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Triangle business leaders discuss entrepreneurship with Obama's jobs council

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For those wondering where the Triangle's leading entrepreneurs went this morning, they were all in Durham meeting with Obama Administration officials and some of corporate America's biggest names.

The occasion was a convening of Obama's Council on Jobs and Competitiveness, which includes former AOL CEO Steve Case, Citigroup Chairman Dick Parsons, and Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg.

It was one of five similar economic meetings held across the Triangle this morning in advance of Obama's appearance today at the Durham headquarters of LED-maker Cree.

The group that met at Durham's American Tobacco Campus was focused on entrepreneurship. After a tour of American Underground, the the ATC space designed to foster start-ups, the council members joined Triangle business leaders at the headquarters of advertising agency McKinney.

The goal, as stated by Austan Goolsbee, chair of Obama's Council of Economic Advisors, was to talk about things that both the government and the private sector can do to make life easier for entrepreneurs.

The issues raised this morning will be familiar ones to anyone who has followed similar discussions in the past: Access to capital, particularly early seed money; the transfer of promising technology from the labs and classrooms of the area's universities to the private sector; the existence of a mentoring network to help entrepreneurs grow; and access to talented employees.

Bill Brown, a co-founder of Palmer Labs and 8 Rivers Capital and a Duke Law professor, said too often academic work focuses on a problem without evaluating the relevancy of the problem to the wider population.

Understanding the market, and whether a proposed solution is a cheaper and better alternative to what currently exists, needs to be done early on.

The government, Brown said, needs to make sure it is backing technologies that work and also address a large market.

Too often, he said, the government is interested in spending the money it has at its disposal quickly.

Madhu Beriwal, CEO of IEM, a global risk management firm, said she moved her company from Louisiana to the Triangle because of the collaboration between area universities and the private sector here.

She said the government needs to do a better job of presenting promising work that it is developing to the private sector.

"Forgive me for saying this, but we need a Facebook way of doing this," she said, noting that it can be time-consuming to meet with the relevant groups working on the projects.

Beriwal also said it's important to instill entrepreneurial attitudes in students in high school, and to make sure they have mentors from the business community who can help them to understand how important furthering their education will be to their future earning potential.

Steve Lerner, a managing partner with the venture capital firm Blue Hill Group, told the council that in the Triangle there's a mismatch between the opportunities that exist and the access to capital.

He said it can be difficult for Triangle startups to raise initial seed money because the venture capital network here isn't as extensive at it is in Silicon Valley and many firms shy away from making early investments, which take longer to pay off.

The comments didn't all focus on what government is doing wrong or could be doing better.

Victor Lytvinenko, who founded Raleigh Denim with his wife Sarah, said they got their initial capital through a $10,000 loan from the Small Business Administration.

Lytvinenko said he still talks once a month to SBA officials.

When he recently sent out feelers about raising additional capital to expand the retail business, Lytvinenko was quickly connected with five people willing to invest.

"In our case it's working — what the government is doing and what the private sector is doing," he said.


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Discussing entrepreneurship or looking for a handout?

We go through this same song and dance every election cycle. The politicians hold these "forums" to give the impression that they are busy creating jobs. But these "forums" are not about jobs; they are about politics. The politicians want campaign contributions, and the big companies (the same ones exporting jobs to China) want taxpayer funding and regulation to protect their sector of the industry.


Entrepreneurship is about creating new companies from new ideas. None of the companies attending the "forum" are interested in doing that. They are interested in protecting and/or expanding their market share by means of restrictive government regulation on their competitors. None of them are interested in creating jobs HERE. In the case of Cree, most of whose employees live in China, they want federal regulation similar to that of California which will restrict and eventually ban the traditional incandescent light bulb. That way you have to buy their product. The other big companies attending are up to similar dirty tricks.


If any of the big companies in attendence care to deny my assertions, then feel free to prove me wrong by moving your Chinese operations back to the United States. Put up or shut up.

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About the blogger

Business reporter David Bracken came to the N&O in 2004. He covers commercial and residential real estate. Contact David at 919-829-4548 or e-mail him.