Thursday, March 7, 2024
A Conversation with co-author Arun Gupta, CEO, NobleReach Foundation

Recently, Arun Gupta, co-author of Venture Meets Mission joined me on The Business of Government Hour to discuss his new book, which he wrote with Gerard George and Thomas J. Fewer. Gupta says the book shows how we can harness the innovativeness of entrepreneurship with the scale of government in a new model of collaboration that he claims will reinvigorate America’s competitiveness and tackle some of the world’s most intractable problems. It is an ambitious effort that began with a simple objective: to understand how people can create mission-driven ventures. Gupta noted that though the enthusiasm for this topic was overwhelming, the authors did grapple with how best to turn this idealism into reality – making it all come together in practice. Their book tackles this question and more. 

The perspectives crafted in this book encompass the diverse expertise of these authors and interviews with entrepreneurs, leaders in government, investors, students, and what Gupta calls “ecosystem” partners. It chronicles stories of individuals, entrepreneurial ventures, and public servants who answered a call to mission. Through expert perspectives and experiences, the book offers an action plan to construct a meaningful model for impact. The authors call for, as Gupta notes, a “collectivity that builds on the power of partnership between private and public enterprise, fosters the sense of purpose and meaning.” He describes a new vernacular in which venture meets mission is a broader social perspective for innovation and shared prosperity. 

Venture Meets Mission lays out this new vernacular and a model of impact over seven chapters. It reviews the barriers to action, tracing the perceptions of incompatibility between entrepreneurship and the government. The authors call for the humanizing of government and the personalizing of entrepreneurship to rebuild trust between these two sectors. They discuss the design challenges that government-venture arrangements are likely to face. Gupta notes that the work identifies 5 key uncertainties that deteriorate trust between ventures and government. For entrepreneurs seeking to construct mission driven ventures, the book presents actionable organizing principles by which they can forge ventures to rebuild trust with the government and work toward scaling impact. They highlight the strategies of entrepreneurs in bridging the trust gap between their businesses and the government. They dive deeper into the government’s trust deficit problem and discuss the ways that government can rebuild trust with entrepreneurial ventures. They note the importance of government’s ability to dictate national strategy and mobilize a venture ecosystem around issues.  Finally, the book concludes with a look into the future of government-venture arrangements and observes fast-paced and growing areas for impact. The vision outlined in this book is no doubt ambitious. 

I would like to highlight the book’s call to humanize government and personalize entrepreneurship. Arun echoed a salient point made in the book that “understanding and appreciating the mission of government is central to government-venture arrangements. The mission of government can serve as a beacon by which ventures can not only construct their broader sense of purpose and fulfill intrinsic meaning but also guide their economic function. By aligning the goals of the venture with the mission of government, the incentives for an effective partnership are likely to be stronger.” 

The authors ponder this question: “How do we bridge the gap and enable partnership between mission-oriented enterprise and the government?  They call for a shift in mindset from an “either-or” trade-off of these groups to “both and” and this can be done through personalizing entrepreneurship and humanizing government. 

On Personalizing Entrepreneurship 

The book references a talk given by Harvard Business School Professor Bill Sahlman in 2020, Entrepreneurial Solutions for the World Problems, which according to the authors makes an optimistic case for the future of the world. Sahlman claims the power of response lies in the startup and venture capital. According to Sahlman, these are the two greatest inventions of the 20th century. “The risk and uncertainty of the present moment make the entrepreneurial process particularly valuable”. He argues entrepreneurs acquire financial, human, and other resources to run structured experiments and then inventors give only enough money to run a sensible experiment. The venture capital model exists to identify great people with outstanding ideas and give them money to run structured experiments that reveal information about the team, the competition, and the opportunity. For the authors, the value of entrepreneurship extends far beyond the misconceptions of entrepreneurs as individualistic capitalists.

On Humanizing Government 

For Gupta and his colleagues, we need to see government through a humanistic lens – in which it is not viewed as a bloated enterprise of bureaucracy, but one of service workers and patriots. The misinformation surrounding the functions of government highlight the lack of recognition and celebration of noteworthy and inspiring achievements of government and its employees. The authors credit the Partnership for Public Service’s Service to America awards, the Sammies, as humanizing the narrative of government by honoring excellence in the federal workforce that inspires others to go into public service. They also reference Michael Lewis who in his book the Fifth Risk talks about the brilliant work of federal workers and public servants whose knowledge, dedication, and proactivity keep the wheels of government running. 

On Two Characteristics of Entrepreneurship All Leaders Need 

The authors discuss the changing perceptions of “what entrepreneurship is”. Entrepreneurship is not exclusively a business-oriented pursuit. In fact, entrepreneurship is applicable to --- and practiced in – all facts of our daily life. Most of us are already entrepreneurs, we just don’t know it yet. They detail the values and abilities typically associated with being entrepreneurial. I want to highlight two that I found compelling and essential for leaders today: 

  • Optimism is a central attribute of the entrepreneurial process as they tend to be far more optimistic than most. When entrepreneurs embody optimism, they tend to display more creative ways of thinking and are more likely to generate new ideas, more likely to be decisive and undertake pursuits, and more likely to bounce back after setbacks. 
  • Adaptiveness is a defining characteristic of a successful entrepreneur who is able to meet industry and market volatility and operational hardships head-on without panic or pessimism. By making them able to change to meet existing opportunities or bend to adjust to existing threats, adaptiveness enables businesses to build sustainable competitive advantages.

On Mobilizing Government-Venture Arrangements to Scale Impact

Traditionally, public and private partnerships mainly have been practiced and explored between the government and large corporations, such as, privatizations of infrastructure projects with multibillion-dollar price tags. These relationships are notably distinct from public-private partnerships between the government and smaller enterprises which they describe as government-venture arrangements. For clarity we use government-venture arrangements to capture a breadth of different governance arrangements including service contracts, in which the government sources services from the private sector; concessions contracts, in which the private sector is involved in the design and construction of public goods and services; and purchaser contracts, in which the government purchases innovative products from the public sector. In contrast to the traditional forms of public-private partnership, government-venture arrangements also offer an opportunity for technology developed in the public sector to be commercialized through start-ups.  

For Gupta and his co-authors, the lack of understanding about government-venture arrangements is a pressing concern given the prominence by which ventures have been working with the government. Their book, Venture Meets Mission, hopes to educate, inspire, and motivate the use of these arrangements – to combine the nimble innovation of venture with the scale of government.