Startups Get Head Start from AOL

Steve Case, co-founder of American Online, has launched the Startup America Partnership, a startup itself designed to provide entrepreneurs with valuable tools for success at every stage of …

Steve Case, co-founder of American Online, has launched the Startup America Partnership, a startup itself designed to provide entrepreneurs with valuable tools for success at every stage of company growth. The business model is organized to funnel information to people who are in the idea phase, have a business, are seeing growth or are rapidly expanding. The Startup America Partnership looks at these four stages of entrepreneurship in terms of what people will need in the areas of expertise, support services, talent, customer growth and capital. For more on this continue reading the following article from The Street.

We hear plenty of talk about Americans being an entrepreneurial people, but when it comes to actively helping startups succeed, support can be hit or miss. There are public and private resources out there for those who seek help, but many people starting their own business remain isolated from others facing the same challenges.

A high-profile recent launch aims to change that. The Startup America Partnership officially kicked off this year at the White House, proof that it’s got some heavy hitters in its corner. A joint venture of the Case Foundation, started by America Online(AOL) co-founder Steve Case, and The Kauffman Foundation, the largest foundation dedicated to entrepreneurship, it hopes to kick-start fledging companies — and just possibly help rescue the U.S. economy.

The problem, says CEO Scott Case (no relation), founding CTO of Priceline(PCLN) and an experienced entrepreneur, is that Americans starting businesses tend to figure things out haphazardly. “One thing I was surprised at when I began this job was the startling lack of organized resources for entrepreneurs,” he says. “The average startup was finding out about them in a random way. You need luck to succeed in business, but you shouldn’t need a lot of luck to get access to tools that allow for better use of Google(GOOG) as an advertising platform or find a good accountant who has experience with startups.”

The U.S. economy depends on small businesses to thrive and grow, but according to Small Business Administration data, the vast majority of those businesses are sole proprietorships with no employees. To affect the economy, companies with potential for high growth need to be nurtured.

In a sense, Startup America is a large-scale experiment in project management, assessing and organizing people and resources from around the country in one easy-to-search place. “The goal is to raise the American entrepreneurial game to the next level,” Scott Case says.

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How does it work? While the details are still being ironed out, Startup America is basically a free membership program that allows you to access the tools relevant for your particular business’ size. Business owners sign up at the Startup America Partnership website according to what stage of development they’re in: Idea (“I have a great idea that could be a company”), Startup (“My idea is now a business!”), Ramp Up (“Holy cow, our company is growing”) and Speed Up (“Our revenue and staff are growing exponentially”).

The partnership’s founders looked at the ecosystem surrounding entrepreneurs and decided that resources would be organized into five categories:

How can a new company get dependable, knowledgeable information about its industry or proposed expansion plans? Networks of mentors, advisers and incubators will help entrepreneurs get direct access to expert advice.

Support services
People who start a business are usually big-picture risk-takers, but they don’t always know what it takes to run a smooth back-office operation. Referrals to experienced lawyers, accountants and other support staff can help take a company to the next level.

When a business is ready to expand, how do you find the right people to hire? A partnership with the job search engine is one way Startup America plans to match growing companies with job seekers who want to work in an entrepreneurial environment.

What are the best ways to draw customers? Resources include special deals from Google for online advertising, as well as access to marketing expertise.

By fostering ties between venture capitalists and new companies, Startup America can increase access to funding. A partnership with the National Venture Capital Foundation is already in place.

A number of well-known companies have signed up with Startup America as business partners. H-P(HP) and Intuit(INTU) will offer members discounted software and hardware; Cisco(CSCO) will provide free training through its Entrepreneur Institute; and Ernst & Young’s “Entrepreneur of the Year” award winners will be available as advisers and mentors. “These brands want to be part of a movement that increases America’s competitiveness,” Scott Case says.

Because many of the best resources for a business are local ones, the partnership is also setting up a network of state-based organizations. Startup Illinois was launched last week, with others to follow.

Supporting startups has big implications for the economy, but it also says something about who we are as a country. “We’re really celebrating entrepreneurship as a core American value,” Scott Case says. “If you think about it, every American city was started by an entrepreneur. How do we make being a founder, taking that risk, a heroic thing?”

This article was republished with permission from The Street.


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