The scene at the Clinton Global Initiative America meeting looked more like an episode of 'Shark Tank' than a high-profile meet-and-greet.
Standing before a group of heavy hitters, each participant pitched an idea in hopes of winning support for his or her brainchild.
But competitors shared the same goal: creating healthy ecosystems that foster the growth of start-ups. And instead of a panel of wealthy backers, the judges included a diverse mix of more than 40 investors, academics, entrepreneurs and policymakers.
The high-growth entrepreneurship working group was one of 12 convening for CGI America at the Sheraton Chicago Hotel and Towers with a goal of generating innovative ideas to fuel the U.S. economy. About 1,000 people in all attended the three-day conference in June.
The entrepreneurship working group spent the rest of its sessions debating which projects had the most potential. Startup America Partnership CEO Scott Case kicked off the event. The group heard from speakers including billionaire tech entrepreneur Mark Cuban, CyberSynchs's founder and CEO Amos Winbush III and Dell Inc. entrepreneur in residence Ingrid Vanderveldt.
"It was awesome, a high-impact, high-energy, hackathon kind of environment," says working group participant Mike Green, director of the ScaleUp Campaign, a nonprofit partnership to encourage local innovation based in Portland, Ore. "Since you were pitching multiple times, you had to have your game on."
In the end, about five ideas emerged to become the group's new marching orders. Among the most promising are:
- A push to create startup-friendly supply-chain programs to enable new businesses to tap into some of the resources readily available to large corporations. It could be modeled on New York Stock Exchange's Corporate Connections platform, which includes such partners as General Electric and Wal-Mart.
- A "meet one, take one" campaign that encourages industry leaders to bring a woman or a minority to a networking or other event to broaden and diversify the network opportunities and create more inclusive communities for entrepreneurs.
Working group participants are expected to continue to develop these projects -- and to create their own -- based on these shared goals. "Everyone at the session can now go back to his organization with a turn-key way to get new ideas out of great entrepreneurs," says Case.
Another notable announcement at CGI America for entrepreneurs was the unveiling of a $5 million, three-year commitment to an effort to foster dialogue about how to establish best practices for bottom-up business development. The commitment, from the ScaleUp Campaign, was made in partnership with northeast Ohio economic development organization Nortech. It will create a toolkit of best practices and a series of conferences in Charlotte, N.C., and Portland, Ore., and other cities in 2014.
Since the CGI America meeting, interest in the ScaleUp commitment has led to a new level of investment and interest from a broader group of stakeholders, including entrepreneurship and leadership organizations in Jackson, Miss., and Tacoma, Wash., according to Green.
"The branding and credibility of CGI creates a wellspring of interest and energy," Green says. "It shows that we don't need an act of Congress or a legislative decree. We just need folks willing to come together around a great concept."
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Sarah J. Robbins is a Brooklyn-based writer and editor and the co-author of Keeping Hope Alive: One Woman -- 90,000 Lives Changed (Grand Central, 2013).