This summer, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce went On the Road with Free Enterprise, a cross-country quest to find American small businesses and entrepreneurs that are making a difference in their local communities and economies.
After two months, 17 cities and 10,000 miles in the Chevy, tour guides Nate and Joe found that free enterprise is alive and thriving from coast to coast. Here’s a little of what they saw.
In Cut Off, La., they met an inventor — 72 years young — who is helping combat the shoreline erosion that he says is swallowing up a football field’s worth of coastal land every hour. The Wave Robber device, which he engineered in his backyard, saps wave energy and sifts out sand and sediment before it can be swept out to sea. His innovative solution won him first prize and $50,000 in seed money from a local startup competition. With this infusion of capital — and the growing interest in his invention — he hopes to make a significant impact on this environmental challenge.
In Charlotte, N.C., they tested out Alcohoot, the first-ever smartphone breathalyzer. The 24-year-old who came up with the concept thought it could curb deadly incidences of drunken driving. He turned to engineering students to help bring the idea to life and angel investors to bring the product to market. Alcohoot retails for $75 — a fraction of what law enforcement breathalyzers cost — and registers a blood alcohol level in just 10 seconds.
In Richmond, Calif., they visited Ekso Bionics, a high-tech manufacturing startup that’s bringing seemingly futuristic technology into the present day. Ekso makes bionic suits, which are being used to assist people with paralysis stand and walk. The suits are also being engineered to protect, equip and strengthen able-bodied workers with dangerous or physically demanding jobs.
In Minneapolis, Minn., they raised a glass to the Surly Brewing Co., which fought a Prohibition-era state law that prevented breweries from serving beer on their premises. Together with local lawmakers and a robust grassroots effort, Surly helped get the law taken off the books. Now, the company can move forward with plans to open a $20 million destination brewery that will draw tourists and economic activity to the community.
These feats of entrepreneurship, innovation and activism are only possible in a system that allows people to dream big, take risks and reap rewards. That system is free enterprise — and it’s why people and businesses across the country are driving growth, creating opportunity, and making America the best place in the world to live and work.
— Tom Donohue is president and CEO of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. The opinions expressed are his own.