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Boulevard of Broken Dreams: Why Public Efforts to Boost Entrepreneurship and Venture Capital Have Failed--and What to Do About It (The Kauffman Foundation Series on Innovation and Entrepreneurship) Hardcover – October 18, 2009

4.2 out of 5 stars 17 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


Co-Winner of the 2010 Gold Medal Book Award in Entrepreneurship, Axiom Business

Winner of the 2009 PROSE Award in Business, Finance & Management, Association of American Publishers

"[S]uperb."--Edward L. Glaeser, New York Times' Economix blog

"Lots of governments would like to promote high-tech entrepreneurship and venture capital in their regions--but many don't know how to do it effectively. In his new book Boulevard of Broken Dreams, Josh Lerner . . . examines which types of policies to promote entrepreneurship and venture capital tend to work--and which don't. Lerner supports his carefully researched analysis with numerous examples chosen from around the globe."--MIT Sloan Management Review

"Can governments spark start-up activity and job creation by getting into the venture capital business? Or do they just waste taxpayer money whenever they try? Those are the two questions that animate the new book from Harvard Business prof Josh Lerner, Boulevard of Broken Dreams. . . . [W]hile the stories of failures are entertaining, what's most useful about Boulevard are the examples of governments that have gotten it right. . . . [A] really readable collection of data, anecdotes, and thoughtful arguments."--Scott Kirsner, Boston Globe blog "Innovation Economy"

"Today, calls for more innovation and entrepreneurship are more fashionable than ever, especially within government, where politicians and bureaucrats wastefully attempt to manufacture, via policy and subsidies, fresh batches of master agents and adventurers. But can government policy trigger entrepreneurship and subsequent growth? The title of a new book suggests not, Boulevard of Broken Dreams, by Harvard professor Josh Lerner. Much of Broken Dreams is a first-rate handbook for policy makers keen to avoid interventions that have proven track records as disasters. Lerner produces example after example of bad program design, bad implementation and plain dumb, even corrupt, policy making."--Terence Corcoran, National Post

"Mr. Lerner provides more than a dozen rules of thumb for effective government intervention in the private sector."--Harry Hurt III, New York Times

"[A] useful book."--David Brooks, New York Times

"During economic turmoil, many look to the government to boost the economy by investing in entrepreneurship. But is that a good idea? Josh Lerner wrestles with that question in Boulevard of Broken Dreams, which considers the history of the public sector's involvement in entrepreneurship and venture capitalism--what's worked, from Silicon Valley to Singapore, and what's gone horribly awry. . . This book aims to steer policymakers in the right direction."--BizEd Magazine

"The book is instructive, well researched and contains some wise lessons from the past in terms of the government's role in promoting entrepreneurship and growth businesses. . . . [T]ake note, politicians and mandarins: this book can provide much-needed advice and perhaps a shortcut to developing more effective policies. . . . [R]ecommended reading to any local economic development practitioner who takes an interest in the big policy questions of today, and [it has] direct relevance to local economic development."--Glenn Athey, Local Economy

From the Back Cover

"This important, well-reasoned book reminds us in times of financial crisis that it is innovation and technical change in the real economy that is ultimately responsible for our prosperity--and that, alas, there are no silver bullets or simple policies to advance the process. Provocative, interesting, and useful."--Amar Bhidé, author of The Venturesome Economy

"Boulevard of Broken Dreams shows a deep understanding of the role of government in boosting entrepreneurship."--Sir Ronald Cohen, chairman of The Portland Trust and Bridges Ventures, and cofounder and former chairman of Apax Partners

"Boulevard of Broken Dreams is destined to be regarded as the classic study about how governments can succeed or fail in attempting to produce successful entrepreneurial environments and programs. All policymakers interested in achieving success--and avoiding failure--in encouraging entrepreneurial activity need to study and master the lessons described so eloquently by Josh Lerner."--David M. Rubenstein, cofounder and managing director of The Carlyle Group

"Innovation and entrepreneurship are incredibly important engines for economic growth. As governments around the world try to restart this engine in the wake of the global crisis, they will find this book to be an ideal guide."--Ken Wilcox, CEO of Silicon Valley Bank

"Such a cogent, well-reasoned explanation of the role of government policy--for good and ill--is long overdue. I hope that all audiences, whether policymakers, entrepreneurs, educators, or voters, will read and heed its advice."--Richard Kramlich, cofounder and general partner of New Enterprise Associates

"In this valuable and well-thought-out book, Lerner supports his astute observations with a wealth of clear models drawn from throughout the world. He provides striking examples in which governmental efforts to encourage entrepreneurial activity have been effective, along with other instances in which such efforts have fallen on their face and incurred high costs to society."--William J. Baumol, author of The Free-Market Innovation Machine

"This important and timely book will impact the ways policymakers think about venture capital and how to support it more effectively. The book is deeply rooted in economic research, leaves ideology behind, and focuses on facts. It explains complex economic analysis in simple terms and provides many useful examples to illustrate fundamental issues."--Thomas F. Hellmann, University of British Columbia


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Product Details

  • Series: The Kauffman Foundation Series on Innovation and Entrepreneurship
  • Hardcover: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press (October 18, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 069114219X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0691142197
  • Product Dimensions: 9.4 x 6.4 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #189,380 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
"How can we become more like the Silicon Valley?" Policy makers and civic-minded entrepreneurs across the world spend countless hours on the question and taxpayers spend billions billions on resulting projects. This book documents the record of failure for most of those efforts and provides a fundamental lesson that caution and skepticism should permeate any discussion about them. But those who look to this book for more -- for concrete guidance about what will work -- will find, unfortunately, another broken dream.

