Astia client, Jenny Zeszut, Founder & CEO of Scout Labs and I had the good fortune to be invited to the launch of the Startup America Initiative at the White House on Monday, January 31st. The Startup America Partnership is the private sector counterpart to the Obama administration’s effort to spark high-growth firms in the U.S.
The room was filled with contagious energy as host Aneesh Chopra, Chief Technology Officer and Assistant to the President and Associate Director for Technology within the Office of Science & Technology Policy made opening remarks. His comments were followed by Zoe Damacela, entrepreneur since the young age of 14! Opening comments were followed by a panel of both public and private sector luminaries; Gary Locke, Secretary of the Department of Commerce; Dr. Steven Chu, Secretary of the Department of Energy; Karen Mills, Administrator of the Small Business Administration; Gene Sperling, Director of the National Economic Council; Austan Goolsbee, Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers; Steve Case, Founder AOL and Chairman of the Case Foundation, Carl Schramm, President of the Kauffman Foundation, and Brad Feld of the Foundry Group and Tech Stars.
What was particularly inspiring was the collaboration and commitment on multiple levels from those involved. The Startup America partnership marshals and highlights commitments from private sector institutions that want to spur entrepreneurship in the U.S. From Kauffman and Case Foundations to Intel and IBM to Tech Stars and Astia.
It is critical to note that Astia's participation was made possible through the generous support of AOL, AOL Ventures, The Althea Foundation, Fenwick & West, Moss Adams LLC, and Silicon Valley Bank - who together signed up to match funding received from the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation.
These sponsors enabled Astia to commit to serving twice the number of entrepreneurs in North America. (If you are interested in seeing our numbers continue to increase, there is still time to join the sponsor roll and create real and measurable impact for high-growth start-ups.)
In the audience, I was surrounded by entrepreneurs filled with inspiring stories of hardship and success. It was inspiring to be in a room full of the ideas that will lead to future Fortune 500 companies. Entrepreneurs ranged from 19 year old Zoe Damacela, a fashion entrepreneur since age 14, to Astia’s own Jennifer Zeszut, Founder and CEO of software company Scout Labs (sold to Lithium in 2010), which uses technology to determine brand perceptions across the web. Jennifer was one of a small collection of entrepreneurs who were invited to share their stories. Many of you will recall that we honored Jenny at the 6th Annual Astia Awards in December with the Technology Innovator Award. She continues to inspire us with the words she shared this week at the White House:
"Entrepreneurs are a different kind of breed… so, What makes us go?... Think of us as sled dogs… we are born to run and chase new ideas. We don’t wait for people to create jobs for us, we are job creators… And more importantly than just the number of jobs that we create, it is the kind of jobs we create, the kind of work that we do…[it is] passionate work. We love what we do…the work we do is also really productive work. If you want to increase the productivity of America, you should come and walk the halls of any one of our companies… So we are entrepreneurs. Fund us. Support us. Connect us. And let us run, we will help pull America forward."
Our task now is to do just that.
Astia stands committed and ready. We see this initiative to support high-growth entrepreneurs as validation that what Astia has been doing for 13 years is not just important work, it is the proven pathway to jobs, innovation and the economic recovery we all seek.
Stay tuned for more.
And for those of you who don’t know Jenny’s story, keep reading...
I was a first-time CEO when someone recommended I join Astia. I wasn’t even sure why I would need Astia at the time. I was just about to complete the Scout Labs application and things were going excellently - I was well-funded, had a strong team, etc. When I was selected to be part of Astia and went through the equivalent of CEO Bootcamp – I received business coaches, mentors, speaking coaches, pitch help, VC access and so much more. It was an amazing growth experience. But I didn’t realize just how valuable the Astia network was until Scout Labs, like so many startups do, hit tough times. Our committed funding fell through at the last minute (credit-crunch days of summer 2009) and I was not able to pay my own team. (Miraculously, they all kept working). Externally, Scout Labs continued to grow by leaps and bounds, but it was an incredibly stressful time. Just when I needed it most, the Astia support network, like shoulders, rose up from beneath me to lift me back up. I received encouragement, emotional support, constant phone calls and TONS of VC introductions right when we needed it most. We did secure funding (in the nick of time!) and Scout Labs was acquired – a good exit for all – six months later, in May of 2010. My Astia coaches were by my side through good times and bad will be life-long mentors and friends."