Combing the World in Search of Start-up Talent

Jonathan Ortmans, President, Public Forum Institute

The Obama Administration last week started a $300 billion bond-buying binge to jump start growth and announced that it will invest $15 billion in lending practices to ease the lending dry up for small businesses.  Governments around the world are trying to take such decisive and coordinated action to restore growth through consumer demand and jobs, and heads of state will gather very soon in London in an attempt to demonstrate coordinated definitive leadership to shore up confidence in markets around the world.  

Readers of this column are now well acquainted with this author’s views on the central role in re-starting the global economy of those unperturbed citizens around the world who see opportunity rather than doom.  Often driven by a desired to do well and do good and an interest in not working for Wall Street’s CEOs but using them as mentors, our new generation of entrepreneurs are geared up and underway.  They are also global in their mindsets.

We should approach innovation in a similar fashion, taking steps to boost R&D and the commercialization of new technologies at home, while at the same time scouring the world to help those with the best innovative ideas, programs and policies that nurture innovation.  When the fires burn out and the market bottoms out, it will be the entrepreneurs who seed the new ideas and jobs from the ashes.

I post today from Cape Town, South Africa, from the MIT Global Startup Workshop.  In a previous article (A Bright Beacon in the “Shining City on the Hill”), I have argued that we should export our knowledge about entrepreneurship and innovation. Just because new ideas are developed elsewhere does not mean that the U.S. cannot derive benefits from them. All countries, including rich ones like the U.S., can expect to be better off if there are more skilled people working to advance the technological frontier (see Good Capitalism, Bad Capitalism, page 256).  At the same time, U.S. leaders should strive to maintain an innovation leadership position and an attractive entrepreneurial environment. Unfortunately, a recent ITIF report highlighted that the U.S. is lagging behind in innovation policy. To stay ahead, we need to be open to sharing and learning from emerging best practices in other countries.

We need global entrepreneurs who see market opportunities beyond the artificial grid of national boundaries. We should engage with innovation models everywhere in the world and sharing and learning about different startup incubators’ practices. Surprisingly, there are few known, successful start-up incubators around the world. Some are private and others public, and, others partnerships. While some of incubators in the U.S. have received much praise, we have a lot to learn on the effectiveness of the different types of initiatives, as well as new models such as proof of concept centers. Simply put, there are many pathways to innovation to learn and discover. This week, I will be engaging in exactly this learning here in Cape Town.

Another interesting related effort is the Kauffman Foundation’s Global Scholars Program. This program gives select young engineering, science, and technology scholars from other countries the opportunity to study entrepreneurship in the U.S. The Scholars come here to exchange ideas with American researchers, students, business founders, and policymakers. They gain insights into our innovative and entrepreneurial environment, taking that knowledge back home as they start their ventures. They become our future partners no matter where they eventually reside. Those who engage with the Global Scholars during their visit gain exclusive insights into the entrepreneurial resources and practices that characterize the Scholars’ home countries. It’s a productive give-and-take of ideas.

We need more of such transnational dialogues. Only by reaching out can we be a magnet for entrepreneurial ideas and increase our competitiveness by developing stable markets overeas. While all politics may be local, innovation is global.  Only by approaching entrepreneurship and innovation from a global perspective can we develop the best start-up incubators and innovation models at home.

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