The 2019 Global Entrepreneurship Congress in Bahrain brought together over 2,000 leaders and practitioners from over 160 countries to focus on how entrepreneurs can best be supported in their regions. Listening to lessons and successes from each country, you realise that the journey each country takes to supporting entrepreneurs is unique but the principles behind the experiences can be shared.

The four days provided more insights than what can be covered in a single post. For now, I share observations and reflections from the opening session which in itself is a reflection of the diversity of views experienced through the conference.

Conference structure

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The four-day conference was supported by the Global Entrepreneurship Network, the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, and the Bahrain economic development body Tamkeen. The Global Entrepreneurship Network brings nations together through projects and platforms to help celebrate, understand, support, and connect entrepreneurs and those who support them. The Global Entrepreneurship Congress is one examples, along with Global Entrepreneurship Week and the Global Entrepreneurship Summit.

The morning of the first day of the Congress set the stage with global insights on key topics. The afternoon followed with a practical workshop where delegates from each nation worked through local ecosystem building opportunities using an ecosystem building canvas.

The following two days were filled with concurrent panels and workshops, at times up to 10 sessions in parallel. Topics addressed all aspects of place-based entrepreneur support, including: ecosystem focus (creating effective accelerator programs, building investor capability, policy development, measurement and data management, etc.), technology and sector focus (agriculture, space, artificial intelligence, creative industries, etc.), and entrepreneur support (pitching, funding, etc.).

The fourth and final day brought national delegates back together in a workshop to reflect and apply lessons back home over the next year.

The value of the conference is as much the collisions as the content.

When you attend a session, you are in a room with dozens or hundreds of others with years of experience and unique perspectives on the same topic. This leads to serendipitous collisions and conversations that create hundreds of mini-conference pop-up sessions outside the formal program. In my own focus area of mapping, measurement, and place-based frameworks, I was able to connect with individuals in each nation tasked with a similar focus, as well as those in organisations such as the Aspen InstituteStartup Genome, the Kauffman Foundation, and Canada’s MaRS Discovery District. The workshops could be seen as a means to prompt these conversations. 

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It was great to be able to bounce ideas off the delegation from Australia to test what works in a local context. This maintained a continuous connection between global examples and national and local application. It also created strong relationships we could take back home and work together to apply the lessons learned.

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Session 1 – Shared experiences

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In the opening plenary session, GEN CEO Jonathan Ortmans interviewed panellist from different countries on four topics and opened discussion to the floor. As reflections were shared from the audience, it became apparent that the challenges and opportunities a single country or region faces are both unique and shared.

If you are involved in supporting entrepreneurs with place-based interventions, consider the outline to see where there might be shared challenges and opportunities for shared lessons to be applied to your context.

Topic #1: Towards a more inclusive global ecosystem

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Uzbekistan – establish policies that open borders.

“Complete transformation can only come when we all do it together to build a healthy ecosystem.”

The panelist from Uzbekistan described an environment that was previously state-controlled and a government without a clear direction. State-owned enterprises dominated markets, monopolised, and prevented competition. While the intent of the protective policies to world markets was to create entrepreneurs, the result was a dead end and not being globally competitive. This began to change from 2017.

Over the past few years, they have opened up to over 50 countries, no visa is required to entry, and currency restrictions were removed. They are now more of a free market economy and customs tariffs were removed that were previously blocking access from other countries. They have been recognised by the World Bank as a global top improver three times. Around 70% of imported products now have no tariffs. This involved a range of partnerships with government, and other initiatives such as establishing a youth union, launching a $100m fund, sponsorship of startups, and conducting two entrepreneurship weeks.

Denmark – bring stakeholders together for a goal bigger than any one part.

“We saw that with this focus on global goals, we discovered a whole new group of entrepreneurs. Doing it together with a purpose of saving the world made it more acceptable.”

The panelist from Denmark described how they leveraged the sustainable development goalsto align with an entrepreneurial focus. This focus made it easier to reach new stakeholders to be part of the campaign and established new clusters of relationships. Governments and ministries aligned with entrepreneurs and organisations such as Red Cross who shared an understanding of a global perspective and helped explain how innovative ideas could make the world a better place.

Argentina – creating an inclusive entrepreneurial culture through national policy leadership.

“It is an evolution. When you have entrepreneur support in national policy as a goal to achieve, it makes it easier for people to work together.”

While there can be many activities in the entrepreneur ecosystem, one of the ways people are excluded is that segments of the community can be left out of the activities. Entrepreneurship is in the Argentina DNA, made up of immigrants who left behind everything and started working hard on their own with nothing, Until a couple of years ago, entrepreneurs were seen as crazy people working on their ideas.

The government created a policy for national development, started working step by step and inviting everyone including NGOs, major companies, incubators and accelerators to build out the entrepreneur ecosystem. It is an evolution, with the goal set out in national policy to align and integrate supply chains around entrepreneurial and innovation activities.

Capo Verde – focus on under-represented aspects of the community.

“The first step is to work on coaching to see how they can be entrepreneur, mindset and attitude is most important.”

Capo Verde created programs for young entrepreneurs and a program focusing on female entrepreneurs with disabled children. These women survive on $50 a month and experience embedded disadvantage due to not having a place to put their children so they can work. The program focuses on coaching for entrepreneurial mindset and attitude.

Contributions from the floor

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The question then came back to the hundreds of delegates in the audience:

What groups are excluded in your ecosystems, what contributes, and what is being done about it?

