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Global Entrepreneurship Week Kicks off Around the World and Portugal’s New Age of Discovery

Jonathan Ortmans, President, Public Forum Institute

Jonathan Ortmans

Throughout this week, when another 80 countries launch Global Entrepreneurship Week (GEW), there will be a significant number of events organized by GEW partners at universities, schools, companies, professional associations, technological centers and municipalities. Like last week’s events in Muslim countries, the activities will be diversified, ranging from thematic conferences to networking with investors and entrepreneurs, presentation of business plans, recreational events, sport events, cultural events, etc. There will be something for everyone and I encourage all to take advantage of these opportunities.

I am currently in Portugal where much has changed since the country joined the EU in 1986. Over these years, Portuguese governments have liberalized some areas of the economy, such as the telecommunications sector, unleashing a wave of opportunity-recognition among its people. At the same time, the status of entrepreneurs, particularly of the innovative, high-risk-taker kind, has rapidly evolved in a positive way. As a recent article on INSEAD’s site explains, in the past there was a strong tradition of family business and industrial organizations that dominated sectors and government-held companies. High-growth, high-impact entrepreneurship was not mainstream. Today, it is not hard to come up with a list of Portuguese innovators like ISA, a global technology company that spun off Portugal’s the University of Coimbra, and BA Glass and Purificação Tavares, whose entrepreneurs were all recognized during the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur Of The Year 2009 ceremony.

Data from the EC confirms that the status of entrepreneurs has significantly improved in Portugal. As Secretary of State, Fernando Medina pointed out to me today, Portugal is one of the seven EU countries where entrepreneurs were ranked above all other professions. 61% of Portuguese respondents were more likely to have a rather favorable opinion about entrepreneurs than they were to express such an opinion about any other professional groups.

The Portuguese credit their education for their entrepreneurial attitude. Around 64% of respondents to the 2009 EC survey in Portugal agreed that their school education had helped them to develop a sense of initiative or entrepreneurial attitude. Also, Portuguese respondents were the most likely among all others in the 36 countries surveyed to agree that their school education had helped them to better understand the role of entrepreneurs in society (66%).

I am pleased to be here in Lisbon to open Global Entrepreneurship Week 2010 in Portugal as there is still much work to be done here to boost entrepreneurship. Despite the positive attitude toward entrepreneurs in Portugal, the proportion of respondents to the EC Survey on Entrepreneurship who reported a preference for self-employment has decreased to 51% in 2009 (-20 points from 2002). Only a minority of respondents in Portugal (4%) said they were considering starting up a business. Clearly there is a gap between the supportive culture and actual business creation.

Following my remarks today we had a message from Anibal Cavaco Silva, the President of Portugal who leads a government which, in response to competition from other EU countries and more recently, the economic crisis, has moved entrepreneurship and innovation promotion to the center of the economic agenda as a source of sustainable economic stimulus. At the end of 2009, the government announced that it would leverage angel investment and the Portuguese government said it would match one for one investment in a private financial fund. More recently, it approved a 20% tax relief for angels, following the example of the UK. As you will see in our GEW video, President Cavaco Silva, is also an active supporter of Global Entrepreneurship Week.

As scholar Filipe Pamplona de Castro Soeiro argues in Entrepreneuship in Portugal and the Role of the State, the Portuguese government has ample opportunities to foster entrepreneurship. As de Castro explains, there are opportunities in many areas, such as for promoting incubators based on industry-university relations, for promoting social and cultural norms favorable to entrepreneurship, and for addressing the low level of use of IPR by Portuguese firms.

In terms of education, we can observe that active steps have been taken by various players in Portugal’s entrepreneurship ecosystem. A new component of the MIT Portugal Program – the MIT Portugal Innovation and Entrepreneurship Initiative (IEI) – was launched last May to support Portugal’s goal to strengthen its capacity in technological innovation and entrepreneurship. The initiative is a collaboration between the Portuguese institution “Instituto Superior de Ciências do Trabalho e da Empresa – Instituto Universitário de Lisboa” (ISCTE-IUL) and MIT´s Deshpande Center for Technological Innovation, Entrepreneurship Center and School of Engineering. The partnership aims to expand opportunities for technology commercialization through Portuguese technology showcase events, competitions and other education initiatives. Today I had a chance to meet with some of the entrepreneurs who are products of Portugal’s science and technology heritage who products range from machines that provide instant results to blood tests to transparent transitors based on zinc oxide semiconductors like those you might have seen in the movie Minority Report.

Education also received attention during Portugal’s GEW opening session, which took place in Lisbon today (Nov.15) with a full day program. During this session, participants had the chance to participate in a videoconference, with the support of CISCO, in which distinguished entrepreneurs from Portugal, Brazil, Spain, United Kingdom, USA and India presented their major experiences. Part of the discussion was “Entrepreneurship and Education.” At the end of the opening Session the winners of the “Startup Weekend Lisbon” were announced and I was given the honor of presenting the prize to a young women who had an idea and prototype for a new trash compactor system for fastfood restaurants.

I hope all GEW activities in Portugal will generate the momentum to translate a strengthening entrepreneurship culture into innovations, jobs, and wealth for Portugal and beyond.

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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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