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National Boundaries are Porous for Global Entrepreneurs

Jonathan Ortmans

Entrepreneur, writer and academic Vivek Wadhwa, known for his work at Singularity University and writing on high skilled immigration, said it best in Moscow when he said “we don’t need governments to solve our problems anymore; we have entrepreneurs for that”.

This message set the tone for the first day of the Congress that focused on policy and programs that run up against age-old, intractable roadblocks for entrepreneurs in cities and communities around the globe. The example of Italy’s recent startup legislation overhaul, as outlined by Italy’s lead startup policy guru, Alessandro Fusacchia and Start-Up Chile founder Nicolás Shea, offered GEC delegates evidence that smart pro-entrepreneur policymaking is politically possible.

During the “Entrepreneurial City Leaders” panel, for example, local policy leaders from Buenos Aires, Medellín, Moscow and Rome made the argument that local-level policy levers are not only available, but most importantly are cost-effective. In fact, smart, evidence-based policymaking is nowhere more apparent than in the world’s budget-constrained cities that were forced to delve right into the essence of entrepreneurship and startup dynamics with the help of startup-savvy people now increasingly hired by city governments to lead efforts. It is such a trend that makes co-working spaces and education programs in Moscow increasingly indistinguishable from those in entrepreneurship hubs in London or Silicon Valley.

Vital to such evidence-based decisions is good data.  In this regard, the new Global Entrepreneurship Research Network (GERN) convened for the first time at the GEC with the primary goal of helping keep policy grounded on entrepreneurial research and evaluation methods.

Clearly, entrepreneurship policymaking has changed paradigms, with policymakers thirsty for better and more robust research around how to help entrepreneurs from the onset. It is therefore not surprising that the GEC had strong delegations at the GEC Startup Nations meeting from locations like Zambia, inspired by the jaw-dropping progress of neighboring Rwanda, and Buenos Aires, which, against the backdrop of a difficult national policy environment, is set to make the city a magnet and catalyzer for entrepreneurial ideas.

The policy-focused opening day fostered a conversation between these three distinct groups in the global entrepreneurship ecosystem: policy leaders from local, regional and national governments; analysis leaders from the GERN network, and the actual entrepreneurs who inspire and provide the data to guide the other two groups.

The “Start + Scale Forum” opening up the second day of the Congress focused on startup communities and those supporting new firms.  Delegates heard talks from leaders of the latest innovations in early stage financing, those designing new accelerator models, and gurus such as Bob Dorf, co-author of The Start-up Owner’s Manual.  Participants got plenty of inspiration from the likes of Peter Vesterbacka, the Chief Marketing Officer of Rovio Entertainment, better known as the person behind the ever-popular game Angry Birds, Shahar Waiser, the Founder and CEO of Uber-challenger GetTaxi, Ingrid Vanderveldt, Entrepreneur in Residence at Dell, Jeff Hoffman, Priceline.com Co-Creator and many more. Their common message: entrepreneurs driven by purpose and inspiring mentorship always outperform those driven by money. It was this kind of motivating entrepreneurial energy that drove Peter Vesterbacka to not give up, despite failing 51 times before creating Angry Birds.

This entrepreneurial energy also drives Co-Founder of VC4Africa Ben White. Following the inspiring Start + Scale Talks, White moderated a popular panel on “Democratizing Startup Investments,” which looked at how communities around the world are expanding their investor pool. While the panelists during day two of the GEC didn’t argue the value of investors, the “What Works & What Doesn’t: Connecting Entrepreneurs to the Right Resources,” reminded entrepreneurs of the value of customer approval, which sometimes gets lost in the quest to secure investors.

The four days of the GEC offered an overwhelming menu of concurrent sessions on topics ranging from entrepreneurship education, to dozens of panels around specific opportunities by industry vertical, to regional sessions such as the Unleashing African Entrepreneurship organized by LIONS@FRICA.    

The 2014 GEC was further proof that the hunger for rapidly scaling entrepreneurship ecosystems is a priority for leaders in all corners of the world eager to let entrepreneurs wield their extraordinary influence on the economy.   The next GEC will convene in March of 2015 in Milan Italy.

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