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Entrepreneurs are the beating heart of the American economy. Yet despite an uptick in recent years, startup formation has been in a decades-long decline that has affected every state in the country.

That’s a problem because startups are responsible for nearly all net new job creation. Even if you aren’t an entrepreneur or don’t work at a startup, fewer entrepreneurs means a lower quality of life for all Americans.

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This trend must be reversed if all Americans are to prosper. We need to remove the barriers that are stopping entrepreneurial dreams in their tracks so that everyone with an idea can bring their vision to life in the form of a business.

Breaking down barriers requires improvements in entrepreneurial education and training, enhanced knowledge about the best ways to support entrepreneurs, inclusive communities that help all entrepreneurs reach their potential, and strong public policy.

Unfortunately, on this last point, there’s a lot of work to do.

Many entrepreneurs are either too busy building their businesses to devote much time to public policy, or have insufficient financial resources to pay an organization to represent their interests before policymakers. For their part, policymakers are pulled in many directions and often respond first to concerns that are brought to them.

When entrepreneurs and policymakers don’t connect, the results aren’t pretty. Policymakers have little understanding of entrepreneurs’ needs, and entrepreneurs encounter an increasing number of barriers.

We need to bridge this divide. It starts by better connecting entrepreneurs and policymakers.

In the past year, the Kauffman Foundation has put together a comprehensive approach that makes it easier for entrepreneurs and policymakers to come together. This policy strategy is part of the Kauffman Foundation’s Zero Barriers movement to identify and remove barriers to new business creation.

To foster connections at the local level, we brought more than 100 entrepreneurs and mayors together at the Mayors Conference on Entrepreneurship in Oakland, California last fall, with a focus on increasing collaboration between city leaders and entrepreneurs.

At the national level, we were the anchor investor in the Center for American Entrepreneurship, an organization focused on developing a comprehensive policy agenda in D.C. and across the nation to support new business formation, survival, and growth.

And, just last week, we announced six entrepreneur support organizations as grant recipients to form the first-ever Entrepreneurs’ Policy Network, an alliance of organizations that will bring the voices of entrepreneurs directly to policy debates at the state level.

Members of the Entrepreneurs’ Policy Network are committed to expanding the ways in which they serve entrepreneurs. In addition to delivering key services like mentoring, training, and connections to capital, these organizations will also create opportunities for entrepreneurs to educate policymakers.

This approach will provide policymakers with better facts about entrepreneurship and forge relationships with real entrepreneurs struggling to overcome barriers and create value. The combination of data and entrepreneurs’ personal journeys will support accelerated changes to policies, regulations, and procedures that inhibit entrepreneurship.

Starting a relationship with a policymaker is easy.  It starts with an introduction and the entrepreneurs’ story.  Next month, the Kauffman Foundation will launch a nationwide campaign to facilitate entrepreneur-policymaker relationships. All entrepreneurs, in all parts of the country, can join.

We envision a future where there will be many more entrepreneurs advocating for pro-entrepreneur policy, where entrepreneurs will have increased understanding of how public policy affects them and their companies, and where policymakers are better informed about issues affecting entrepreneurs.

Most importantly, the future we want to build with our partners is one where the best policy ideas are shared and lead to action, helping us to collectively reverse the long-term decline of entrepreneurship in America.

Jason Wiens is the policy director at the Kauffman Foundation. 

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