For years, my colleagues and I have consumed research from the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation the way nonfoodies consume fine restaurant meals—appreciative of the product's quality but not especially curious about its source.
Kauffman, one of the 30 largest foundations in the United States, fosters entrepreneurship with grants, research, education, and policy recommendations. Of late, it has been involved in so many intriguing projects that I decided it was high time I paid a visit. In August, editor-at-large Leigh Buchanan and I traveled to the foundation's headquarters, an oasis of greenery and glass in sweltering Kansas City, Missouri.
Bob Litan, the foundation's vice president of research and policy, gave us the tour, starting with Kauffman Labs, an unusual—and unusually intense—entrepreneurial training program. (The inaugural class, which graduated in June, comprised the founders of 16 education companies.) Other initiatives are even more ambitious. Kauffman is consulting with military and civilian leaders to fine-tune something it calls Expeditionary Economics, a development strategy for helping postconflict nations seed their societies with growth companies. Other programs support clean-energy and life-science innovation and youth and minority entrepreneurs. In August, Kauffman opened its first charter school.
For years, Kauffman's in-house and funded research has powerfully demonstrated that as entrepreneurs go, so goes the nation. Kauffman produces reams of data on this vast, hard-to-pin-down population, including the largest longitudinal survey of new businesses in the world. To the extent policymakers understand entrepreneurs' primacy in creating jobs, the Kauffman Foundation deserves credit for making the case.
Ewing Marion Kauffman himself was the quintessential storybook entrepreneur, a Missouri farm boy who started a pharmaceutical company in his basement and built it into a billion-dollar business before selling to Merrell Dow. "You should not choose to be a common company," Kauffman once said. "It's your right to be uncommon if you can." Kauffman was an uncommon entrepreneur and philanthropist. The Kauffman Foundation is his uncommon legacy.