For the first time in three years, entrepreneurs and entrepreneurship support organizations, advocates and policymakers, investors and many others gathered in person this week for the Global Entrepreneurship Congress. With representatives from close to 200 countries, and hosted in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, the 2022 GEC covered an enormous range of topics.
From space entrepreneurship (astro-preneurship, someone called it) to entrepreneurship policymaking, angel investing to competitions, almost nothing was left out. Here are three top-line takeaways from this year’s GEC.
Entrepreneurs Are Everywhere
Literally. In any country, any context, and any condition, you will find entrepreneurs and their startups and new businesses. Entrepreneurship is not exclusive to a particular type of country or region. This year’s GEC included participants from countries such as Iraq, Venezuela, Uzbekistan, Ukraine, Sri Lanka, Cameroon, and Uruguay.
The representatives from these nations are not anomalies. There are enormous masses of people behind them, starting companies and organizing support activities in their respective countries. Their stories of entrepreneurial success are inspiring.
Indonesia’s Minister of Social Affairs, Tri Rismaharini, for example, spoke about her efforts to help the homeless and the disabled through entrepreneurship support. Entrepreneurs are often described, correctly, as a type of outsider: they are underdogs, heretics, the Davids challenging Goliaths. Minister Rismaharini is turning that around, seeking to integrate social outsiders through entrepreneurship.
Just as impressive as the number of countries represented at GEC is how much each country is doing when it comes to entrepreneurship support, both public and private. Perhaps there is a lesson here for the United States. The Startup Act has been introduced, unsuccessfully, in Congress a handful of times over the last 12 years. Many other countries, such as Brazil, have already enacted their own Startup Acts and are well down the road of implementation. There is a dizzying number of events and activities continuously occurring in every corner of the earth, many with enthusiastic support from public leaders.
Diplomacy Can Happen Without Diplomats
At GEC, entrepreneurs representing their countries made new connections, building those links that constitute global connectedness. Entrepreneurship event organizers shared lessons and tips with each other. Policymakers compared notes on what did and didn’t work for them in crafting entrepreneurship policy.
These connections matter for many reasons. They can open up new markets for a country’s entrepreneurs. They improve entrepreneurship support everywhere because of the information sharing that occurs at GEC. They can even strengthen ties between countries at official levels. The policymakers who participate in GEC continue on to senior levels of government in their nations. Minister Rismaharini, mentioned above, hosted the Startup Nations Summit when she was mayor of Surabaya. Now, at the national level, she’s applying lessons and inspirations from that event and continued engagement with the Global Entrepreneurship Network (GEN).
Today’s entrepreneurs, too, are tomorrow’s leaders of successful companies, nonprofits, civil society organizations, and government. The more connections they build with their peers around the world during their entrepreneurial journey, the wider their view will be when they sit on top of the social and economic pyramid.
There Is (Still) A Lot Of Work To Do
Few people today would argue that promotion of entrepreneurship is unimportant. Entrepreneurship support has, in many ways, gone mainstream. While there is no shortage of excitement and commitment of resources, gaps persist and needs continue to be unmet.
In some countries, entrepreneurs see high-level announcements from their governments about entrepreneurship support—but still say that translation of those announcements into actual action is lacking. In other places, it’s not clear what effect entrepreneurship support is actually having. One participant put it this way: we’ve invested a lot in entrepreneurial plumbing and infrastructure, but water isn’t moving through the pipes in many places.
Starting and building a business will never be easy. As one speaker observed, entrepreneurs always have challenges so they’ll always be “complaining” about those challenges. In many countries, there is still considerable work to do in convincing people that they can be entrepreneurs. Even when entrepreneurship is widely accepted, barriers always pop up, whether intentionally or not. The work of GEC and its participants and stakeholders will never, in a sense, be done.
It was announced this week that next year’s GEC will take place in Melbourne, Australia. By then, the world will hopefully be well out of the Covid-19 pandemic. The 2023 GEC will be a key opportunity to further assess not merely the world’s enthusiasm for entrepreneurship but also its progress in helping entrepreneurs solve intractable problems.