Harvard Business School professor Josh Lerner starts with a warning: "For each effective government intervention, there have been dozens, even hundreds, of failures, where substantial public expenditure bore no fruit." Lerner proceeds with a narrative of failures and successes from around the world. Malaysia, France, Norway, Iowa, New York City and others each had failed initiatives either small or large that Lerner describes. Singapore, Tel Aviv and Silicon Valley itself were his notable successes. It is in this narrative where the primary value of the book resides simply because there is no prior, book-length attempt to gather facts on these initiatives and their results.

But Lerner strikes out in his attempt to connect the dots to draw conclusions for the book's subtitle, "what to do about it." Most of his prescriptions are too vague to be useful and often not clearly supported by the stories in the narrative. A few examples: "Avoid initiatives too large or too small." The Singapore success that he describes was a massive, multifaceted collection of programs that largely transformed the entire city state, too large to pass his own test. "Leverage the local academic and scientific research base.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I've talked to government officials in Chile, Finland, Russia and Singapore about public funding strategies to create entrepreneurial clusters. Therefore I really wanted to like this book. It has a lot going for it. Lerner has researched an exhaustive list of government attempts to kick-start entrepreneurship and venture capital. Unfortunately the book was an unsatisfying read. It seemed like an extended set of research notes struggling for a conclusion.

The first two chapters had me really confused. The introduction rambled and after reading it twice I still wasn't clear what the point of the book was. Chapter 2, "A Look Backwards" was directionally correct, but it telegraphed the same set of vagueness that the rest of book would have. It was only by the time I got to chapter 3, "Why Should Policymakers Care?" that I finally understood Lerner was grappling with the question, "whether government policy could help entrepreneurs."

The best part of the book was Chapters 6 and 7 "Bad Design" and "Bad Implementation." Here Lerner comes closest to having an opinion and offering constructive advice. But then he loses his way with a digression on Sovereign Funds.

My MBA students seem to think the phrase "it depends" passes for an answer. Unfortunately that's what you'll get from this book.

Worth having on your shelf for the cautionary tales of failed government programs, but little constructive advice on how to get it right.

For those interested in how entrepreneurial clusters get built, read
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The subtitle summarizes the book nicely - Why Public Efforts to Boost Entrepreneurship and Venture Capital Have Failed-and What to Do About It. As I continue to grind through writing Startup Communities: How To Create An Entrepreneurial Ecosystem In Your City, I'm trying to maintain a steady diet of complementary books. Lerner does a good job of dissecting government efforts and involvement around the stimulation of entrepreneurship and does a thorough job. This is a negative leaning book, but there is some positive and constructive stuff in it.
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Format: Hardcover
Lerner's "Boulevard of Broken Dreams" examines how governments have attempted to support entrepreneurs. Some initiatives have succeeded, others wasted billions. The topic is especially timely, given our stalled economy and two years of mostly unsuccessful government efforts to revitalize it, along with the rise of sovereign wealth funds ($3.5 trillion in 2008) and President Obama's goal of doubling U.S. exports in five years. Successful government-led efforts include Dubai's new port at Jebel Ali, and hubs of entrepreneurial activity in China, Tel Aviv, and Singapore; unsuccessful examples include Dubai's overbuilding that has created a sea of red ink, and U.S. efforts to encourage bank lending - despite entrepreneurs being faced with overcapacity in manufacturing, retail and office real estate, millions of homes in the process of being foreclosed, and large corporations holding nearly $2 trillion in cash. Moreover, the value of recent government bailout efforts for poorly-managed and failing G.M. and Chrysler remain unclear. G.M. is now succeeding, but so is Ford - without government help; meanwhile the future of Chrysler is still in doubt.

Lerner's focus is on one-in-a-thousand high-potential (hi-pot) ventures, not subsistence enterprises - eg. more 'Mom and Pop' stores. Roughly 600,000 new businesses employing others are started each year in the U.S., yet only about 1,000 receive their first VC funding in any year. Venture capitalists (VCs) have played a major role in the initial funding of American hi-pot ventures, and provide a comparison base for evaluating government efforts to stimulate new ventures. Lerner tells us that about 0.5-1% of business plans presented to VCs are funded; sometimes they're syndicated as a means of getting a 2nd opinion.
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