At Last, a Global Platform for Startups

Jonathan Ortmans


The nurturing of new and young firms has so far not been given much attention in prominent global gatherings. International government meetings have mostly concentrated on passive SME policy and others like the World Economic Forum have treated entrepreneurs as a side ring at the circus. The maturing of the Global Entrepreneurship Congress (GEC) to fill this gap is thus a welcome development.

This year’s GEC wrapped up a week ago in Rio de Janeiro following an intense week with more than 2,000 people from 130 countries. In the first editions of the annual Congress, participants focused on simply discovering like-minded advocates for new, young firms with growth-potential. Four years later, the GEC has become an established platform for entrepreneurship leaders focused on further refinement of data, ideas and methodologies around the needs of growth entrepreneurs.

A common thread throughout this year’s GEC in Rio was collaboration between top-down and bottom-up efforts to support entrepreneurs. As Dash Dhakshinamoorthy from Start-up Malaysia exclaimed, all startup ecosystem players were there. Headliners as always set the tone. Brad Feld, the author of Startup Communities: Building an Entrepreneurial Ecosystem in Your City, established that the main thrust of the emerging global startup revolution is coming from small, entrepreneur-led communities. Daniel Isenberg, Executive Director of the Babson Entrepreneurial Ecosystem Project zoomed-in into the power of many local initiatives as he advised policymakers. Ricardo Michel, deputy director of Innovation and Development Alliances at USAID, sharing fresh thoughts in sustainable development efforts based on high-growth entrepreneurship. Esperanza Lasagabaster from the World Bank in turn ignited a conversation about communication between research labs and industry.

It was a Congress that also expanded discussion beyond startup promotion to a discussion about helping more scale-ups. Thought leaders like Linda Rottenberg, founder of Endeavor Global and one of the first leaders in the high-growth entrepreneurship renaissance in emerging economies, talked about the importance of particular relationships that at critical moments made Endeavor come to life. Mark Ecko, the entrepreneur behind the billion dollar global fashion and lifestyle company Ecko Enterprises, echoed Richard Branson’s message last year with a powerful performance about how and why your brand matters.

As I moved from event to event at the GEC this year, I saw lots of people at work. More than 200 entrepreneurship leaders from Africa gathered to build their own new initiative being coordinated by GEW called LIONS@Africa – a “Startup Africa” effort for tech entrepreneurs with the likes of Microsoft and Nokia, the African Development Bank and the World Bank behind it. I watched Dave McClure, founder of 500 Startups now in multiple countries, listening to eager entrepreneurs from all corners of the world; entrepreneur and Nairobi-based investor Mbwana Alliy pitching to several participants and earning two new potential investors for his Savannah Fund; Leslie Jump, a partner in the Cairo-based Sawari Ventures, dispelling the myth that organized venture and angel capital exists only in known startup nations. Jeff Hoffman, co-founder of Priceline.com, providing advice for startups about to scale a new entrepreneurial road. Tuba Terekli, the co-founder and CEO of Saudi Arabia’s Qotuf, side by side with Ingrid Vanderveldt, entrepreneur-in-residence at Dell inspiring high-growth women entrepreneurs; Bowei Gai, a Chinese-American serial entrepreneur, showcasing his World Startup Report project with an impressive “mapping” of the startup ecosystem in India. Kevin Langley, GEW Global Advisory Board member, leveraging his experience as recent global chairman of the Entrepreneurs' Organization (EO) in guiding national GEW teams in strengthening their GEW National Boards in various countries.

The GEC, of course, originated from a specific mission of empowering the teams’ leading the entrepreneurship movement working off the Global Entrepreneurship Week platform. As is often said about the U.S. Congress, “Congress at work is Congress in its committee rooms” and the same is true at the GEC. Whether during the formal two days of executive “working” sessions for GEW hosts or informally on the sidelines, GEW heads and their teams dig deeper into each other’s campaigns and explore new ways to have a bigger impacts in their own countries. They also recognize each other for their achievements. This year, despite strong competition from well-funded national campaigns from major economies, Cape Verde left the Congress with the top award for building a sweeping Global Entrepreneurship Week movement.

The variety of experiences during the Congress speaks volumes to the depth of integration that is going on around the world pertaining to entrepreneurship. Startups are now springing up in the most unexpected corners of the globe. The new generation of entrepreneurs and their peers no longer see their dreams of “doing well” and “doing good” as mutually exclusive, but rather intertwined. Entrepreneurial capital travels to find the most promising startups wherever they may be based in the world, and policymakers are mingling with key startup ecosystem players in their quest to enable more entrepreneurial success. A global race to build the best startup ecosystem is going on and it is a race that is open to all types of economies and regions. This all shows the power of Global Entrepreneurship Week, a loud grassroots movement that has become a platform for both the top-down and bottom-up efforts.

These changes are the result of the democratization and globalization of entrepreneurship. Thanks to more than 24,000 partner organizations around the world, GEW has expanded to more than 125 countries and has built a solid network of key entrepreneurship players. You are invited to experience it first-hand every November. The Week is an inspiring global festival featuring the innovators and job creators who launch startups that bring ideas to life, drive economic growth and expand human welfare.

So, what is next? Entrepreneurs now have the world’s attention. The need now is for greater integration of efforts. Inter-sector, cross-national conversations will continue beyond the yearly Global Entrepreneurship Congress and national GEW campaigns. The array of tools presented at the GEC for mapping startup ecosystems at the local level will help cities assess their assets. The next chapter will see emerging leadership boards in these countries not just to sustain the momentum, but to bring discipline to its methodologies and efforts.

We will take the pulse of progress in these areas when we reconvene in Moscow next March for the 2014 Global Entrepreneurship Congress. I hope to see you there.

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