The world economy has disappointed this year with its jobless recovery and continuing financial instability. Clearly, the country needs more entrepreneurs. A recent poll in the U.S. shows that those ages 18-34–the so-called “Millennial Generation”–are that entrepreneurial bunch. Fifty-four percent of “millennials” either want to start a business or already have started one. And judging by last week’s vibrant Global Entrepreneurship Week , this seems to be a global phenomenon and one driven by people interested in doing good and do well.
Take Global Entrepreneurship Week’s Startup Open, which received thousands of applications from startups from over 60 countries launched between GEW 2010 & GEW 2011. The ‘GEW 50’—those with the greatest chance of growing into game-changing firms that will move markets and create jobs—included many women-led firms as well as a lot of new for-profit companies birthed to solve problems. The two final winners were Cambridge-based Fenugreen and Boston’s Dynamo Micropower. Kavita Shukla founded Fenugreen to offer patented, all-natural material to address the global challenge of food spoilage. Jason Ethier’s winning Dynamo Micropower in turn commercializes a proprietary ultra-micro turbine architecture that will supplant conventional power solutions in the sub-10kW range.
The winner of the Global Student Entrepreneur Awards (GSEA) was no exception to this trend. Ludwick Marishane, senior at the University of Cape Town, won a half million dollar prize pool of cash and in-kind business services, for Headboy Industries, founded to create products that solve the world’s most difficult problems and make them available to everyone. Its flagship product, DryBath, is the world’s only bath substitute lotion for the whole body. Its greatest application is for the millions people worldwide who have no daily access to clean water.
Startup Weekend and the Cleantech Open Global Ideas Competition were other “all action” events featuring young, bright minds. I witnessed in Startup Weekend Tokyo and Toronto many ideas move to launch in 54 hours. This happened in over 60 cities around the world during this past week. Winners from each Startup Weekend event face off later this month in the Global Startup Battle. For the Cleantech Open Global Ideas Competition, finalists from France, Denmark, the United Kingdon, Sweden, Chile and the United States met in San Francisco to pick the Global Winner who took the grand prize of $100,000: BioFiltro from Chile, which commercializes a waste-water treatment system first developed at the University of Chile. The Millenial Generation seems to be a phenomenon worldwide.
These and the thousands of other GEW activities offered the perfect forum for learning, networking and starting up for a generation that is global in its mindset. For instance YouCook, a German provider of healthy ready-to-eat meals, was voted the top startup at Meet the Dragons in Rotterdam, Netherlands, and ‘Pembe Panjur’, a Turkish dating site, walked away with promises of investment from three of the Dragons.
The globalization of startup movements is made very evident by Global Entrepreneurship Week. Start-up Chile, for example, a ground-breaking program to attract world-class early stage entrepreneurs to start their firms in Chile now offers participants equity-free seed capital and a one-year work visa in Chile along with access to the most potent social and capital networks in the country.
GEW 2011 confirms the data and observable trends. Today’s younger generation is enthusiastic about being involved with new and young firms and see no artificial borders to launch their ideas. It is now up to the rest of us to fight to remove barriers standing in their way. In the U.S. alone, over sixty percent of the potential young entrepreneurs think that making it easier to start a business should be a priority for Congress. They are not asking for subsidies, but they want access to tools for better chances of success, such as increased access to the education and training needed to run a business.
Fortunately, multiple policy discussions also took center stage during GEW 2011. In Washington, DC, the White House, U.S. State Department and Inter-American Developmental Bank partnered with the Kauffman Foundation on the opening day of GEW to explore fresh approaches to increasing global engagement in fostering new starts around the world. At the White House last Thursday, Empact100 recognized the top 100 entrepreneurs ages 30 or younger and joined the call to revitalize our economy by getting more people to start a business of their own. Many government representatives in turn participated in the Future of Entrepreneurship Education Summit at the US Chamber of Commerce on Friday to brainstorm with leaders from different sectors (government, foundations, education, corporations, media, entrepreneur support organizations, and entrepreneurs). In the Middle East, the Festival of Thinkers at the Emirates Palace organized by the Higher Colleges of Technology in the United Arab Emirates gathered H.E. Sheikh Nahayan Mabarak Al Nahayan, UAE Minister of Higher Education and Scientific Research and Chancellor of the Higher Colleges of Technology, with dozens of Nobel Laureates, global thought leaders and young university students from 12 countries in the region. Also, another round of Presidents and Prime Ministers voiced their support of GEW, including President Obama who declared November as National Entrepreneurship Month, along with heads of state from Ethiopia, Canada , Chinese Taipei, Portugal & New Zealand.
The Global Entrepreneurship Congress in Liverpool in March 2012 will continue this momentum to continue building better and more interconnected entrepreneurial ecosystems by bringing together entrepreneurs, investors, global leaders and startup champions from more than 100 countries. But we must all continue to think of ways to maximize the potential of the Millennial Generation. The global economy needs them.