What I love best about the Global Entrepreneurship Congress, most recently the GEC 2015 in Milan, is the diversity of approaches, organizations, and countries that I encounter under the big tent. At this carnival of entrepreneurship, one meets founders and policymakers, leaders from innovation economies and emerging markets, people who have already made it and others who are shaping the future.
Out of this medley, I try to stitch together, what do we actually know about advancing entrepreneurship? And where might promising new directions lie? For me, the theme of this year’s congress was moving the frontiers of entrepreneurship. We are currently pushing against several big frontiers, which include geographic, demographic, and policy frontiers.
Emerging markets are the first frontier. While commonly described as factor-driven or efficiency-driven economies, emerging markets contain pockets of innovation and entrepreneurial ambition. For instance, entrepreneur stories from the Middle East captured in Christopher Schroeder’s Startup Rising have created considerable excitement, as has the Cinderella story of Medellín, Colombia, the site of GEC 2016. In Milan, I was honored to have on my panel Jehan Ara, President of the Pakistan Software Houses Association (P@SHA), who recently founded the Nest i/o incubator. Ara described a growing entrepreneurial community in Karachi and a feeling among entrepreneurs of “wanting to give back” (not unlike the community spirit described by Brad Feld in Boulder). I was ecstatic to see our friends from Nepal, the Samriddhi Foundation, take the limelight as winners of the Rookie of the Year award.
The second frontier is that of diversity – the inclusion of entrepreneurs from diverse backgrounds into entrepreneurial ecosystems, careers, and opportunities. In 2014, the first ever Startup Weekend Woman’s Edition in Tehran provided a striking example of how the complexion of entrepreneurship is changing. We must continue to search for ways to empower women, youth, and entrepreneurs from lesser-known cities. They do not necessarily lead the fastest-growing firms of the moment, yet they are demonstrating their talent and ability to move the frontier. It turns out that 50 percent of internet-based commerce in India is occurring in tier-two cities. I am also encouraged that entrepreneurship is a vehicle for lowering inequality in Brazil, as research by Kauffman fellow Christian Moser indicates. Impressively, women entrepreneurs in Bangladesh have taken the initiative to improve entrepreneurship policy and financing.
The third frontier is one of approach – reshaping the way we promote entrepreneurship as we acquire greater knowledge. We can keep moving the frontier through policy experimentation and better data systems (check out the MaRS Data Catalyst from Toronto). We must address critical gaps and policy inertia in entrepreneurship ecosystems. As Dane Stangler pointed out at the SME Ministerial, active support by governments for new firms will not work if incumbent firms are protected. We further must stretch our thinking about the actors who drive entrepreneurship. Robert Schneider, who leads the Partnering to Accelerate Entrepreneurship (PACE) initiative at USAID, highlighted the need for creative approaches (like Unitus Seed Fund in India) to engage underserved populations and engage new types of investors, corporations, and educational institutions in building ecosystems.
Frontiers can be tough places to do business. They also offer the incentives and often the opportunities to reinvent the world. Thanks for the memories from Milan! Let’s see what we can do together to move the frontiers of entrepreneurship.
Kim Bettcher is Senior Knowledge Manager at CIPE.