Global Entrepreneurship Congress 2015 Comes to a Close

It is a fairly common refrain that "entrepreneurship is messy." Why? Because one size does not fit all and there is no magic formula that will deliver guaranteed success. You have to work for it. You have to be nimble and adapt to your environment along with the challenges it presents. Last week's Global Entrepreneurship Congress reminded us of this—from entrepreneurs sharing stories of repeated failures before pivoting toward success to policymakers searching for an elusive roadmap to strengthen their entrepreneurial ecosystems. 

We were even reminded of it through the onsite execution of the Congress itself. While the GEC 2015 website offered clear and detailed information as to the array of events, speakers and content available, our Italian hosts were clearly keen to remind us of the imperative to keep entrepreneurship “messy”--with a smile--by continually moving the location of each activity. To help make sense of it all, as I depart Milan today, I offer some highlights from the wide array of sessions including more than 60 parallel events. 

Entrepreneurship leaders from more than 160 countries gathered these past few days in Milan for the annual Global Entrepreneurship Congress. The four-day gathering offered a rich collection of content, and brought together diverse elements of the world’s leading entrepreneurship communities.

The addition of a Ministerial meeting to the GEC in 2015 is an indication that new firm formation is being elevated beyond being a side ring at the circus to being core to national economic policy across the world. Alongside ministers meeting in Milan were gatherings of their policy advisors including a Startup Nations Unconference, bi-lateral meetings, the annual meeting of the researchers and their funders that make up the Global Entrepreneurship Research Network (GERN) and masterclasses on completed reports and related efforts underway to roll out more insights to inform cities, ecosystems and governments as entrepreneurs emerge as central to economic growth.

Below are some of the themes and voices that resonated in the dialogue.

Our discussions last year in Moscow at the annual GEC Start + Scale Forum focused on startup communities and those who support new firms as essential parts of the entrepreneurship ecosystem. This year, the focus was on three aspects of the ecosystem: building competitive and entrepreneurial cities, educating tomorrow’s entrepreneurs, and the impact – positive and negative – that established companies have on the startup sector.

For those of you who follow this blog, you know that one of our main focus areas has been on cities as the primary platform for entrepreneurship. To expand this dialogue, the GEC included a discussion with Benedetta Arese Lucini, Uber’s General Manager for Italy, Adam Kidron, the Managing Director of Adam + Co., Xavier Arguello, CEO of Clark Realty Capital, and Shanker Singham, Babson’s Managing Director for the Competitiveness and Enterprise Development Project. They carefully broke out the component parts necessary to construct vital and modern urban environments that attract and enable new entrepreneurs.

Wendy Torrance, the Kauffman Foundation’s Director of Entrepreneurship, Mary Moloney, CEO of Coderdojo, and Alessandro Fusacchia, an advisor to Italy’s Ministry of Education, led a discussion around how policymakers and education leaders can engage today’s students in the new technologies that will propel tomorrow’s next-generation economy.

While established corporations were once startups themselves, after they’ve reached scale, their interests shift away from the entrepreneurship ecosystem. In many cases, however, they can be key contributors to fostering tomorrow’s new business leaders. Jeff Hoffman, a co-founder of and Colorjar, Amanda Boyle, the CEO of Bloom VC, Gary Stewart, the Director of Wayra UK & Wayra Unltd, explored along with Nesta’s Valerie Mocker the ways corporations can contribute toward making our cities thriving entrepreneurship ecosystems.

Delegates also heard from startup guru Bob Dorf who along with Steve Blank co-authored the bestselling book The Startup Owner’s Manual which provides a step-by-step approach to building a great new company.

As policymakers have come to see the many benefits that derive from thriving entrepreneurial sectors, in Milan there was a clear message that they want better ideas for connecting entrepreneurs to the right resources at the right time. Most startup founders do not have the time or resources to pay close attention to public policy, yet government action can have a great influence on their decision-making. The GEC 2015 Research + Policy Summit gathered entrepreneurs, policymakers and practitioners from around the world to examine collectively what mix of rules and incentives lead to greater numbers of high-impact startups.

This year’s Summit followed on last year’s discussion about smart policymaking for building leading entrepreneurial cities and included a new topic: how to better track the impact of interventions to support entrepreneurs. It was a discussion that delved on extracting real impact signals, much beyond headline data about programs.

Cristina Tajani, Deputy Mayor of Milan, and Luis Felipe Hoyos, Deputy Mayor of Medellin, discussed the policy and program experiments they have recently undertaken to boost entrepreneurship-led economic growth. Enrique Avogadro, Argentina’s Undersecretary for the Creative Economy, and Dane Stangler, the Kauffman Foundation’s Vice President for Research and Policy, provided new insights into how cities are the best places to put innovative new ideas to the test. Felipe Hoffa, a Developer Advocate with Google Cloud, and Usman Ahmed from eBay, in turn demonstrated how big data can be used to power entrepreneurial cities.

Also on the day, Mr. Stangler presented Kauffman Foundation’s new findings on measuring the health of the dynamics driving entrepreneurship ecosystems. Meanwhile, global entrepreneurship data maven EJ Reedy from the Kauffman Foundation offered a fireside chat on bringing bigger data to government statistics via a new quasi-governmental research institute. He was joined by Thomas Funke who leads the entrepreneurship department for a think tank of the German Federal Ministry for Economics, and Danny Holtschke from Compass.

Jehan Ara, the President of P@sha (the Pakistan Software Houses Association for IT & ITES), Said Rahmani, the Co-founder of AvaTech, Robert Schneider, a Senior Alliance Advisor with USAID, and Kim Bettcher, a Senior Knowledge Manager with CIPE (Center for International Private Enterprise) discussed what it takes to build a business in challenging environments and how to support entrepreneurs who may not fit the traditional profile of business leaders in their communities.

While entrepreneurial talent undoubtedly exists in all corners of the world, in frontier markets, where there are greater ecosystem gaps and often times cultural barriers, entrepreneurs find fewer opportunities to start and scale new businesses. A plethora of other experts were in Milan to help fill those gaps.

I encourage you to peruse the online program to find the experts who were at the GEC in Milan to cover the topics that intrigue you. The GEC will next take place in Medellin, Colombia, in March 2016. Let us know what you think should be the focus as we continue to develop one global entrepreneurial ecosystem.

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jonathan ortmans
Jonathan Ortmans serves as president of the Public Forum Institute, an independent, nonpartisan, not-for-profit organization dedicated to creating the most advanced and effective means of fostering public discourse on major issues of the day.