AOL Founder Starts Startup for Startups

CHICAGO ( TheStreet) -- We hear plenty of talk about Americans being an entrepreneurial people, but when it comes to actively helping startups succeed, support can be hit or miss. There are public and private resources out there for those who seek help, but many people starting their own business remain isolated from others facing the same challenges.

A high-profile recent launch aims to change that. The Startup America Partnership officially kicked off this year at the White House, proof that it's got some heavy hitters in its corner. A joint venture of the Case Foundation, started by America Online ( AOL) co-founder Steve Case, and The Kauffman Foundation, the largest foundation dedicated to entrepreneurship, it hopes to kick-start fledging companies -- and just possibly help rescue the U.S. economy.

A foundation started by Steve Case, a co-founder of AOL, is a backer of the Startup America Partnership.

The problem, says CEO Scott Case (no relation), founding CTO of Priceline ( PCLN) and an experienced entrepreneur, is that Americans starting businesses tend to figure things out haphazardly. "One thing I was surprised at when I began this job was the startling lack of organized resources for entrepreneurs," he says. "The average startup was finding out about them in a random way. You need luck to succeed in business, but you shouldn't need a lot of luck to get access to tools that allow for better use of Google ( GOOG) as an advertising platform or find a good accountant who has experience with startups."

The U.S. economy depends on small businesses to thrive and grow, but according to Small Business Administration data, the vast majority of those businesses are sole proprietorships with no employees. To affect the economy, companies with potential for high growth need to be nurtured.

In a sense, Startup America is a large-scale experiment in project management, assessing and organizing people and resources from around the country in one easy-to-search place. "The goal is to raise the American entrepreneurial game to the next level," Scott Case says.

How does it work? While the details are still being ironed out, Startup America is basically a free membership program that allows you to access the tools relevant for your particular business' size. Business owners sign up at the Startup America Partnership website according to what stage of development they're in: Idea ("I have a great idea that could be a company"), Startup ("My idea is now a business!"), Ramp Up ("Holy cow, our company is growing") and Speed Up ("Our revenue and staff are growing exponentially").

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