Research and policy continue to play an increasing role as nearly every country around the world searches for the right formulas to stimulate new firm formation and entrepreneurial growth. That much was evident throughout the eighth edition of the Global Entrepreneurship Congress, with roughly 4,000 delegates from 158 countries gathering last week in Medellin, Colombia – and it was solidified when Maria Contreras-Sweet, administrator of the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA), joined me in signing an agreement that aligns the SME Ministerial with the Global Entrepreneurship Congress, next occurring in Johannesburg, South Africa.
The 2016 Global Entrepreneurship Congress (GEC) in Medellín, Colombia, reminded us of the joy that comes with the hard work of building new businesses and creating policies to allow entrepreneurship to take root and flourish in economies of all sizes.
Federico Gutiérrez, the mayor of Medellín, welcomed well over 1,000 international delegates to his city – once known for the violence of its drug cartels and now recognized as an emerging startup hub. The shift was already underway in 2013 when the Wall Street Journal identified the Colombian city as its Innovative City of the Year and its commitment to supporting entrepreneurs is evident throughout its Innovation District with accelerators and tech hubs like Ruta N and Parque E.
"If anyone of us, at any time, thinks the past is prologue -- that things cannot change dramatically -- come to Colombia," said Chris Schroeder, author of Startup Rising.
The four-day Congress gathered entrepreneurs, policymakers, investors and researchers to discuss best practices, latest success stories and the future of establishing one global entrepreneurial ecosystem. Sessions covered a variety of topics, including:
For the second year, the GEC featured a Ministerial session, organized in collaboration with the U.S. Small Business Administration. Officials from 13 countries from Europe, Central America, South America and the Asia-Pacific region, spent a full day exchanging knowledge on emerging government practices with a focus on supporting startups through the growth cycle. This year’s dialogue was focused on four key pillars: creating jobs, building international collaboration, facilitating trade and promoting gender equity.
The participating governments collectively represented 52 percent of global GDP.
SBA Administrator Maria Contreras-Sweet led the Ministerial (see her opening remarks here) and was commended by participating governments for effectively framing discussions in the context of innovation in government and next-generation policies.
“We all understand the important role of entrepreneurship in creating the dynamic social fabric of our societies,” said Contreras-Sweet. “Entrepreneurship is a fundamental economic strategy. But it’s also a core security strategy, giving people alternatives to crime and extremism so they can imagine a better future. If you can't get a job, entrepreneurship allows you to create your own. And small businesses not only create most of the jobs in our global economy, they also create a sense of pride in local neighborhoods and contribute tax revenues that can help fund better services and better schools.”
The Organization for Economic Development and Cooperation (OECD) also participated in the discussions with the purpose to help unveil new practices, through Dr. Annalisa Primi, Head of the Structural Policies and Innovation Unit at the OECD Development Center.
Since Administrator Contreras-Sweet took charge of the SBA and U.S. President Barack Obama elevated the agency to Cabinet-level, a noticeable shift occurred – the SBA moved from a focus on traditional SME tools as a coordination institution toward a global leader in entrepreneurship policy. To institutionalize its efforts in supporting SMEs through global gatherings like the GEC, the Administrator and I signed a Memorandum of Understanding to continue co-hosting the SME Ministerial at the Congress and together we will plan the next Ministerial in Johannesburg, South Africa.
At the signing, the Administrator stressed SBA’s interest in going global, asserting that entrepreneurship is not only a fundamental economic strategy, but also a core security strategy. Every future trade agreement should have an SME chapter, Contreras-Sweet highlighted.
Policy advisors from more than 50 countries also met at the GEC for the Startup Nations Policy Unconference. Startup Nations members hold this Unconference at the annual GEC to keep each other up to date with exciting new policy initiatives worldwide, so that they can scan for what works and what doesn't, gain quick access to deep experience, and support each other with hands-on experience.
Co-led by Dave Moskovitz from Startup New Zealand, Rebeca Hwang from Startup Malaysia, Eoin Costello from Startup Ireland and Torsten Kolind from Startup Denmark, the Unconference offered an opportunity for intensive brainstorming on 12 crowd-sourced topics, such as startup taxation models, how to level the playing field between large corporates and startups, and how to create local entrepreneurial communities in our towns and cities.
Startup Nations members will continue delving into these policy areas on the road to their next in-person gathering in Cork, Ireland, this November for the Startup Nations Summit.
As I’ve stated on numerous occasions, startup savvy policymakers and advisors can’t be effective without the support of a growing body of solid entrepreneurship research.
Global Entrepreneurship Research Network (GERN) members and funders, led by GERN Executive Director Phil Auerswald, met during the GEC to discuss current issues and global and programmatic research on entrepreneurship. Members examined new opportunities to impact public policy and discussed what’s next in providing evidence-based support for GEN’s ecosystem development. During the meeting, members explored ongoing collaborative research projects on accelerator performance metrics, ecosystem connections mapping, government data infrastructure and entrepreneurship education and mindset information – and discussed new possibilities.
Many other sessions addressed other elements of the global ecosystem.
Bill Aulet, managing director for the Martin Trust Center for MIT Entrepreneurship, engaged participants in a discussion about how to teach entrepreneurial skills more effectively and debunked common myths about the path to entrepreneurship. Aulet emphasized the need for an education framework to best close the gap between the entrepreneurial spirit and the entrepreneurial mindset.
I also had the great honor to moderate the session on the role of entrepreneurship in the post-conflict peace process, which featured Chris Schroeder, author of Startup Rising, Ambar Amleh from Palestine for a New Beginning, and Angelo Burgazzi of Venezeula. Amleh mentioned the work Palestinian and Israeli entrepreneurs are doing that is crossing borders. The panelists discussed how entrepreneurs in conflict and post-conflict areas have so much hope – and an inextinguishable light to continue growing their businesses in the face of violence and overwhelming odds.
The 2016 Congress focused on the “Business of Next,” and the GEC Talks session featured speakers from around the world to talk about the future of cities, scaling firms, connecting ecosystem players and global innovations.
Larry Alder, director of access strategy for Google, discussed the future of wireless cities. The conversation continued with Pablo Aquistapace, founder and CEO of Eventioz; Juan Manuel Barrientos, founder of El Cielo restaurants, who discussed how cooking can help bridge conflict gaps; Donna Harris, co-founder of 1776; Verne Harnish, CEO of Gazelles; and German Schäfer, founder of Bioprocol.
The 2017 Global Entrepreneurship Congress will be held in Johannesburg, South Africa – the first time it has ever been to the continent -- and I hope you will join our growing network in building one global entrepreneurial ecosystem.
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