiative to support America’s entrepreneurs: The NYSE Big Start-Up. Niederauer explained that, “Job creation is critically important and a shared responsibility.” The focus of the Big Start-Up is on the small business community. Why is a global corporation the size of NYSE Euronext with customers in over sixty nations interested in supporting American small businesses? As Niederauer explains, “These are Main Street American businesses. These are our neighbors, and frankly these are the backbone of our economy. Therefore, they are our future; they are our tomorrow.”
Niederauer pointed out that, “Ninety-nine percent (99%) of businesses in America are what we would call small businesses.” (Small businesses are generally defined as fewer than 500 employees.) He continued: “We believe it is our responsibility and that of the corporate community to do what it can to energize and mobilize these small businesses that desperately need the opportunity to grow and succeed and then create jobs in the economy.”
Case further explains that, “Every big business starts small.” He revealed the purpose of the Start-Up America Partnership and its collaboration with NYSE Euronext on the Big Start-Up initiative is: “To get companies that used to be small, are now big, to give back and help the next generation of companies grow.” Case discussed the importance of government policy to support small business growth and job creation. Yet, he reminded larger companies that, “The private sector has to play a role in supporting entrepreneurs.”
These two visionary CEOs, Niederauer and Case, have galvanized a growing group of corporate and private organizations to stimulate job creation in America by supporting small business. Other partners include Accion, a 20 year-old microfinancing organization, focused on helping small businesses with financial guidance and access to capital. Gina Harman, Accion’s President claims that small business could eliminate unemployment in the U.S. by hiring more workers. She calls small business a “remarkable force” with “the ability to generate jobs in America.” The fourth partner in the BigS initiative is the Entrepreneurs Organization (EO), a twenty-five year old network for business owners. EO joined the program: “To provide a shot in the arm to America’s workforce.”
The fact that one of the nation’s oldest and most successful companies -the New York Stock Exchange (now a global corporate giant, NYSE Euronext) -would want to help American mom & pops, and small-b’s is simply inspiring. The recognition by this global conglomerate and by the hugely successful Steven Case of the importance of the SME community is a “shot in the arm” for Main Street economics.
In a conversation with Michelle Greene, the head of NYSE Euronext’s Corporate Responsibility division, Ms. Greene discussed the initiative as “a great example of corporate action to solve an important social problem (job creation).” “This takes corporate responsibility to a new dimension.” Ms. Greene emphasized that the newest phase for effective 21st century CSR was in “collaboration.” “Collectively, we can deliver great results,” said Greene. “We can harness our resources toward resolving a common concern.”
The Big Start-Up is an ongoing initiative with no “finite end.” NYSE Euronext states that the company is in it “for the long term.” It is heartening to witness the passion of the “America’s oldest start-up,” as NYSE Chief Operating Officer Larry Liebowitz called the organization, for the nation’s newest start-ups. The concern of senior management at NYSE, combined with entrepreneurial powerhouses Stephen Case and Scott Case, former CTO of Priceline (not related to Steve) as well as other corporate partners supporting the initiative reveals an exciting rebirth in shared responsibility.
The Big Start-Up officially claims big business as friend, not foe, of small business. Start-ups know that collaboration is the key in the 21st century to scaling your business. As we proceed through 2012, it is important to know that America’s largest corporations are also collaborating with small business. Wall Street has been blamed for many of Main Street’s woes since the financial crisis. This innovative initiative shifts that dynamic and allows Wall Street the opportunity to become a key player in helping Main Street get back on its feet.
Since its birth, one of the crucial elements that made America great is the entrepreneurial energy that is unmatched anywhere else in the world. That same entrepreneurial spirit created the post World War II economic boom. The missing ingredient from our collective action since the economic crisis has been the lack of “shared responsibility and collaboration” of our parents’ and grandparents’ generation. That generation worked hard toward a common goal and handed down a remarkably prosperous economy to all that came after.
The Big Start-Up collaborative initiative by NYSE Euronext, Start-Up Partnership, Accion, Entrepreneur’s Organization, Corporate and Small Business America holds the promise that our once proud and socially responsible nation can work together again to rebuild the American economy and finally put our nation back to work.
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