Startup Global

Jonathan Ortmans


Thousands of people from 135 countries have already confirmed their participation for next month’s week-long Global Entrepreneurship Congress (GEC) and festival in Rio de Janeiro. As chair of the GEC for the past few years, I have witnessed the emergence of this global platform for collaboration among entrepreneurs, their investors and national leaders held outside the United States. So what happens at the GEC?

What is interesting about this event is its reach and scale and the evidence it provides of the democratization of entrepreneurship - the phenomenon of startups, and the communities that foster them springing up in the most unexpected corners of the globe. Governments from all corners have been racing to make their nations more attractive to entrepreneurs. The list of countries embarrassed into improving “ease of doing business” in the latest World Bank rankings lists nations of all economic classifications. This is why at the GEC in Rio next month, while Brazilian entrepreneurial prowess will be on show, delegates will experience not an all Brazilian or American show, but a global one focused on startup cities, experiential education, startup legislation, new models for where entrepreneurs can get their money, and an array of the most effective practical efforts in the world— from the likes of Kauffman and Endeavor—to help entrepreneurs scale.

This globalization of entrepreneurship has taken place not vertically but mainly horizontally. Over the past few years, the GEC has gathered many entrepreneurs and leaders in the startup community who are quick to dismiss government as irrelevant to their success. It has also welcomed government leaders uninformed about how their existing informal startup communities are already out there making things happen. In Rio, Brad Feld, author of “Startup Communities,” reminded us that a startup revolution has been and should continue to be led by entrepreneurs. At the same time, staff from governments that are exploring legislative and regulatory steps to help startups reminded us it is government that sets the rules and incentives—and that while public sector employees may not look the part, entrepreneurs should be careful not to be so dismissive. The GEC in Rio next month hopes to bring the two together: to find where top down and bottom up meet in developed, emerging and underdeveloped economies.

This annual Congress started in Kansas City in 2009, when the Kauffman Foundation convened the very first GEC with the goal of learning from entrepreneurship experts from 60 countries, particularly those pioneer leaders implementing the Global Entrepreneurship Week (GEW) initiative among their fellow citizens. Since then, the GEC has grown rapidly to a gathering that empowers serial and new entrepreneurs, investors, researchers and policymakers to work together to bring ideas to life and drive economic growth. When the second GEC took place in Dubai, entrepreneurship champions from 90 countries convened under the patronage of Sheikh Nahayan Mabarek Al Nahayan, the Minister for Higher Education and Technology in the UAE. Shanghai hosted the GEC in 2011, gathering 1,000 leaders from 100 countries and introduced the idea of the world getting a thorough introduction to the entrepreneurial ecosystem of the Host country. High-ranking Chinese government officials, such as Yan Junqi, the vice chairwoman of the standing committee of the National People's Congress of China and the country’s Minister for Science and Technology interacted with a number of native entrepreneurs and angel investors who had been leading the country’s new wave of entrepreneurial activity.

Most recently in 2012, as noted in the Economist, Liverpool raised the bar again, adding economic researchers and bright personalities to the GEC—including the likes of Richard Branson, founder and chairman of the Virgin Group which consists of more than 400 companies. As part of Liverpool’s own economic renaissance, the city expanded the Congress into a true festival of entrepreneurship with nearly 80 fringe events held around the town. Ideas floated among entrepreneurs, researchers, investors and government officials from 125 countries about everything from seeding startup communities to smarter national policies.

This year in Rio, a new addition will be the national advisory boards attending that steer efforts through GEW to build more robust entrepreneurial ecosystems in neighborhoods and cities around the world. The GEC this year has also attracted collaborations with global entrepreneurial support organizations such as the Startup Weekend Organizers Summit (SoSummit) which will kick start everything on Saturday, March 16—bringing more than 150 organizers from over 100+ communities around the world for a three-day gathering of the organizers behind the Startup Weekend movement.

