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Even during this bruising recession, risk-taking entrepreneurs in the developing world seem to be seeing opportunities to leapfrog others and create advantage. And, as the Kauffman Foundation’s Carl Schramm recently argued in an article in Forbes magazine, I am not just talking about mobile technology in Africa.
On January 31st, 2011, the White House announced Startup America, a public/private initiative to rally efforts to accelerate high-growth entrepreneurship in the U.S. by expanding access to capital, creating a national network for entrepreneurship education, enhancing the commercialization of federally-funded innovations and getting rid of tax and paperwork barriers for startups. Given the importance of new firms to America’s economy and the national urgency to create jobs, I take a look this week at what Washington accomplished—leading up to the summer break—in response to the President’s call for action.
As I read this morning’s news about Syrian security forces renewing attacks on the city of Hama, I become even more committed to finding stories of Syrians looking beyond the divides of politics, class and religion, who can help shape the fate of the country and its four-months-long revolt against President Bashar al-Assad.
Over time I have become increasingly confused as to the meaning of “youth entrepreneurship.” While the myth of entrepreneurs as “modern day Mozarts” in garages (to borrow Carl Schramm’s phrase) is slowly being dispelled, it seems our human instinct to avoid conversations about age is alive and well! The reason this matters now is because governments and non-governmental organizations around the globe appear to be ramping up investment in “youth enterprise.”
Late September is always a busy
time in New York and Washington for world leaders. New York is crowded with
heads of state and visionaries at the UN Assembly or the Clinton Global
Initiative, and in Washington, DC, the World Bank Group and IMF
Annual Meetings that took place this past weekend always spur an assortment
of organizations with global economic development missions to gather their
flocks. We all wonder what all these expensive ‘meetings of the minds’ are
accomplishing. To share my own bias, it prompts me once a year to check in and
see how much development bureaucrats are really seeing and listening to the
entrepreneurs on the ground doing the work.
We have heard several entrepreneurship-based proposals recently to get our economy back on track, but one piece seemed to be missing this whole time in the debate: re-evaluating Sarbanes-Oxley for young firms. We have long known that the compliance costs associated with SOX—particularly section 404—have been discouraging many companies from going public, thereby blocking their access to capital and growth. Researchers have suggested that Congress address this issue in some way, and a measure to allow shareholders of companies with market cap below $1 billion to opt-in under SOX was one of the ideas floated in the Startup Act released mid-July. The measure is now gaining track in Congress.
It is true that governments cannot be ignored by entrepreneurs—they set the rules and incentives. But it should not be surprising that vibrant entrepreneurs typically show, at best, nonchalance toward government. Most government agencies across the globe remain inefficient and cumbersome—especially when you compare even a well-funded government program to a collection of bootstrapping startups.
Malaysia transformed itself from a producer of raw materials in the 1970s into an upper-middle income country with a multi-sector economy by the late 1990s. The 1997 crisis significantly challenged this technology-exporting country, but it has since successfully sparked two main sources of economic resilience—foreign investment and new firm creation. To my surprise, Malaysian entrepreneurs I spoke with recently gave a great deal of credit to, of all actors on the stage, their government. Did government really do something right?
The Saudi Arabian Monetary Agency (SAMA) recently released data indicating that domestic credit to the private sector in Saudi Arabia recorded one of their highest growth rates since the global fiscal crisis. That the Gulf Kingdom’s twelve (12) commercial banks are easing credit curbs is good news for entrepreneurship promoters in the country and leaders in the Kingdom seem ready to provide the fuel to ignite a new wave of startups.
Like so many nations that have recently gone through major restructuring over the past 10 years, Serbia is looking to its young entrepreneurial minds to shape a new nation as it marches toward economic recovery. However, while Serbia has embarked upon several structural reforms—especially in the banking sector and in employment regulations—it has yet to successfully tackle corruption, bureaucracy and a weak judicial system. These are holding back its economic potential.
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