The President’s White House celebration of global entrepreneurship a few days ago had lots of panache and plenty of heavyweights. I sat with founders of famous brands old and new like Steve Case (AOL) and Brian Chesky (AirBnB). We were joined by rock stars in the field like Mark Cuban of Shark Tank and Julie Hanna of the Kiva crowdfunding platform. It was a great display of American ingenuity and the creative spirit that our nation is known for around the world.

But how much has our government been able to keep pace with the startup revolution over the past 5 years? It was certainly not the first event about startups I have attended at the White House where the President committed his support for Americans who take the initiative to figure out better ways of doing and making things. From a White House Maker Faire to a Rose Garden JOBS Act signing ceremony I attended opening the doors to loosening regulation around crowdfunding, this President has not been shy in his words of support for entrepreneurs.

However, given the linear institutional formal framework of government and the messy, creative “on the fly” culture of entrepreneurialism, this is not an easy partnership to foster. This blog has documented the ups and downs of this journey in the context of policy but commented less on government funded programs that policymakers support.  Given last Monday’s White House event focused on ideas and programs to support entrepreneurship overseas, we look today at global entrepreneurship programs.

The latest of these efforts is called SPARK. Last week, the President encouraged “governments and companies and organizations and individuals to make their own commitments” to a new SPARK coalition (which for full disclosure I will co-chair) to advance entrepreneurship around the world. SPARK will support his upcoming Global Entrepreneurship Summit (GES) in Kenya July 24 – 26, 2015 and rally support from governments and the private sector around the world to expand their investments of time, talent and treasure in their nascent and scaling entrepreneurs. It also serves as an opportunity to look at current US Government global entrepreneurship programs and learn more about how they are supporting the overall interest and renaissance in entrepreneurship around the world.

  • The Global Entrepreneurship Program (GEP) focuses on seven key areas: identifying, training, connecting and sustaining; guiding to financing; facilitating market access; enabling supportive policy; and celebrating entrepreneurs.
  • The State Department’s Entrepreneurship and Innovation Program (EIP) conducts programs in Mexico and Poland.  In Mexico, a bi-national initiative enhances regional competitiveness through the Mexico-U.S. Entrepreneurship and Innovation Council (MUSEIC), which consists of public and private sector representatives from both countries.  In Poland, the Poland-U.S. Innovation Program (PLUS-IP) fosters U.S.-Polish joint ventures and joint research and development projects.
  • The Global Innovation through Science and Technology (GIST) initiative that identifies, coaches, and funds the most promising technology entrepreneurs through competitions, startup acceleration services, online social media platform, and interactive mentorship programs across Latin America, the Middle East, Turkey, Asia, and Africa.
  • The African Women’s Entrepreneurship Program (AWEP) targets women entrepreneurs in sub-Saharan Africa to promote business growth, increase trade both regionally and to U.S. markets through the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), and empower African women entrepreneurs to become voices of change in their communities.
  • The Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI), is an interagency effort across the United States Government that is investing in the next generation of African leaders and entrepreneurs.  For six weeks each year, 500 Mandela Washington Fellows participate in leadership training, networking, and mentoring at top U.S. universities.  Four regional leadership centers in Ghana, Kenya, Senegal, and South Africa improve the availability and quality of professional development opportunities.  YALI 130,000 member network is a vibrant community that draw on virtual resources and one another for support.
  • The Women’s Entrepreneurship in the Americas (WEAmericas) initiative reduces barriers and increases opportunities for women entrepreneurs to start and grow small and medium-size enterprises by improving access to markets, access to capital, skills and capacity building, and leadership opportunities.
  • President Obama’s signature leadership and entrepreneurship development program in Southeast Asia, the Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative (YSALI), provides entrepreneurs with opportunities for seed funding, educational exchanges and civic engagement on environment and natural resource development.
  • The State Department’s premier International Visitor Leadership Program, (IVLP) the government’s premier exchange program, now includes over 50 entrepreneurship exchanges engaging more than 450 participants.  Exploring the role of new firms in driving economic growth and examining U.S. efforts to promote new enterprises and innovation, both domestically and internationally, exchanges offer a deep dive into the impact of technology – particularly social networking – and the development of new business opportunities.
  • USAID established the Development Innovation Venture (DIV) to support the discovery of better ways to solve big problems.  DIV holds year-round grant competitions for innovative ideas, pilots and tests them using cutting-edge analytical methods, and scales solutions that demonstrate widespread impact and cost-effectiveness.  Inspired by the venture capital experience, DIV’s model invests comparatively small amounts in relatively unproven concepts, and continues to support only those that prove they work.  In the innovative process, DIV finds both failures and successes: when ideas fail, we learn that quickly and at relatively low expense; and when ideas succeed, we find out how to reach millions of people at a fraction of the usual cost.
  • Recognizing the vital role that entrepreneurs in developing countries play in driving economic growth and creating jobs, USAID launched the Partnering to Accelerate Entrepreneurship (PACE) initiative with the goal of spurring innovations that accelerate the creation of promising, high growth, and sustainable entrepreneurial ventures across the developing world.  PACE invests up to $10 million to identify, test, and implement financially sustainable models that accelerate the growth of small and growing businesses that promote broad-based economic prosperity or address development challenges in areas such as food security, health, and energy access.

Another initiative is the Presidential Ambassadors for Global Entrepreneurship (PAGE) program run by the Department of Commerce.  At the event last Monday, the President announced nine new entrepreneurship ambassadors.  In addition to Ms. Hanna and Mr. Chesk, they include Elizabeth Holmes of the health technology and medical laboratory company Theranos, and Daymond John also of Shark Tank fame and the founder of FUBU, a hip hop apparel company.  The new group of ambassadors has committed to helping the world’s entrepreneurs gain access to mentors, support and funding.

While there is clearly always work to be done in improving these programs, they are doing important work. In the US, there is a strong consensus that entrepreneurship fuels growth, which translates into a political will to support entrepreneurs.  In other countries, persuading the most influential policymakers to support those people who innovate and create, remains an uphill climb. The Global Entrepreneurship Network formed out of the annual Global Entrepreneurship Week celebration has leveraged this ground work and been able to form a 60 nation strong network of policy advisors modeled after Startup America under the banner of Startup Nations. This group which convenes next at its annual Startup Nations Summit in Monterrey, Mexico in November 2015, is doing invaluable work in educating Ministers as to the new landscape around their creative classes and risk takers and how to better support them.

Such leaders have come to realize the potential of their own entrepreneurs to power economies driving an expansion of their own government initiatives to help start and scale new enterprises.  “At a time when the world is more interconnected than ever,” President Obama told us at the White House, “we’ve got unprecedented opportunities to help more people access capital, resources, networks.”  While much of the energy has emerged from grassroots startup communities in all kinds of economies and political systems, the SPARK Coalition aims to connect those who support entrepreneurs with one another, so they can better help them succeed.

The world needs more entrepreneurs. While nations have come a long way when it comes to supporting new businesses, and the world has never been more open to entrepreneurial ventures, we should welcome the President’s leadership this last week in setting an example that despite the natural “institutional” nature of governments, they must find new, relevant and useful ways to nurture high-impact startups in opening paths to prosperity for their citizens.