The following editorial was published in Sunday’s Wausau Daily Herald:
It is no small thing to start a business. The hours are long. The risk is enormous; most new businesses fail. And if an enterprise you’ve started and poured yourself into does not take off, it can feel like a kind of personal rejection.
In fact, you could say it takes a kind of pioneer spirit to make a new business succeed — and to keep your entrepreneurial spirit alive if your first (or the second, or third) ideas don’t quite take off. But that spirit is something we ought to have here in Wisconsin, isn’t it? Our state last week turned 165; our frontier past really is not so distant.
But our state lags others when it comes to creating new businesses. A report this year by the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation put Wisconsin near the bottom of the nation for entrepreneurship.
That is a serious obstacle to job growth.
In a recent interview with the Daily Herald Media Editorial Board, Todd Berry, president of the Wisconsin Taxpayer Alliance, noted that in general, states with the most new firm creation also have the most job growth. These states also have the most firms that go out of business.
The lesson? “It’s good to try and fail,” Berry said.
There is a familiar litany of barriers to entrepreneurship in Wisconsin. Taxes are too high; regulations are too burdensome. Capital is hard to come by. The population is aging.
All of these things are real. And yet there’s a cultural component here, too. To too many people, the idea of starting a new business seems like something out of reach.
That’s despite local efforts like Wausau’s business incubator, the Entrepreneurial and Education Center, which provides resources and education for all sorts of would-be startups. And it’s despite efforts to talk up entrepreneurship by politicians and other officials.
Have you ever had a big idea — a daydream, even — about a business you could start? What stopped you from putting it into practice? What would it take to make it something you would seriously pursue?
If you did start a business, how did you do it? What helped encourage you? What do you know now that you wish you’d known then?
Obviously, entrepreneurship won’t be for everyone. The risk, the hours — those who succeed at starting a small business are those who have nothing short of a genuine passion.
But we need more people who will give it a try.
“Clearly we need to champion people who are starting out ... to stick out their neck and take risks,” Berry said.
No doubt there are specific policies that can help encourage that. But a big component of that is about culture. That’s something that can be a benefit to all of us.