Many governments in industrialized countries aim to encourage entrepreneurship and start-up activity to spur job creation and economic growth. To what extent governments are capable of doing so is uncertain. Nonetheless, policy makers at the regional and municipal levels are closer to the sources of innovation than those at the national level. For example, innovation in the form of start-up activity tends to occur in large metropolitan areas, initially without the involvement of policy makers. Take Berlin, where a vibrant ecosystem developed in the past several years without systematic government intervention.

While an enabling policy context might not be a precondition for seeding entrepreneurial activity, it may become more critical when taking a cluster to scale. To flourish, entrepreneurial activity requires a concentration of talent, infrastructure, capital, and networks—key success factors of a start-up ecosystem, as epitomized by Silicon Valley. Not all economic-policy instruments aimed at nurturing start-ups are at the city level. Still, local policy makers should think systematically about what it takes to support a start-up ecosystem. When doing so, their focus could be on tackling the bottlenecks and constraints that might otherwise inhibit a vibrant start-up ecosystem rather than picking winners by supporting investment in particular sectors or business models.

More specifically, such local initiatives can help link entrepreneurs to schools and universities, ease administrative matters for foreign workers and founders wishing to settle in a location, support development of suitable infrastructure and connectivity, and communicate and market the attractiveness of a location vis-à-vis other start-up centers. New York, for example, founded a tech campus for applied sciences; Tel Aviv built working spaces for entrepreneurs; Berlin is in the process of setting up a privately managed fund to raise capital for start-ups.

Establishing a coherent and supportive entrepreneurial policy at the city level is challenging. Municipal decision makers should identify bottlenecks in the start-up ecosystem and design and carry out initiatives to address them. These moves require a project-oriented, dynamic, and capable organizational structure.

Comment