Congress is currently considering a piece of legislation that may go farther than anything before it in defining the entrepreneur's concerns within the broad umbrella of public policy. Called the National Entrepreneurship Act, the bill, introduced last February by Rep. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), focuses on funneling capital to hungry start-ups and other small businesses ignored or underserved by large investors, both public and private.
Although Schumer's district, based in Brooklyn, isn't exactly a high-tech haven, he is convinced that his own constituents have as much of a stake in the entrepreneurial economy as anyone. "Small growth companies are the ones who'll be employing my voters," he says, "as well as the ones who'll be creating the new jobs for all Americans. I'm not that interested in the kind of legislation that encourages a new dry cleaning shop to open up across the street from the one that closed last week."
The bill's key provisions are:
* Creating a secondary market for industrial mortgages. This government-sponsored market would broker industrial mortgages from banks to pension funds, insurance companies, and other long-term private lenders unaccustomed to the scale and size of small business investments.
* Offering matching grants for state venture capital/royalty finance corporations. Modeled on successful state-sponsored efforts in Massachusetts and Connecticut, this revolving fund would provide "patient" capital for companies unable to make payment before their products prove commercially successful. Under royalty financing, an investor's return -- including the state's -- would be based on a percentage of sales revenues generated, with state governments' returns on investment being recycled through the lending pool.
* Encouraging pension fund investments. Matching federal grants would encourage state-sponsored pension investment units designed to analyze ways of diverting some of the $850 billion in pension fund assets into smaller, newer ventures. In particular, state and federal regulations that now disallow or discourage such investments would be relaxed to accommodate the entrepreneurial sector.
* Establishing a loan loss reserve fund. Aimed at easing banks' concerns over high-risk newcomers, this insurance pool would be fed by three matching sources (banks, borrowers, and the federal government), most likely at the level of 2% to 5% of the loan value apiece. Although banks would not be protected against loss of an entire portfolio, they would thus be insured against default on any particular loan, and encouraged to lend more aggressively.
Schumer says he hopes to have the bill out of the Banking, Finance, and Urban Affairs Committee by early summer and headed to the full House.