Accelerating Accelerators

Screen Shot 2014-08-26 at 11.23.04 AMI spent the day on Thursday last week in a small classroom on the Georgetown campus reviewing finalists in the SBA’s Accelerator Competition. Announced a few months ago, the Accelerator Competition is a program of the Small Business Administration through which they are awarding $50k to each of 50 accelerators across the country to promote entrepreneurship (that’s $2.5M in total for those of you w/o a calculator handy). For a government program it has surprisingly few strings attached – it’s really an experiment by the SBA to see if they can facilitate entrepreneurship across the country through providing assistance to the various programs that support entrepreneurs around the country. Of several hundred applicants the group last week reviewed the top 99 to come up with the final 50 who will be awarded the prize.

I’ve written before about what I’ve been calling the Democratization of Entrepreneurship and why I think it’s so important to think broadly about entrepreneurship.  What really struck me about the applicants we reviewed was exactly this. Entrepreneurship is alive and well in the US and it’s thriving in places well outside of what those of us in the tech world think of as the traditional pockets of entrepreneurship. The finalists for this program included accelerators from towns as small as 1,000, many run by (and sometimes focused on serving) women or minorities, from ares of the country looking to reinvent themselves and join the new economy, to accelerators that were leveraging historical manufacturing capabilities into the new economy. It was an impressive collection of people and stories, all with a common passion for helping entrepreneurs.

I left the day feeling as optimistic as ever about the role entrepreneurship plays in our economy and excited about how strong the entrepreneurial ecosystem is across our country. I was also impressed by the passion that the team from the SBA has for supporting small business (not to mention the pretty amazing group of people they put together to review the applications). I get that it’s their charter, but this goes beyond that. This program isn’t universally loved within the government and I applaud the team I worked with at the SBA for making it happen.

Update: Here’s the link to the SBA announcement of the winners of the competition.