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Jonathan Ortmans at GEC
Jonathan Ortmans, founder and president of the Global Entrepreneurship Network (GEN), speaks at Global Entrepreneurship Congress (GEC) in Bahrain, 2019.

The power of a common vision

The democratization of entrepreneurship has built burgeoning hubs from Africa to Asia to South America providing evidence that mankind still understands what we can achieve when we work together to improve lives.

In an era of rising nationalism, allies around the world are increasingly cautious about who they can trust when things get tough. Yet, when the Global Entrepreneurship Congress (GEC) convenes every year, I always breathe a big sigh of relief. My faith in humanity is restored as we witness ministers, entrepreneurs, investors, and all those who support them, gather from every nation on earth around a common vision – to help their doers, makers, and risk-takers unleash fresh ideas, build communities, remove barriers to all, create jobs, and build economies.


The most recent GEC in Manama, Bahrain, illustrated how entrepreneurship is being democratized and supported around the globe.

The global entrepreneurial ecosystem is much more inclusive

While global income disparities prevail, anyone attending the GEC each year can see genuine diversity across the hundreds of local startup ecosystems represented not just in terms of nationality, creed, and demographics, but also geographies. This year, the GEC reaffirmed one common, evolving reality – Silicon Valley’s entrepreneurship monopoly is but a past memory. The stage is shared now with dozens of cities across the world – some fast growing within underdeveloped economies. The democratization of entrepreneurship has built burgeoning hubs from Africa to Asia to South America and entrepreneurial activity is growing more organic and authentic to local needs. You only have to look at the ride-share company Careem, which was recently acquired by Uber for $3.1 billion, marking one of the largest exits of a Middle Eastern technology company.

Entrepreneurship is a team sport

At the GEC, one is also reminded that villages, towns, and cities already understand that entrepreneurs do not emerge or flourish alone but rather from communities. They are incubated from diverse and inclusive ecosystems, which thrive when they succeed and give back. Policymakers no longer need to be educated away from top-down thinking – they arrive at the Startup Nations Ministerial at the GEC as part of their national delegation, ready to listen, roll up their sleeves alongside their peers and work to smooth the path for any entrepreneurs – even those outside their own economies.

Jonathan Ortmans at GEC
Jonathan Ortmans takes a selfie with attendees at the Global Entrepreneurship Congress in Bahrain, 2019. Photo by Matt Pozel.

Alongside them at the GEC you will see an explosion of researchers, nonprofit leaders and others quietly at work, often unseen, within the entrepreneurial ecosystem plying their trade for the same common vision of enabling anyone anywhere with their dream. In Manama, teams from the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, Innovation Growth Lab, Startup Genome, The World Bank, OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development), and numerous others were all applying their science to designing smarter entrepreneurship policies for all ecosystems. They gather at the GEC and act. For example, the European Commission and British government agreed to fund researchers measuring entrepreneurship’s ability to meet the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, illuminating invisible barriers to entrepreneurship and identifying how organizations and ecosystems are closing the diversity gap.

Governments are embracing fast-paced, out-of-the-box solutions

Concurrent with adopting rigorous experimentation, ministers at the GEC honed in on fresh ways to translate policy into tangible impact amid lightning-fast digital disruption and short political terms. An idea to impact that gap revealed well-intentioned policies struggling to resolve entrepreneurial barriers fast enough. It unveiled three categories of implementation challenges needing out-of-the-box solutions:

1. Countries are not structuring policies that address root pain points for their target entrepreneurs. Redzuan Yusof, Malaysia’s Minister of Entrepreneurship, revealed that Malaysia has opened up regulatory sandbox frameworks for testing regulations in a relaxed environment in order to nurture effective, targeted policies.

2. Governments lack state of the art educational, financial, and digital infrastructures to help entrepreneurs meet present needs. Lasha Mikava, Deputy Minister of Economic and Sustainable Development of Georgia, mentioned that despite Georgia’s 20 years of entrepreneurship reform, entrepreneurial growth has been slower than innovation. Her country’s out-of-the-box solution was to create a Georgia Innovation and Technology Agency (GITA), which has been developing fast-moving three-to-five-month programs to bridge the STEM knowledge gap in Georgia.

3. Entrepreneurs do not yet trust their governments and institutions, and often refuse to adopt policies or use programs aimed at helping them. Mariano Mayer, National Secretary for Entrepreneurs and SMEs (Small and Medium Enterprises) of Argentina noted the lack of adoption of new tax benefits amongst SMEs. While the legislation passed almost unanimously two years ago, almost half of the business owners in Argentina still refuse to adopt the benefits. Mayer underlined the importance of building trust to facilitate policy adoption.

Trust indeed is the currency and asset these leaders have accumulated over the years as their ecosystems have matured often despite political instability. The GEC, with its creativity and candidness, sets the tone for all of us around the globe striving to help entrepreneurs start and scale their businesses. It is evidence that mankind still understands what we can achieve when we work together on a common vision to improve lives.

Jonathan Ortmans is founder and president of the Global Entrepreneurship Network (GEN), a platform of progress and initiatives to help new firms start and scale within one global entrepreneurial ecosystem.

Uncommon Voices columns bring outside perspectives into the the Kauffman Foundation’s coverage of the future of learning, work, and place. If you have an idea for a column, please read the guidelines for contributors.


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