The Entrepreneurship Commons

Last Friday I gave a talk at the WVU College of Law in Morgantown, which was hosting a conference on entrepreneurship. The Benedum Foundation has given WVU a small grant to start a law clinic to support local entrepreneurs, and WVU invited me and a bunch of other law professors to come down and talk about what law and entrepreneurship might mean.

My own comments focused on what I call the "entrepreneurship commons." The phrase "commons" is a little bit of jargon that's based on the research that I'm working on these days. Jargon aside, the underlying point is pretty simple: In a lot of settings, policymakers should focus on structuring both public and private resources to create infrastructures and environments to which resources (time, talent, money, innovation) can be contributed, in which they can be shared and mixed together, and from which they can be combined to produce new stuff -- knowledge, products, services, enterprises, industries. A university is a kind of commons. The internet is a kind of commons. A library is a kind of commons.

No two commons are exactly alike. Commons aren't necessary public, and they aren't necessarily private. In fact, their uniqueness and their blended public/private character is exactly what makes them interesting, challenging, and useful.

Building an entrepreneurship commons - spaces for shared resource investment, combination, and production -- is far more important to the economic future of rebuilding cities like Pittsburgh (and Morgantown, though on a much smaller scale) than growing new companies and technologies one client or patent at a time. This is the distinction that I've blogged about before between "retail" economic development (remember, everyone, that's a metaphor!) and "wholesale" economic development. What our law school is trying to develop right now -- a program on entrepreneurship law that grows the ranks of practicing lawyers who understand entrepreneurs and entrepreneurship -- is "wholesaling." We're trying to grow Pittsburgh's entrepreneurship commons.


3 Responses to "The Entrepreneurship Commons"

Brad said... 4/02/2009 10:41 PM

Mike, Joe Angelelli sent me to your post. You might be interested in my film / digital project: What We Got: DJ Spooky's Journey to the Commons. Check out when you have a moment. Good luck with the entrepreneurship commons.

Anonymous said... 4/07/2009 9:04 AM

Mike: I like your conception of a platform for entrepreneurial activity. Do you have anything written on that - the text of your comments at the conference, a scan of the napkin you used for your notes? Also, please talk more about the notion of a commons. Does it imply that those who draw value from public economic investments must also contribute to those assets?

Mike Madison said... 4/07/2009 9:18 AM

I will try to write up something longer, and I'll link to other things about "commons" (not necessarily "entrepreneurship commons") that I've written already.

On the question about contributions, commoners usually contribute as well as extract, but there is no mandatory symmetry to the process. A commons may be defined -- partly -- by a two-sided market.

I don't draw a sharp distinction between commons defined by public economic investments and commons created by or supported by private investment.

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Pittsblog 2.0 is written by Mike Madison, a law professor at the University of Pittsburgh. Send email to michael.j.madison[at] Mike also blogs at, on law and technology. Chris Briem of Null Space drops by from time to time.

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