Sunday, March 11, 2012

Why the Entrepreneurial Community Should Support the School Levies

I wrote earlier about the fact that new businesses account for most of the new jobs in our economy (“Where do jobs come from? June 20, 2011).  In that piece I argued that to create new jobs in the Treasure Valley, we needed to create an ecosystem that supported entrepreneurs.  Every since then I have been writing about one component of a healthy entrepreneurial ecosystem-early stage capital provided by angel investors.

Today I want to talk about another component of this ecosystem—intellectual capital.  We now live in the knowledge economy where much of the goods and services created by our  businesses, especially our new businesses, are dependent upon a well-educated workforce that can supply the necessary skills and knowledge.

All eleven of the businesses supported by the Boise Angel Fund depend upon access to an educated workforce to provide the brainpower they need to produce and market their cutting edge products and services.  They need, for example, engineers and marketeers; accountants, financiers and intellectual property attorneys; computer software writers and food chemists. None of them need unskilled or semi-skilled workers. 

We obtain these knowledge workers from two sources.  Some are produced by our education system locally.  Others are recruited to move here.  First lets address our own production.

We are not producing enough knowledge workers for our economy. For example, KTVB reported in November that Treasure Valley employers had openings for hundreds of computer programmers that they could not fill (“Demand for software engineers in the Treasure Valley outweighs workforce,” KTVB, November 15, 2011).

There is no quick or easy fix for this problem.  We will solve it only by providing a high quality, challenging education system, from kindergarten through Ph.D programs.

Our state, like most, has had to reduce the resources it can provide to the entire educational system.  Our educators have done a terrific job at holding the system together in the face of declining resources, but the system is fraying. 

Our colleges and universities have made up part of the shortfall through tuition increases, contributions and research grants.  But the K-12 schools have no such options.

They must either reduce services or ask the taxpayers to pay more.  Both the Meridian and Boise School Districts will ask the voters to raise their taxes to provide additional resources on March 13. 

It’s clear to me that the consequences of our failing to provide additional resources to the schools will be a lower quality education for these young people which will result ultimately result in fewer workers with the skills needed to match the demands of our employers.  And without the skilled employee base, our entrepreneurs will not be successful in creating new businesses.

 A note about importing workers.  Yes, we know many people move here for our quality of life.  But they bring families with them and high on their list of requirements in determining to move is the quality of the public education system.

So, my argument to the entrepreneurs who create our exciting new businesses and the angels who finance them, as well as to those who believe a healthy entrepreneurial ecosystem is important to our valley, is to support our local school districts by voting to increase their resources. 

Dr. Kevin Learned is a counselor at the Idaho Small Business Development Center ( at Boise State University where he specializes in counseling with entrepreneurs seeking equity capital. He is a member of the Boise Angel Fund, and is a principal in Loon Creek Capital (, which assists angels in forming angel funds.  He can be reached by email to or by phone at 208-426-3875. 

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