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Entrepreneurship Heats up in Rio de Janeiro

Thom Ruhe

GEW MOU SigningRio de Janeiro, Brazil was the host city to the 2013 Global Entrepreneurship Congress. Over 1,000 people from 144 countries shared a hot and humid week fueled by the overwhelming passion to promote entrepreneurship globally.

Managed by our very capable friends of Global Entrepreneurship Week, and supported by the equally capable organization of Endeavor Brasil, it was one exhausting but exhilarating week; a week that reaffirmed my belief that people everywhere may create a better life for themselves and their communities by embracing the unlimited potential of entrepreneurship.

And so it was that I met fascinating people like the organizers of Liberalizing Innovation Opportunity Nations, or LIONS@FRICA partnership. They are working to mobilize the knowledge, expertise and resources of leading public and private institutions to encourage and enhance Africa’s innovation ecosystem and to spur entrepreneurship across the continent. Conceived at the 2012 Global Entrepreneurship Congress in Liverpool, England, the partnership is ramping up its engagement to promote capacity, connectivity, capital and credibility of Africa as a viable theater for investment and growth.

We (Kauffman and our program partners) were also participating and not just spectating. My colleague Lesa Mitchell led a panel discussion on Cities and Startup Communities, and for my part, I led a panel on innovations in entrepreneurship education. I was joined by Finton Donohue of the UK’s Gazelle Group, Yu Zhen of China’s Shanghai Technology Entrepreneurship Foundation for Graduates, Gary Schoeniger of The Entrepreneurial Learning Initiative of the United States, and Finland’s Mikko Kuusi, founder of Startup Sauna.

Among the many interesting things discussed on my panel, a practice shared by Mikko had great resonance personally and with the audience. Apparently as an outgrowth of their activity at the Startup Sauna, Finland now observes a national day of failing—intended as a celebration of learning and sharing experiences from which individuals may avoid the mistakes of others. Brilliant if you ask me.

Another benefit to such gatherings is reconnecting with old friends. I had one such experience that started with a trip I made to Dhaka Bangladesh in August 2010—yet another hot and humid experience.

I was there at the invitation of the Bangladeshi government and the request of the U.S. State Department. I made a series of university lectures and took several meetings with individuals and organizations that were seeking to expand entrepreneurship. Among the many well-intended people I met, one individual stood out, but not for his curriculum vitae or his connections within industry or government, he really didn’t have any. He stood out (at least to me) for his belief and determination that entrepreneurship would help his nation grow into an economic force that would ultimately lead the way to a higher standard of living for the approximately 160 million citizens of his country. His name is Sohael Chowdhury.

So I was thrilled to see Sohael again, this time in Brazil, as he represented the Young Entrepreneurs & Leaders League, better known as YELL Bangladesh. As one could imagine, Bangladesh does not enjoy the amenities and support that many other countries (and individuals) take for granted. Despite these conditions, Sohael and YELL Bangladesh has proudly participated in Global Entrepreneurship Week since 2009—a testament to the hope and opportunity it can provide.

I have included a photo here of Sohael and GEW President Jonathan Ortmans signing the 2013 GEW Memorandum of Understanding. If Sohael is representative of the grit and determination of the Bangladeshi people, some day this signing ceremony may be in consummation of Bangladesh being a host nation of a future Global Entrepreneurship Congress—yet again in a slightly warm and humid location.

But for those of you wondering if a tropical climate is a requisite for hosting a GEC, take heart in next year’s host location: Moscow Russia. Moscow in March of 2014 will invariably mean trading swimwear for sweaters. But we will stay warm fueled by the power and passion of entrepreneurship … and maybe a little vodka.

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