GEW Shows Us A Glass Half Full
you look in the media these days you see alleged signs of impending economic
doom—from the ‘financial cliff’ threatening to punish United States
policymakers if they can’t reach agreement soon to the Eurozone crisis with the
Greek economy on the edge of collapse. Certainly all very troubling, but it is
only one side of the coin. For the past 10 days, I have seen the other side—a
side full of hope and promise thanks to a burgeoning movement to embrace
130 countries celebrated Global Entrepreneurship Week through an assortment of
events, activities and competitions aimed at getting more of their citizens to
take the next step in their entrepreneurial journey. Those who had never before
considered launching their own ventures soaked up advice and inspiration from
the likes of Bono and Bill Clinton. New startups taking their first steps
emerged from Startup Weekend events in more than 130 cities. Existing startups
looking for their big break found it through competitions like Startup Open, Get
in the Ring and the Creative Business Cup. And serial entrepreneurs looking to
give back to the next generation shared their experience and knowledge through
activities like EO24, run by the Entrepreneurs’ Organization, and courses like
FastTrac and Who Owns the Ice House?
initiative is run globally out of its headquarters in Washington, DC. Meanwhile,
host organizations in 130 countries run national campaigns with a considerable
amount of flexibility and freedom to tailor them to best fit their country’s
needs and culture—and they aren’t focused on a global economic recession. As I
last week in a piece for the Huffington Post,
“Bottom-up startup communities and nascent entrepreneurs from across the globe
are already in the driving seat and well down the road to growing their
economies and making jobs.”
Entrepreneurship Week unfolded, I traveled to a number of countries to get a
closer look at some of those communities. In Jeddah, I participated in the
meeting of the GEW/Saudi Arabia Board
before joining senior officials and policymakers at the Made in Saudi Arabia:
Challenges & Opportunities event. This is indicative of a growing trend among
participating countries to build up their GEW Boards that deepen and
widen their campaigns—reaching startup communities, entrepreneur support
organizations, government agencies, researchers, media and others.
met with a
collection of representatives of Germany’s Federal Ministry of Economics and
which backs GEW/Germany. But the European power is not the only country that
enjoys strong government support that supplements grassroots startup
energy with top-down endorsements that legitimize entrepreneurship. U.S.
President Barack Obama, recently re-elected to a second term, recognized the
work of Global Entrepreneurship Week for the fourth consecutive year in
proclaiming November to be National Entrepreneurship Month in the United States.
Meanwhile, the U.S. State Department continues to engage on a variety of
levels—including numerous events at U.S. Embassies around the world (e.g.
Ambassador Michael McFaul in
Ambassador Richard Hoagland in
and Ambassador Stephen Mull in
And it isn’t just large, Western countries either. Take Cape Verde as an example
at the other side of the spectrum. The island country off the coast of Western
Africa has the
officials supporting GEW—Prime
Minister Jose Maria Neves and President of the Republic Jorge Carlos Fonseca, as
well as the ministers for the economy, higher education and youth. Other leaders
playing an active role in GEW this year include: Prime Minister
of Australia; President
of Bulgaria; Prime Minister
of Greece; Prime Minister
of Ethiopia; Prime Minister
of Israel; Swaziland Minister of Commerce
Bermuda Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry
of the Netherlands;
the Minister-President of Flanders in Belgium; and more.
I spoke to youth leadership groups and energetic students at national
competitions to help high school and university students potentially launch
their own new business. Perhaps nowhere is
focus so strong as in Hull, England.
and the Netherlands, I witnessed amazing and hungry young startups competing
for the attention—and startup capital—from potential investors. At the Get in
the Ring competition in Rotterdam,
Super delivered the knockout blow.
Cinema took top honors
at the global finals of the Creative Business Cup in Copenhagen—besting a
collection of finalists from the creative industries in 17 countries. There were
many similar competitions that occurred throughout the week, giving new and
young startups a chance to secure some much-needed investment, support and
services to help them grow. For example:
Dropifi was named as the most promising startup to emerge in the past year. The
team from Ghana traces its beginnings to GEW 2011 where they competed in and won
Startup Weekend Accra.
More than 130 cities hosted Startup Weekend events during GEW with the
organizers anticipating 1,000 new startups from those events alone competing in
one huge Global Startup Battle. The winners from each city are to compete in the
coming weeks in the final stage of voting to see which emerges victorious.
