Opinion

What makes America great is what makes American startups thrive

On Congressional Startup Day, we honor and elevate the entrepreneurs and small businesses that drive our economy

Pennsylvania Rep. Chrissy Houlahan, third from left, visits with employees at Berks LaunchBox, a startup based in Reading, Pa. (Courtesy Office of Rep. Chrissy Houlahan)

OPINION — Benjamin Franklin once said, “Motivation is when your dreams put on work clothes.”

Our Founding Fathers built the greatest country in the world through harnessing the entrepreneurial spirit. They had a wholly original concept from which was borne the United States of America. Centuries later, our country, from Pennsylvania in the east to Washington in the west, continues to reap the benefits of American entrepreneurship and zeal that empowers people to take an idea and make it a reality.

Just last year, there were over 30 million small businesses and startups. As representatives of our communities, we are committed to fostering American ingenuity by encouraging people to pursue their passions and ignite the spark of creativity that drives innovation. Today, our country comes together to celebrate the annual Congressional Startup Day, when we honor and elevate small businesses and startups that are the true drivers of our economy.

It’s our duty to continue fighting for good-paying jobs in our communities, jobs that pay our constituents a living wage so they can provide for themselves and their families. Over the past decade, the startup sector has accounted for approximately 30 percent of all annual employment gains. What’s more, last year 8 million of these small businesses and startups were owned by minorities and people of color. And as two women in Congress, we’re proud that 1,821 new female-owned startup firms were created every single day in 2018, and 72 percent of them were owned by minority women.

This diversity contributes to robust job growth in the already vibrant small-business community that is creating more opportunities for people of all walks of life, including those with disabilities.

Take for example, ULTRA Testing, a software testing startup that embraces neurodiversity and is a leader in hiring people with autism because of their unique talents and skills for pattern recognition, enhanced focus and attention for detail. In fact, 75 percent of its team is on the autism spectrum. Today, ULTRA testing is outperforming bigger companies in software quality assurance.

There are also startups like the Pennsylvania-based Duolingo, which provides free language-learning education. Today, over 300 million active users around the world are developing the ability to speak and understand a new language. As of this month, Duolingo’s website and app offer 90 different language courses in 22 languages. Every student should have access to a quality education and the ability to learn marketable skills. Duolingo is helping provide such access to students of all ages.

Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers meets with StartUp Spokane — a member of her tech and innovation coalition in Washington’s 5th District — during the August recess. (Courtesy Office of Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers)
Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers meets during the August recess with StartUp Spokane — a member of her tech and innovation coalition in Washington’s 5th District. (Courtesy Office of Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers)

It is no coincidence that what makes America great — our diversity, education, innovation, drive — is what makes startups like ULTRA Testing and Duolingo thrive year after year. The nearly 2 million net new jobs that came from startups last year serve as a reminder that the American Dream — the entrepreneurial spirit that our country was founded on — is alive and well. It reflects the promise of America, where no matter who you are, you can achieve your version of the American dream.

Still, when nine out of 10 startups fail every year, there’s more work to do to help people succeed. Congressional Startup Day goes beyond just recognizing and celebrating the accomplishments of entrepreneurs and employees. It’s also about advancing smart solutions and supporting programs. Like StartUp Spokane in Washington state that offers tools, networking and one-on-one assistance for entrepreneurs who need help turning an idea into reality. Like Berks LaunchBox in Pennsylvania, a collaboration between Penn State Berks and Penn State Health St. Joseph designed to engage students, faculty, physicians, medical staff and the community in helping to grow the economy and improve the quality of life in the greater Reading area.

As elected representatives, we are humbled by the innovative talent across this country. We encourage everyone to learn about and visit their local startups, elevate small businesses, and say thank you to the hardworking Americans who make our economy work. Happy Startup Day!

Reps. Chrissy Houlahan and Cathy McMorris Rodgers are co-chairs of this year’s Congressional Startup Day. Houlahan is a Democrat in her first term representing Pennsylvania’s 6th District. McMorris Rodgers is a Republican in her eighth term representing Washington’s 5th District.

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