GEW Shows Us A Glass Half Full
Everywhere you look in the media these days you see alleged signs of impending economic doom—from the ‘financial cliff’ threatening to punish United States policymakers if they can’t reach agreement soon to the Eurozone crisis with the Greek economy on the edge of collapse. Certainly all very troubling, but it is only one side of the coin. For the past 10 days, I have seen the other side—a side full of hope and promise thanks to a burgeoning movement to embrace entrepreneurship.
Last week, 130 countries celebrated Global Entrepreneurship Week through an assortment of events, activities and competitions aimed at getting more of their citizens to take the next step in their entrepreneurial journey. Those who had never before considered launching their own ventures soaked up advice and inspiration from the likes of Bono and Bill Clinton. New startups taking their first steps emerged from Startup Weekend events in more than 130 cities. Existing startups looking for their big break found it through competitions like Startup Open, Get in the Ring and the Creative Business Cup. And serial entrepreneurs looking to give back to the next generation shared their experience and knowledge through activities like EO24, run by the Entrepreneurs’ Organization, and courses like FastTrac and Who Owns the Ice House?
The initiative is run globally out of its headquarters in Washington, DC. Meanwhile, host organizations in 130 countries run national campaigns with a considerable amount of flexibility and freedom to tailor them to best fit their country’s needs and culture—and they aren’t focused on a global economic recession. As I mentioned last week in a piece for the Huffington Post, “Bottom-up startup communities and nascent entrepreneurs from across the globe are already in the driving seat and well down the road to growing their economies and making jobs.”
As Global Entrepreneurship Week unfolded, I traveled to a number of countries to get a closer look at some of those communities. In Jeddah, I participated in the inaugural meeting of the GEW/Saudi Arabia Board before joining senior officials and policymakers at the Made in Saudi Arabia: Challenges & Opportunities event. This is indicative of a growing trend among participating countries to build up their GEW Boards that deepen and widen their campaigns—reaching startup communities, entrepreneur support organizations, government agencies, researchers, media and others.
In Frankfurt, I met with a collection of representatives of Germany’s Federal Ministry of Economics and Technology which backs GEW/Germany. But the European power is not the only country that enjoys strong government support that supplements grassroots startup energy with top-down endorsements that legitimize entrepreneurship. U.S. President Barack Obama, recently re-elected to a second term, recognized the work of Global Entrepreneurship Week for the fourth consecutive year in proclaiming November to be National Entrepreneurship Month in the United States. Meanwhile, the U.S. State Department continues to engage on a variety of levels—including numerous events at U.S. Embassies around the world (e.g. Ambassador Michael McFaul in Russia, Ambassador Richard Hoagland in Pakistan and Ambassador Stephen Mull in Poland). And it isn’t just large, Western countries either. Take Cape Verde as an example at the other side of the spectrum. The island country off the coast of Western Africa has the highest officials supporting GEW—Prime Minister Jose Maria Neves and President of the Republic Jorge Carlos Fonseca, as well as the ministers for the economy, higher education and youth. Other leaders playing an active role in GEW this year include: Prime Minister Julia Gillard of Australia; President Rosen Plevneliev of Bulgaria; Prime Minister Antonis Samaras of Greece; Prime Minister Haile Mariam Desalegne of Ethiopia; Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel; Swaziland Minister of Commerce Jabulile Mashwama; Bermuda Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry Patrice Minors; Princess Maxima of the Netherlands; Kris Peeters, the Minister-President of Flanders in Belgium; and more.
In Bucharest, Romania, and Brussels, Belgium, I spoke to youth leadership groups and energetic students at national competitions to help high school and university students potentially launch their own new business. Perhaps nowhere is the youth focus so strong as in Hull, England.
In Denmark and the Netherlands, I witnessed amazing and hungry young startups competing for the attention—and startup capital—from potential investors. At the Get in the Ring competition in Rotterdam, Risparmio Super delivered the knockout blow. Meanwhile, We Want Cinema took top honors at the global finals of the Creative Business Cup in Copenhagen—besting a collection of finalists from the creative industries in 17 countries. There were many similar competitions that occurred throughout the week, giving new and young startups a chance to secure some much-needed investment, support and services to help them grow. For example:
Startup Open: Dropifi was named as the most promising startup to emerge in the past year. The team from Ghana traces its beginnings to GEW 2011 where they competed in and won Startup Weekend Accra.