- StartUp Cup:
Emerging from Tulsa, Oklahoma’s long-standing involvement in GEW, the StartUp
Cup business model competition continued to expand, reaching new countries from
supported by the U.S. State Department, USAID and others.
Open Global Ideas Competition:
Biosyntia, a brand new startup from Denmark that offers high-performance cell
factories for fermentation of fine chemicals, won the Cleantech Open Global
Ideas Competition for its vision to cut production costs of manufacturing
companies by 80% while giving them a greener profile—and allowing Biosyntia to
tap into a potential market of $900 billion.
Student Entrepreneur Awards:
For the first time in the competition’s X year history, a female student took
the top prize at the GSEA. Chelsea Sloan and her Uptown Cheapskate beat out
1,700 student entrepreneurs from 20 countries at the global finals at the New
York Stock Exchange. The startup now has 25 stores and $1.5 million in revenues
with plans to surpass 100 stores by 2016.
stop on the tour was impressive, one highlight that stands out is the honor of
preceding former U.S. President Bill Clinton to the stage
Entrepreneurs 2012 in front of roughly 4,000 people
in London. The event was another example of the continued strength of the GEW/UK
campaign, under the leadership of Youth Business International—which also leads
GEW campaigns in nine other countries. But President Clinton wasn’t the only
‘celebrity’ to talk about the importance of entrepreneurs to solving the world’s
biggest challenges. U2’s iconic frontman-turned-activist Bono
opened GEW in
at Georgetown University. He spoke of the positive outcomes that foreign aid has
led to, but admitted, “Aid is just a stopgap. Commerce [and] entrepreneurial
capitalism takes more people out of poverty than aid. We need Africa to become
an economic powerhouse.”
message on Africa and the importance of startups and “nerds” to its long-term
prosperity illustrates a growing understanding and self-awareness on the
continent. GEW host organizations and campaigns throughout Africa
continue to expand and show a commitment to startups and entrepreneurship—earlier
examples mentioned include the support of government officials in Cape Verde and
Swaziland as well as the victory of Dropifi from Ghana in the Startup Open.
Another example of the growing focus on the area is the emergence of the
of GEW, the
US Government, Microsoft, African Development Bank, DEMO Africa, USAID, Nokia
first-ever GEW Policy Survey,
gauging the opinions of 3,000 high-impact entrepreneurs from 34 countries, was
conducted by the Monitor Group and Global Entrepreneurship Week. The survey
seemed to suggest that governments may be gaining a better understanding of
entrepreneurship or at least that policy environments are not significant
hurdles to new firm formation. The five countries in the survey viewed most
positively were China, India, Kenya, New Zealand and the United States.
aren’t the only supporters looking to make things easier for new firms to launch
and grow. Corporate giants like Dell and Google are active
supporters and participants in Global Entrepreneurship Week. Dell, a global
sponsor of GEW,
celebration of GEW
around offering entrepreneurs a chance to pitch their business to Dell
Tech Innovation Day. Meanwhile, Google partnered with the
Kauffman Foundation to host a
Entrepreneurs event in Kansas City,
million support of a new startup hub in Berlin.
And that was
just my whirlwind tour and glimpse of a few highlights from a handful of the 130
countries celebrating Global Entrepreneurship Week.
many refer to Global Entrepreneurship Week as a celebration—it is much more than
just that. GEW engages the entire entrepreneurial spectrum and is strengthening
ecosystems everywhere. Millions of students experience their first tastes of
startup culture. Universities strengthen connections that help them
commercialize research from their labs. Thousands of brand new startups spring
to life through bootcamps like Startup Weekend and competitions like Startup
Open. Researchers and policymakers engage in discussions around the world to
examine the underlying policies necessary to promote entrepreneurial growth.
As we close
the book on Global Entrepreneurship Week 2012, our eyes turn toward Brazil and
Global Entrepreneurship Congress
that is scheduled for March 2013—and the plans for the continued growth and
maturation of GEW in November 2013. All 130 nations will send delegations to
Rio. If you are interested in digging deeper into how they are testing support
programs and interventions, building ecosystems and legitimizing
entrepreneurship throughout their societies, I hope you will join me in Rio.