Jonathan Ortmans, President, Public Forum Institute
I have just returned today from the Global Entrepreneurship Congress (GEC) in Liverpool where a weeklong festival of entrepreneurship floated powerful ideas about everything from seeding startup communities to smarter national top-down policies. This week I take a quick look at last week’s GEC and why it matters as a symbol of the democratization of entrepreneurship.
Hosted by Liverpool Vision, Global Entrepreneurship Week and the Kauffman Foundation, the Congress was a powerhouse of entrepreneurial excellence welcoming famous British entrepreneurs like Richard Branson, the leaders of delegations driving entrepreneurship who flew in from 125 countries and many of the top thought leaders from the likes of the Kauffman Foundation.
Richard Branson, famous for his Virgin brand empire, inspired a crowd of 3,500 interested citizens, government leaders, university researchers, aspiring entrepreneurs and the media. His story is mind-boggling. As I waited in the Green Room with Branson and other speakers, two of them told me they had already signed up for his first commercial venture in space.
Lord Heseltine, the well known British politician surprised an audience typically skeptical about what government figures can teach them with an address that reminded us of his career as an orator. Former Tesco’s CEO, Sir Terry Leahy, Dell President and Chief Commercial Officer, Steve Felice, and Lloyds Managing Director John Maltby all set context for the likes of Start-Up Chile leader Horacio Melo, Infectious Greed blogger Paul Kedrosky, Startup Weekend Founder Mark Nager and so many others. It was a massive brainstorming about how to wash away barriers to entrepreneurship and solidify the current wave of vibrant, informal networks of nascent entrepreneurs that are powering a new wave of startups around the world. For the first time in this blog I actually recommend a you watch the gavel to gavel coverage - especially Branson and beyond. Go ahead and email me if I wasted your time.
There was something for everyone in Liverpool last week. The three official days of the GEC took place against the backdrop of a larger Festival of Entrepreneurship, where more than 80 events spread throughout Liverpool brought global thinking into local action. The City of Liverpool was indeed in some people’s eyes an odd choice for a major gathering of believers in entrepreneurial capitalism. However, as the excellent article in this week’s Economist points out, perhaps the GEC was really for Liverpool about returning to its roots. The article points out that beyond the Beatles, Liverpool invented derivatives with cotton futures, had many firsts in accounting and intercity railways and on many occasions was richer than London and a global leader in world trade.
For those interested in policy, The Kauffman Foundation International Research and Policy Roundtable from March 11-12, 2012, presented twelve papers selected from 200 abstracts submitted in response to a call for papers. Bob Litan, vice president of Research and Policy, and Karen Wilson, senior fellow, both of the Kauffman Foundation, chaired two public roundtable discussions, one on policies to facilitate entrepreneurship, and another on removing regulatory barriers to entrepreneurship. The academics looked puzzled when looking out over a room full of interested listeners as to how their field now welcomes wide interest. A special edition of Innovations, a journal with entrepreneurial solutions to global challenges, was presented to GEC delegates with 11 essays and narratives on entrepreneurship around the world. Watch this space—the Kauffman Foundation expects to publish the results of the Liverpool Roundtable later this year.
Given the GEC was created by the leaders behind Global Entrepreneurship Week (GEW), also released last week was the GEW Impact Report highlighting the work of the entrepreneurs catalyzing the race to the top to build startup ecosystems around the globe, as well as that of those mentoring and supporting them. During Global Entrepreneurship Week 2011 they showed themselves to the world in millions through local, national and global activities. As the report points out, in 2011, more than 33,000 GEW activities inspired 7.3 million people in 123 countries to engage in entrepreneurial activity while connecting them to potential collaborators, mentors and even investors. At the GEC, new GEW initiatives were launched promising an even more exciting GEW from November 12 –16, 2012. The most successful campaigns were also recognized in an extraordinary dinner held in Europe’s largest Anglican cathedral – building which were designed to inspire. Special congratulations go to nations such as Venezuela, Germany and campaign of the year (GEW’s coveted “best picture” award) Turkey.
With all this, it is not surprising that so many nations now bid each year to host the Congress. Special congratulations go to the GEC 2013 Host--Rio de Janeiro--who won the rights to host the GEC from March 18-23, 2012. Given how high Liverpool raised the bar last week and the anticipated excitement already evident in news coverage throughout Brazil, anyone interested in a truly non-national gathering of entrepreneurs and those who help them would be wise to book their place now.
But today, the limelight remains with the people of Liverpool who beyond all being of good cheer showed courage and smarts in figuring out how to host such an extraordinary event. May last week be just the beginning of a entrepreneurial renaissance in your great city and may you have as much success with new entrepreneurship as you have with football and rock music!