Startup Weekend: More than 130 cities hosted Startup Weekend events during GEW with the organizers anticipating 1,000 new startups from those events alone competing in one huge Global Startup Battle. The winners from each city are to compete in the coming weeks in the final stage of voting to see which emerges victorious.
StartUp Cup: Emerging from Tulsa, Oklahoma’s long-standing involvement in GEW, the StartUp Cup business model competition continued to expand, reaching new countries from Armenia to Zambia—including one in Cairo, Egypt supported by the U.S. State Department, USAID and others.
Cleantech Open Global Ideas Competition: Biosyntia, a brand new startup from Denmark that offers high-performance cell factories for fermentation of fine chemicals, won the Cleantech Open Global Ideas Competition for its vision to cut production costs of manufacturing companies by 80% while giving them a greener profile—and allowing Biosyntia to tap into a potential market of $900 billion.
Global Student Entrepreneur Awards: For the first time in the competition’s X year history, a female student took the top prize at the GSEA. Chelsea Sloan and her Uptown Cheapskate beat out 1,700 student entrepreneurs from 20 countries at the global finals at the New York Stock Exchange. The startup now has 25 stores and $1.5 million in revenues with plans to surpass 100 stores by 2016.
While each stop on the tour was impressive, one highlight that stands out is the honor of preceding former U.S. President Bill Clinton to the stage of Entrepreneurs 2012 in front of roughly 4,000 people in London. The event was another example of the continued strength of the GEW/UK campaign, under the leadership of Youth Business International—which also leads GEW campaigns in nine other countries. But President Clinton wasn’t the only ‘celebrity’ to talk about the importance of entrepreneurs to solving the world’s biggest challenges. U2’s iconic frontman-turned-activist Bono opened GEW in Washington, DC at Georgetown University. He spoke of the positive outcomes that foreign aid has led to, but admitted, “Aid is just a stopgap. Commerce [and] entrepreneurial capitalism takes more people out of poverty than aid. We need Africa to become an economic powerhouse.”
Bono’s message on Africa and the importance of startups and “nerds” to its long-term prosperity illustrates a growing understanding and self-awareness on the continent. GEW host organizations and campaigns throughout Africa continue to expand and show a commitment to startups and entrepreneurship—earlier examples mentioned include the support of government officials in Cape Verde and Swaziland as well as the victory of Dropifi from Ghana in the Startup Open. Another example of the growing focus on the area is the emergence of the LIONS@FRICA partnership of GEW, the US Government, Microsoft, African Development Bank, DEMO Africa, USAID, Nokia and infoDEV.
Earlier, the first-ever GEW Policy Survey, gauging the opinions of 3,000 high-impact entrepreneurs from 34 countries, was conducted by the Monitor Group and Global Entrepreneurship Week. The survey seemed to suggest that governments may be gaining a better understanding of entrepreneurship or at least that policy environments are not significant hurdles to new firm formation. The five countries in the survey viewed most positively were China, India, Kenya, New Zealand and the United States.
Governments aren’t the only supporters looking to make things easier for new firms to launch and grow. Corporate giants like Dell and Google are active supporters and participants in Global Entrepreneurship Week. Dell, a global sponsor of GEW, centers their celebration of GEW around offering entrepreneurs a chance to pitch their business to Dell executives through Tech Innovation Day. Meanwhile, Google partnered with the Kauffman Foundation to host a Google for Entrepreneurs event in Kansas City, and also announced €1 million support of a new startup hub in Berlin.
And that was just my whirlwind tour and glimpse of a few highlights from a handful of the 130 countries celebrating Global Entrepreneurship Week.
But while many refer to Global Entrepreneurship Week as a celebration—it is much more than just that. GEW engages the entire entrepreneurial spectrum and is strengthening ecosystems everywhere. Millions of students experience their first tastes of startup culture. Universities strengthen connections that help them commercialize research from their labs. Thousands of brand new startups spring to life through bootcamps like Startup Weekend and competitions like Startup Open. Researchers and policymakers engage in discussions around the world to examine the underlying policies necessary to promote entrepreneurial growth.
As we close the book on Global Entrepreneurship Week 2012, our eyes turn toward Brazil and the Global Entrepreneurship Congress that is scheduled for March 2013—and the plans for the continued growth and maturation of GEW in November 2013. All 130 nations will send delegations to Rio. If you are interested in digging deeper into how they are testing support programs and interventions, building ecosystems and legitimizing entrepreneurship throughout their societies, I hope you will join me in Rio. Visit www.gec2013.com