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APEC Needs to Recommit to Startups by November

Jonathan Ortmans, President, Public Forum Institute

Jonathan OrtmansThis week, I was invited to join the annual Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Trade Ministerial in Big Sky, Montana. This regional bloc meeting remains one of the most important venues for discussing global economic policy. It is also one that has paid attention to the role of entrepreneurs in achieving its goals of trade and cooperation for growth.

For example, in order to promote entrepreneurial development within the region, APEC has developed initiatives and even case studies to foster an understanding of the attributes and needs of entrepreneurs. The first APEC symposium on venture business and innovations in entrepreneurship development was held in 2000. Since then, a continuous exchange of ideas and information has been taking place among the economic institutions and entrepreneurship organizations representing the 21 APEC member economies. For example, in July 2008, APEC held a Workshop on Embedding Entrepreneurship in University Curriculum in Ha Noi, Viet Nam, that focused on the growing demand for entrepreneurs and how to facilitate the development of entrepreneurship programs at universities. Last October, the United States and Japan co-hosted the APEC Women’s Entrepreneurship Summit (WES) in Gifu City, Japan, to help inform innovative strategies to strengthen women entrepreneurs’ participation and contributions to economic growth. I also encourage our readers to check out and send us updates on our reviews of the state of entrepreneurship in some of the APEC member countries (e.g., Chile, China, Indonesia, Malaysia, and South Korea), as well as on other APEC countries and beyond. Also, check out what is going on for Global Entrepreneurship Week in the region.

However, entrepreneurship still appears to be more of a side ring at the circus at these global economic policy meetings. The Office of the United States Trade Representative (USTR) reported that our country sees this week’s economic conference as a unique opportunity to work with Asia-Pacific partners to address issues related to U.S. objectives to grow jobs and stimulate the growth of businesses. As I have noted before, entrepreneurship is a key foreign policy card for America. President Obama’s 2010 Summit and Secretary Clinton’s entrepreneurship initiatives such as the Global Entrepreneurship Program acknowledge this. However, if we are continue to restore our image as the shining city on the hill and provide leadership after this deep global recession, entrepreneurship needs to also be a more integral part of our international economic policy discussions.

It would be interesting, for example, to see a shift in the APEC emphasis from “small- and medium-sized businesses” to young businesses or “small and growing businesses.” After all, many APEC members, such as Hong Kong, Japan, Korea, Singapore, and Taiwan, have moved from middle income nations to high income economies with the help of new economic policies that proved to be supportive of entrepreneurship and innovation. For example, it is said that much of South Korean success is due to entrepreneurs who grew companies like Samsung, Hyundai, and LG. More importantly, jump-starting growth will require understanding and building effective entrepreneurial ecosystems across countries. Entrepreneurship across countries should translate into partnerships, commercial relationships and jobs.

The meetings in Big Sky Montana only represent one stop of the APEC dialogue continuum. While discussing anti-corruption and green growth is important, I urge the leaders this week to push for more consideration of the power of high growth startups to the Asian Pacific economy when meetings continue in San Francisco in mid-September. Even more important, APEC might make note that world leaders will convene in Hawaii for the conclusion of APEC this year during Global Entrepreneurship Week when millions of Asians will celebrate the importance of new firm formation. It would seem appropriate at that time to tip our hats to these risk takers by acknowledging their role in both of Ambassador Kirk’s stated goals.

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Jonathan Ortmans is president of the Public Forum Institute, a non-partisan organization dedicated to fostering dialogue on important policy issues. In this capacity, he leads the Policy Dialogue on Entrepreneurship, focused on public policies to promote entrepreneurship in the U.S. and around the world. In addition, he serves as a senior fellow at the Kauffman Foundation.

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