Economic Growth: Start-Up America Policy Challenge

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Jonathan Koppell, director of ASU’s School of Public Affairs and the dean of ASU’s College of Public Programs, explains how the university is teaming up with the White House on a national initiative to accelerate entrepreneurship.

Ted Simons: Arizona State University is working with the White House on an economic growth initiative called the start-up America policy challenge. It's a national contest that looks to the creative ideas of entrepreneurs to help solve some of America's greatest challenges. Soon after the program was announced by the White House in December, ASU volunteered to lead an effort to mobilize Participants. Here now to talk about the initiative is Dr. Jonathan Koppell, director of ASU's School of Public Affairs and Dean of the College of Public Programs. Thanks for joining us.

Jonathan Koppell: Good to be here.

Ted Simons: Start up America policy challenge, what exactly are we talking about?

Jonathan Koppell: The basic idea is that folks in Washington don't have all the answers and there's a belief that if we could get some way to access the ideas that are out there, you know, in Americans' minds, this is an opportunity to make things work better. The start-up America challenge is basically a challenge to Americans to send their ideas in and in this particular challenge with a focus on unleashing the power of entrepreneurship, specifically in the areas of education, health care and energy.

Ted Simons: Sounds like clean energy digital technology, health care, are there parameters here or is there a hard or soft focus?

Jonathan Koppell: This is fairly hard in these three policy spheres for this challenge. The basic idea is that in some ways the government gets in the way of entrepreneurship, but doesn't exactly understand how it's getting in the way and so looking for the community of entrepreneurs to articulate the problems that they encounter. And then where we came into the equation is the White House said, we have these ideas. How about we translate them into policy? How do we operationallize these ideas? We said we could work with you to bring sharp minds in public policy schools and in the population generally and take these ideas and translate them into actual policy proposals.

Ted Simons: So the competition, you find the best solution to a particular public policy issue? Again, as long as it falls within that framework, anything goes?

Jonathan Koppell: That's right.

Ted Simons: Who is involved here? How do you recruit people? Are they teams, concerned citizens?

Jonathan Koppell: The answer is all of the above. The first phase was to generate good ideas. That's where we are now. The second phase is for a little bit deeper analysis. So you get -- we anticipate that a good number of participants will be teams of students from public policy schools and we have led a effort to get everyone involved from Berkeley to NYU, University of Maryland, to join this partnership to encourage their students to engage in this and in some sense take these ideas, develop them to policy plans. How would you do this? How would you make this happen? They will be judged and then the final phase is you take the best teams and they will go to Washington and sit down with the leaders of the relevant cabinet agencies and sit down and brain storm about how do we take this idea and make it realty.

Ted Simons: Who decides if these are the best ideas that should go to Washington for that next step?

Jonathan Koppell: We'll have a team of judges which will involve people from the policy making community, people from public policy schools, perhaps some from the general public who can evaluate these ideas.

Ted Simons: How do you find -- say I have an idea for a better mousetrap. Do I go ahead and come to you? Do you find someone who says I think that's an idea. Less look for him? Do I build a team of students, of fellow citizens, maybe try to find some amorphous way to get them all?

Jonathan Koppell: The first thing you need to do is throw your idea into the hopper. I would send people to the website, It's very easy to put your idea into the process. You don't have to be the one who develops the idea, develops the detailed policy plan. Other people can see your idea and then say, that's great idea. Let's elaborate or you can be your idea from the beginning and you develop it in that more detailed form. We expect they will be both permutations.

Ted Simons: Again, Lots of people are watching right now, they may have an idea.

Jonathan Koppell: I hope they do. It's part of a broader initiative, really, Ted, which is to figure out ways that people can be directly involved in the governing of their own country.

Ted Simons: What keeps people from being directly involved, especially when you have entrepreneurs, people with bright ideas? What are the roadblocks?

Jonathan Koppell: I think it feels impenetrable. Washington is a long way off and there are massive bureaucracies. If I said to you, you have a good idea, how would you make it realty, what would your answer be?

Ted Simons: I don't know how to get started.

Jonathan Koppell: You don't know how to get started, you might say, I don't know, I should talk to a Congressman or something. You look if the phone book, you see the Department of Education, it ends up in a bin somewhere. We don't have good mechanisms for people to be part of the process. This is one way. It's not the only way, but it's one way to create an avenue for people who as you say have good ideas, are thinking about the problems that they encounter as entrepreneurs, and they want to fix it.

Ted Simons: Is it sometimes disconcerting to know this kind of creativity, this kind of analytic power, all of the stuff is untapped, that some of the stuff never sees the light of day and could really make a difference?

Jonathan Koppell: Absolutely, you think of it, it's the moral equivalent of public policy Jeremy Lins out there. They are sitting on the bench because there aren't injuries they never get a chance to play, so we never know they exist. This is a way to figure out who are the superstars or who have the brilliant ideas that are never seeing the light of day.

Ted Simons: How did ASU get in the front of this particular parade?

Jonathan Koppell: It happened because this whole idea of figuring out avenues for greater participation is something that we take very seriously at the School of Public Affairs and at ASU. It's a direct outgrowth of the 10,000 solutions project which we're running which in some sense is the same idea, which is open up the door to have anybody come in, throw out an idea, and we have been running that and we have this capacity, so we have been talking to the White House about ways we might work with them. So when this Start-Up America challenge came we said this is a perfect opportunity. Let's do it now. They said that's great. If you're willing to do that we would be thrilled.

Ted Simons: The Berkeleys and University of Marylands, folks of the world said we like the idea?

Jonathan Koppell: Not only that they said we have been looking for a way to do this. We're so glad you reached out to us because it's something we felt should be happening, and our students are eager to be involved, but there hasn't been a mechanism. They have been actually extremely positive in reaction to our invitation.

Ted Simons: It has a New American University ring to it, doesn't it?

Jonathan Koppell: It does, doesn't it?

Ted Simons: The winners will get to work with the relevant Cabinet-- how high up will the idea go?

Jonathan Koppell: We think they will ultimately sit down with the Secretary of Education or Secretary of Energy. We don't have a guarantee but if nothing else it will be the senior policy making team from these relevant agencies. That is something when we were discussing the planning was very important. We didn't want the winning team to write a report and the report get sent and thrown on a bookshelf somewhere. That to me and to our group is not what this is about. We wanted them to be able to engage and have the opportunity for some back and forth. You say how would that work, have them say, yeah, but you're not thinking of X, Y, Z problem, give the winning teams a chance to respond.

Ted Simons: At the least if your idea makes it past all the other barriers there, you will get at least a hearing.

Jonathan Koppell: That's right.

Ted Simons: From someone who could make a difference. The White House is guaranteeing that.

Jonathan Koppell: That's right. We have date, May 18. A group of teams is going to Washington in May to sit down with the relevant people.

Ted Simons: Very good. So again, it's If you have an idea, submit it. You never know how far it's going to go. Thanks for joining us.

Jonathan Koppell: You betcha, thanks for getting the word out.

Jonathan Koppell:Director of ASU's School of Public Affairs and Dean of ASU's College of Public Programs;

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