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White House Startup Roundtable Wraps Up in Boulder

Colorado Congressman Jared Polis (D-Boulder) opens the Startup America round table at the University of Colorado law school.
Photo by Kirk Siegler
Colorado Congressman Jared Polis (D-Boulder) opens the Startup America round table at the University of Colorado law school.

Boulder is one of eight cities in the United States to host a White House road show that aims to promote entrepreneurship and business start-ups.  At a roundtable event on the CU campus Monday, Obama Administration officials heard more frustration than optimism from several local-start up firms.

Kathy Rowlen is CEO and co-founder of InDevR, a Boulder bio-tech firm that’s grown to 23 employees since it started in 2003.  Rowlen thinks it could grow even faster were it not for bureaucratic red tape.  She recalls sifting through the 150,000 page code of federal regulations to determine whether her company’s software meets Food and Drug Administration standards.

"As a scientist, it was impossible to interpret what we had to do to be called 21 CFR Part 11, compliant," Rowlen said. " We have spent countless person-hours trying to sort out what that actually means."

As a panelist on the White House’s Start Up America, Reducing Barriers Roundtable, Rowlen challenged the bureaucrats to her right to translate that code into a single word document explaining to entrepreneurs what they have to do.

"I’m sure attorneys would argue it’s impossible to cover that amount of material and cover every possible scenario, but a good example is that the Ten Commandments summarizes the Old Testament pretty well, and it was only two tablets," Rowlen said to an audience that erupted in laughter.

White House officials at the event said they are sensitive to frustrations like those, and they asked entrepreneurs like Rowlen to submit specific suggestions that they said they could pass along to President Obama. 

"We’re here to do what we can to help and work closely with you and our friends all across the country to make this a better place and a better environment for small business and innovation," said Deputy Treasury Secretary Don Graves, who also heads the newly created President’s Council on Jobs and Competitiveness

The Administration has touted its Small Business Jobs Act, a $45 billion program that unfreezes capitol to local community banks that in turn are encouraged to lend to start-ups. 

But some business owners in the audience Monday said banks have been cool to that lending and some start-ups are unaware they’re even eligible for the federal money. 

The Startup America initiative also visited Durham, NC, Austin, TX, Boston, Pittsburg, Silicon Valley, CA, Atlanta and Minneapolis.

Kirk Siegler reports for NPR, based out of NPR West in California.