The Congress will open on March 18th with an event hosted by Dell called “Women as a Strategic Advantage: to Excel in Business.” Building off Dell’s successful Women’s Entrepreneur Network (DWEN), this event will discuss how technology can help women entrepreneurs succeed. In the afternoon, the GEC will continue the tradition started in Liverpool of opening with a GEC policy forum focusing on ideas to foster more startups and faster scale-ups. More countries are streamlining regulations and implementing policies such as new legislation to facilitate the immigration of entrepreneurial talent and the inflow of startup capital. This summit offers policymakers an opportunity to exchange innovative policy ideas and approaches. March 18th will also offer—for those getting used to a new time zone—a relaxing option of participating in an entrepreneurship film festival which will run a feast of full production films made about entrepreneurs and investors with filmmakers attending from Iceland to the United States.

The annual GEC Summit will open on March 19th and feature dozens of experts from across the globe sharing common experiences in building startup communities, evaluating effective interventions and experiential learning programs that really help entrepreneurs, airing new models for financing growth and how to scale up after starting up.

While some delegates go behind closed doors for executive sessions on March 20 and 21, the majority of delegates will find themselves spoiled for choice with more than 50 event options. For example, GEC participants will have an opportunity to learn about the Kauffman Foundation´s Ice House Entrepreneurship Program. Kauffman FastTrac will in turn share an overview of Alana Muller’s “Coffee Lunch Coffee” networking concept–an accessible, relevant, immediately actionable approach to help you formulate a strategic mindset around networking. Various delegations are hosting educational events. For example, the Peruvian Delegation to the GEC 2013 will share information about new initiatives in the entrepreneurial ecosystem in Peru, including: FINCyT, FIDECOM and Startup Peru. March 20th will also see the launch of ERLY Stage, a new media platform with a focus on the global market for education technology startups. Also on March 20th will be “Day 1” where successful entrepreneurs will share their stories about their idea, their first big sale and other factors that enabled their companies to scale.

On Thursday, March 21, the Cleantech Open will host a discussion of cleantech innovation in Latin America, a region that represents a major global opportunity for entrepreneurs in the field. There will be examples of breakthrough innovations that aim to tackle today’s most pressing environmental and energy challenges, including those from finalists and partners from the GEW Cleantech Open Global Ideas Competition. Thursday will also offer “Entrepreneurship 2.0: Taking Your Local Ecosystem to the Next Level” an interactive workshop that will allow delegates to take home new tools and resources.

These are just a few of the activities happening in Rio around the Global Entrepreneurship Congress. There will be plenty of chances to hear from and network with opinion leaders like Brad Feld, co-founder and mentor at TechStars, Jeff Hoffman, co-founder of Priceline.com, Nairobi ecosystem driver Mbwana Allily, founder and managing partner at Savannah Fund and many more. While the types of events and activities vary widely, they all share a common thread—how to empower entrepreneurs in any part of the world and enable them to start and grow firms that create jobs and improve lives.

All this will happen at the core of the city so participants from different sectors can easily mingle on the sidelines. Unlike most international conventions in the city, like the Rio+20 Summit in Rio last June, the GEC will not be held at a convention center outside of town but on the water in a facility on the Rodrigo de Freitas Lagoon converted into a “startup village.” Locals were reluctant to ask impatient startup junkies to spend any time in cabs and so even sessions not held in the Lagoon will be integrated into the heart of Rio and wherever possible be walking distance from the GEC startup village.

As many nations continue to face considerable economic challenges, there is a rising sense of urgency around jump-starting entrepreneurial growth. The GEC provides a platform for cross-border collaboration around the world in high-growth entrepreneurship. It also bridges a gap in the worldwide entrepreneurship movement by bringing bottom-up voices together with top-down public sector leadership. An important milestone in entrepreneurship thinking will be achieved in Rio next month. (For more information visit: gec2013.com. GEC reached capacity a few weeks ago, but PDE readers interested in participating, add a comment on this blog and we will follow up).

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