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Why America can’t take its entrepreneurial spirit for granted

Ecosystem builders at GEC
Ecosystem builders convene at the Global Entrepreneurship Congress in Istanbul, Turkey, 2018.

The energy, enthusiasm, and commitment exhibited from each and every country at this year’s Global Entrepreneurship Congress was incredibly impressive and humbling. Read about our five key takeaways.

This year’s Global Entrepreneurship Congress (GEC) in Istanbul, Turkey, provided the single-best snapshot of what’s happening in entrepreneurship from around the world. The energy, enthusiasm, and commitment of each and every country was incredibly impressive and humbling. Here is what we learned while there:

Entrepreneurship has gone mainstream in economic development

When 171 nations gathered to discuss the future of entrepreneurship, it showed that entrepreneurship has moved beyond the fringes of economic development planning. Each country was represented by some officials in the highest levels of their respective governments, with our host country’s president appearing at the conference to emphasize the importance of the role entrepreneurs play in building stronger economies.

We see this at the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation through the policy work we support in Washington and in the states through the Entrepreneurs’ Policy Network. Giving entrepreneurs a voice is critical and the Global Entrepreneurship Network (GEN) does it very well.

Entrepreneurship isn’t welcome everywhere

We need to remember that many countries aren’t so fortunate. While at GEC, we spoke with two entrepreneurs from Venezuela. They work aggressively to infuse entrepreneurship into their homeland, and they believe entrepreneurship can transform communities. However, they are facing innumerable obstacles with an economy in disarray and a government not supportive of entrepreneurship, currently making Venezuela one of the toughest countries in which to start a business. For these two entrepreneurs, at least, conditions are so challenging, they run their activities from exile.

We in the United States face countless barriers to take an idea and make it an economic reality. However, we should also be thankful that we have the support of our governments – federal, state, and local. We were fortunate to meet with more than 60 congressional offices during our State of Entrepreneurship address in Washington a few months ago. Entrepreneurs were able to tell policymakers directly how our government can better assist them.

Entrepreneurship in male-dominated societies is unsettling

In the U.S., systemic barriers have left women too far behind in starting and growing enterprises. In 2018, women are still half as likely as men to own employer businesses. That’s unacceptable.

In addition to advancing the Kauffman Foundation’s strategies in reducing barriers for women entrepreneurs, we as an organization have been working on being more aware of our own unconscious bias. One thing that was troubling throughout GEC was how representatives from some countries talked about entrepreneurship. To some, they believe entrepreneurship was a male-only venture. It was even more obvious when those same individuals were on more diverse panel discussions and attempted to dominate the conversation by talking over women panelists. It’s something that we all need to be more alert to and speak up on.

We are working to level that playing field. We have grantees, such as Alice, that are creating resources and working aggressively to break down barriers to information, networks, and capital. Our Inclusion Open grantees include organizations focused on helping women entrepreneurs overcome the unique challenges in starting and growing a business. We’re working to tell the stories of diverse entrepreneurs from all walks of life and regions of the country to highlight that it can be done.

No matter where you go, some barriers are universal

As discussed in the video below of Kauffman’s Chief of Staff and Director of Entrepreneurial Communities Philip Gaskin and Senior Program Officer in Entrepreneurship Andy Stoll, there are similar challenges faced by ecosystem builders around the world. The issues related to a broad array of topics, like access to capital to getting the right permits to get started, subjects that matter regardless if you are from India or Indiana.

Reflections on the Global Entrepreneurship Congress

Kauffman’s Philip Gaskin and Andy Stoll reflect on a series of interviews they conducted with ecosystem builders during the 2018 GEC in Istanbul, Turkey.

The U.S. can’t take its position for granted

Our nation needs to take note. Other countries are approaching the work of supporting entrepreneurship with a passion and zeal. We can no longer take for granted that the U.S. is on the cutting edge of innovation and change. Countries like Estonia, Congo, and the Philippines all see entrepreneurship as a pathway to a better future for their communities and nations. They are working aggressively to support entrepreneurs through coordinated strategies that enhance education, training, and eliminate barriers to access of capital and the start-up process.

We need to keep moving forward, and quickly, or others will outpace us. We can do it, but we can’t be complacent in our approach. We must act with intentional urgency.

One bonus take-away – the work we collectively do to better understand entrepreneurs, those who help entrepreneurs and the communities that support entrepreneurs, goes well-beyond the borders of the U.S.

Our collective work, through our policy work, our research, and our ecosystem approach with the ESHIP Summit and Entrepreneurial Ecosystem Building Playbook, influences the direction and the work of emerging countries.

We at the Kauffman Foundation take that responsibility very seriously. We know our partners at GEN do, as well. We are thankful for the long-term partnership with GEN and all it does. We’re equally thankful that through gatherings like GEC, we continue to learn from other countries, comparing notes in real time on what is working and not working as we support a new model of economic development, one that is centered on the doer, dreamer, and maker.