I am happy to report that in its third year, Global Entrepreneurship Week grew by leaps and bounds. As more countries take advantage of this global movement, more minds are pursuing their entrepreneurial dreams. GEW has not just inspired students looking for a way to reach their goals, but the leaders of nations who were inspired in their efforts to boost growth by the sheer energy of the millions of participants in GEW activities during the past two weeks. In case you haven’t been following, here are a couple of anecdotes from this year’s Week, and the reaction it produced among some of the world’s leaders.
GEW/Germany, “Gründerwoche,” alone tripled its impact with over 1,200 events and 650 partners through the year in 2010. The Week had the Ministry of Economy and Technology as the country’s GEW official coordinator. Many other countries joined the global campaign for this first time this year, like El Salvador. Even countries where entrepreneurship is not deep-rooted in society and have not mustered its officials’ support have created activities to unleash its people’s entrepreneurial potential and wake up their governments to their power to drive the economy.
In each case, GEW presented an array of stimulating events with themes ranging from design to the environment, nanotechnology, social development, and beyond. Just check out the stories of the young entrepreneurs from 22 countries who gathered at the Kauffman Foundation in Kansas City to compete in the Global Student Entrepreneur Awards (GSEA). Spanning all industry sectors, these student’s companies earned annual revenues ranging from $20,000 to $3 million.
Activities were created not just to boost local entrepreneurship, but also to connect communities’ of entrepreneurs with the rest of the world through regional and global activities. For example, Startup Weekend and Startup Battle exposed dozens of new ventures to the world. Startup Weekend Beirut alone attracted around 300 entrepreneurs from Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and Palestine to battle 14 other cities worldwide. The Latin American group LATAM in turn created a new cross-border initiative, Virtual Forum, aimed at promoting an intercultural dialogue about entrepreneurship. The LATAM group, conceived at this year’s Global Entrepreneurship Congress by 11 hosts from the region, hopes this online platform will be the first step towards building a more cooperative culture in enterprise promotion throughout the region, including a much-needed dialogue between young entrepreneurs across Latin America.
Beyond creating a more entrepreneurial culture, a necessary “capital” for startup entrepreneurs, GEW produced easily quantifiable and visible results. Take Beirut’s Yalla Startup Weekend. Tweeting about the event, Habib Haddad, founder of Yamli.com and lead organizer in the event declared: “34 mind blowing startups in 3 days!” Actual innovations sprung during the week too. At Jordan’s Ideas Festival, for example, I witnessed very cool ideas turned into products, such as the “Dancing Pillow” (a pillow that vibrates to wake you up), a plumbing innovation that uses waste water from a regular sink to flush toilets, recycled art that takes all those art objects you are bored with and makes new art for you.
Other companies that were spotlighted during GEW around the world were a little further on their prototype-development path, and with the mentoring and awards they won will continue to expand, such as the GSEA runner-up student-created company “Shape Collage Inc.” This software company enables user to assemble online photo collages in seconds. More than 2.5 million people from over 200 countries have downloaded the patent pending software. Abeo A/S, the Danish company founded in June 2010 to commercialize the patented building technology Super-Light Structures won the Global Cleantech Open Ideas Competition prize, which will help its founders to jumpstart the company’s expansion. Resolute Marine Energy — a Boston startup whose technology harnesses wave energy for power generation, and transports seawater to on-shore desalination facilities— won Global Entrepreneurship Week’s inaugural Startup Open. As their prize, co-founders of Resolute Marine receive an all-expenses-paid, one-day trip to the island owned by Sir Richard Branson where they will embark on a Maverick Business Adventure, a networking event.
Results will not end here. Specially not if more policymakers join leaders like UK Prime Minister David Cameron, who declared during the launch of GEW/UK that his “government is doing everything possible to encourage entrepreneurs who are starting out – from simplifying taxes to providing access to mentors.” Many leaders took advantage of the growing momentum during the Week to discuss the state of entrepreneurship in their countries and to outline steps to improve it. For example, the OECD high-level meeting on “Lessons from the Global Crisis and The Way Forward to Job Creation and Growth” focused on entrepreneurship as the way forward for economic growth and job creation. South Africa hosted its own “The State of Entrepreneurship” conference where leaders in the fields of education, government and business proposed innovative solutions to create dynamic entrepreneurial environments in South Africa (soon to be published in a White Paper). The Danish Minister for Economic and Business Affairs, Mr. Brian Mikkelsen, in turn addressed 170 key decision makers from businesses, government and business organizations on Monday the 15th of November during what he called “Growth Day 2010.” In Jordan, his Excellency Minister of Education Marwan Juma joined us in GEW discussions, showing wise understanding of what the government needs to do – and where it should keep out of the way. In Israel, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu promised during a featured GEW event that the government will advance concrete proposals in the economic sphere in order to ensure that Israel continues to maintain its status as “startup nation”. As part of the finale of Global Entrepreneurship Week, President Obama has again echoed this theme being trumpeted around the world during GEW by declaring one day of Global Entrepreneurship Week, National Entrepreneurs’ Day in the United States.
I urge these and other leaders to take this momentum forward, making entrepreneurship a matter year-round. While creating new businesses and new jobs is the work of entrepreneurs, governments around the world can and should create supportive environments for startups. Together, we can shape the next generation of entrepreneurs and economic leaders for our own countries and the world at large.
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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.