The President’s White House celebration of global entrepreneurship a few days ago had lots of panache and plenty of heavyweights. I sat with founders of famous brands old and new like Steve Case (AOL) and Brian Chesky (AirBnB). We were joined by rock stars in the field like Mark Cuban of Shark Tank and Julie Hanna of the Kiva crowdfunding platform. It was a great display of American ingenuity and the creative spirit that our nation is known for around the world.
But how much has our government been able to keep pace with the startup revolution over the past 5 years? It was certainly not the first event about startups I have attended at the White House where the President committed his support for Americans who take the initiative to figure out better ways of doing and making things. From a White House Maker Faire to a Rose Garden JOBS Act signing ceremony I attended opening the doors to loosening regulation around crowdfunding, this President has not been shy in his words of support for entrepreneurs.
However, given the linear institutional formal framework of government and the messy, creative “on the fly” culture of entrepreneurialism, this is not an easy partnership to foster. This blog has documented the ups and downs of this journey in the context of policy but commented less on government funded programs that policymakers support. Given last Monday’s White House event focused on ideas and programs to support entrepreneurship overseas, we look today at global entrepreneurship programs.
The latest of these efforts is called SPARK. Last week, the President encouraged “governments and companies and organizations and individuals to make their own commitments” to a new SPARK coalition (which for full disclosure I will co-chair) to advance entrepreneurship around the world. SPARK will support his upcoming Global Entrepreneurship Summit (GES) in Kenya July 24 – 26, 2015 and rally support from governments and the private sector around the world to expand their investments of time, talent and treasure in their nascent and scaling entrepreneurs. It also serves as an opportunity to look at current US Government global entrepreneurship programs and learn more about how they are supporting the overall interest and renaissance in entrepreneurship around the world.
President Obama first talked about the importance of global entrepreneurship in terms of promoting peace and global prosperity during a speech in Cairo in 2009. During this speech he touched on a debate about the role that governments play in creating the conditions that unleash entrepreneurs and initiated an annual summit on the subject – the Global Entrepreneurship Summit. He also set in motion the establishment of a host of new US government initiatives to promote entrepreneurship around the world, but particularly in the Middle East, North Africa and sub-Sahara Africa. Here are a few that now form part of the SPARK Global Entrepreneurship effort.
Another initiative is the Presidential Ambassadors for Global Entrepreneurship (PAGE) program run by the Department of Commerce. At the event last Monday, the President announced nine new entrepreneurship ambassadors. In addition to Ms. Hanna and Mr. Chesk, they include Elizabeth Holmes of the health technology and medical laboratory company Theranos, and Daymond John also of Shark Tank fame and the founder of FUBU, a hip hop apparel company. The new group of ambassadors has committed to helping the world’s entrepreneurs gain access to mentors, support and funding.
While there is clearly always work to be done in improving these programs, they are doing important work. In the US, there is a strong consensus that entrepreneurship fuels growth, which translates into a political will to support entrepreneurs. In other countries, persuading the most influential policymakers to support those people who innovate and create, remains an uphill climb. The Global Entrepreneurship Network formed out of the annual Global Entrepreneurship Week celebration has leveraged this ground work and been able to form a 60 nation strong network of policy advisors modeled after Startup America under the banner of Startup Nations. This group which convenes next at its annual Startup Nations Summit in Monterrey, Mexico in November 2015, is doing invaluable work in educating Ministers as to the new landscape around their creative classes and risk takers and how to better support them.
Such leaders have come to realize the potential of their own entrepreneurs to power economies driving an expansion of their own government initiatives to help start and scale new enterprises. “At a time when the world is more interconnected than ever,” President Obama told us at the White House, “we’ve got unprecedented opportunities to help more people access capital, resources, networks.” While much of the energy has emerged from grassroots startup communities in all kinds of economies and political systems, the SPARK Coalition aims to connect those who support entrepreneurs with one another, so they can better help them succeed.
The world needs more entrepreneurs. While nations have come a long way when it comes to supporting new businesses, and the world has never been more open to entrepreneurial ventures, we should welcome the President’s leadership this last week in setting an example that despite the natural “institutional” nature of governments, they must find new, relevant and useful ways to nurture high-impact startups in opening paths to prosperity for their citizens.
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