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GEC 2019
Global Entrepreneurship Congress (GEC) 2019, Manama, Bahrain | Photo by Matthew Pozel

Three reasons why entrepreneurship isn’t just an American Dream

After GEC 2019 in Bahrain, Victor Hwang shares the invigorating and humbling experience of seeing the bloom of entrepreneurship on a global scale.

Each time I go to the Global Entrepreneurship Congress, I come back wishing that I could share the experience with everyone who is working to improve ecosystems for entrepreneurs in the U.S. Eleven years ago, the conference was started by Kauffman in its hometown of Kansas City, Missouri. Now, GEC is held in a different international location each year, and involves about 2,000 attendees – including entrepreneurs, investors, researchers, policymakers, and entrepreneurship champions – representing more than 170 countries and running programs that reach millions.

So often, head down in our work, we forget that we are at the center of a global network. It’s humbling, on a global stage, to be asked, “What does Kauffman think?” about a whole range of topics, including how to support entrepreneurs, how to build ecosystems, how to measure, and how to create policies. It’s an eye-opening, invigorating experience to be there and to realize how our work provides guidance and knowledge that touches so many.

So, I want to share a few takeaways from the 2019 Global Entrepreneurship Congress in Manama, Bahrain.

  • Entrepreneurship has become a national priority in many countries. I talked to many people (including a leader at the United Nations) who said that, in the last four years or so, entrepreneurship has transformed into one of the top priorities in global development. For instance, the new president of Colombia was just elected on an entrepreneurship-centric platform, elevating entrepreneurship as a pathway to economic equality (e.g., see this speech). The European Union is looking at entrepreneurship as a way to address social unrest across the continent. Throughout the GEC, I repeatedly heard the sentiment that nations want to convert their populations from “job seekers to job creators.” That type of message wasn’t broadly heard just a few years ago.
  • “Ecosystems” are here to stay. We are seeing a shift in how national leaders think about supporting entrepreneurship: entrepreneurial ecosystems have become the main theme. A few years ago, they talked mostly about top-down initiatives; now, they are talking more about how to empower and connect entrepreneurs at the local level. They used to talk about subsidizing more programs; now they’re talking more about working closely with entrepreneurs to break down barriers. They used to talk more about high-tech; now they’re talking more about inclusive opportunity. We’ve been advancing these ideas for the past few years, and it’s exciting to hear our ideas resonating with broader trends.
  • The U.S. is falling behind in certain ways. The United States has traditionally set the pace for the rest of the world. While that is still true in many ways, what is becoming truer today is that we have serious competition. For instance, India has a new law that allows startups to pay zero income tax in their first three years. In Buenos Aires, Argentina, it now takes 15 minutes to register a new company, where it used to take up to eight months. In Malaysia, they are consolidating the governmental structure so that entrepreneurs, who are now regulated by 60 agencies, will report to a single agency. These are just examples, but they signify change of a magnitude we’ve never seen before.