Responses are captured and grouped into themes below:

  • CAPITAL: Lack of funds – Local entrepreneurs go into other markets to access funding when funding is not available locally; Educated investors – Informed and engaged investors
  • CULTURE: Legal frameworks – Exploitation for resources by companies because there is no legal protection; Ego – A need to move from “egosystem” to ecosystem, overcoming a lot of solo people working; Youth engagement- Youth not looking to start business, not introduced to an entrepreneurial mindset.
  • INCLUSIVENESS: Women – Rural women with lack of access to capital, Women not supported in culture for mindset or education to be entrepreneurs. If you are a women, you just get married; Youth – Entrepreneurship opportunities for gypsy youth; Rural and regional – People outside the capital do not have access to tools and support, Target and address needs in rural situations; Non-tech – Lack of focus on non high tech startups; Workforce diversity – Ensuring workforce is diverse and inclusive; Disabled – Stigma of those who are disabled. Early-stage business – Lack of support for businesses in first year of operations; Social entrepreneurs – Lack of support for Social entrepreneurship, which is in infancy in many countries.
  • GOVERNMENT: Data – Lack of updated data information and research; Support – Lack of government support, addressing gaps by policy makers; Tax policy – High tax; Sector-specific policy – Regulatory policies not supporting space entrepreneurs; Regional policy support – Place policy with lack of investment outside of main areas in both developed and developing countries
  • CONNECTIONS: Lack of mainstream connection, Lack of global access
  • SERVICES: Consistency of mentorship; Lack of training and development; Legal frameworks

Topic #2: Toward a common vision built on trust, connectivity, collaboration and knowledge sharing

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The next conversation explored how to realise a common local and global vision towards entrepreneur activity.

Bahrain – bringing people together under a common challenge

“We started a diversification program many decades ago to shift from natural resources to focus on the core natural resource of the island – the Bahraini citizen.”

The question posed specifically to the Bahrain panellist related to bringing the local ecosystem together. We talk a lot about transparency, trust and collaboration, what are the things in Bahrain that is evident of coming together of every institution to host this event and the spirit of cooperation? In many ecosystems, there are warring factions within the ecosystem, trying to own the turn of entrepreneurship. How is this different in Bahrain?

Bahrain is a region historically known for natural resource, with the first oil discovered in 1929. They have diversified away from oil, starting a diversification program many decades ago into the service sector to shift from natural resources to focus on core natural resource of the island – the Bahraini citizen. This involved putting the Bahraini on a pedestal and creating a shared vision.

They have a connected ecosystems with strong government support through policy. Examples such as the online trade map help local startups navigate the export market. There are multiple platforms to support everyone from students in schools, startups, and scale ups, connecting different platforms of different organisations.

India – Connecting through a common identity of the entrepreneur

“It can be difficult when expanding to understand the local laws. Using a single identity helps get access to any new market.”

The panellist from India shared about their entrepreneur passport system to access new markets. One of the key decisions they took was that entrepreneurs need access to newer markets. Overcoming local barriers and hindrances and using the power of the GEN network, they developed an approach to use a single identity to get access to any new market. An entrepreneur may be trying to run enterprise in India, and it can be difficult when expanding to understand the local laws and recruit people. Using a single identity system, they can do this more easily.

Germany – Enhancing international to connect stakeholders

“The emphasis is on enhancing international opportunities to connect stakeholders.”

The panellist from Germany continued the theme of cross border connectivity, sharing that the market in entrepreneurship support is saturated. The emphasis is on enhancing international opportunities to connect stakeholders. Germany is an interesting market for those in other regions to expand and collaborate. Activities focus on supporting these interactions, such as a startup tour based on artificial intelligence in Berlin.

South Africa – connecting the youth

“With a quarter billion young people in Africa, how do we connect youth on the continent?”

Africa has one of the highest global youth populations. When considering a global vision, the panellist from Africa shared the challenge of connecting youth on continent. This involved attracting a global community in Africa and working to ensure the activities can reach the grassroot level. Many entrepreneurs still struggle with access to office space and access to markets.

Contributions from the floor

The question to the delegates was:

What are the characteristics of a well-connected national ecosystem? What does that look like?

What are innovative examples where your ecosystem leaders are collaborating or connecting across borders? How does it work?

  • MEASUREMENT AND INCENTIVES: Benchmarks – International benchmarks; Program evaluation – Consistent and agile evaluation in terms of programs and different people participating in programs. We may say we are the best, but there is a lack of evaluation frameworks; Incentive alignment – Alignment in incentives in various stakeholders, governments, individual populations. 
  • CULTURE AND COLLABORATION: Sharing – Less hoarding of information and opportunities; Aligned government – Disconnect in communicating opportunities in the ecosystems, tied into a lack of alignment across government levels. Leverage assets for sector focus – Communicative, diverse and inclusive, capitalise on work that has already been done to harmonise standards in space economy; Sector partnerships – Encourage more public and private sector partnerships to make it work, to serve as conveners and work to a common good while tapping into the GEN network. Execution – We need doers, people to step up to the plate to do what needs to be done; Shared vision – Common purpose, vision to work towards to, mapped ecosystem with a high performance ecosystem players, technology driven ecosystem in terms of execution is important; Openness – Non hierarchy, openness to being questioned, promoting diversity in ecosystem, bringing in stakeholders that are different, sharing common agenda, transparency, collaboration.

Topic #3: Confidence and a compass to make an unpredictable path easier

The third panel focused on what is needed in an ecosystem to help make an unpredictable path easier. 

Bangladesh – working without a blueprint

“When there is no blueprint, family support is very critical.”

The panellist from Bangladesh how when aspects of entrepreneur support can be different and there is no blueprint, that family support an be very critical. The activities provide a means to bring people together, with over 170 events in Global Entrepreneurship Week and startup markets organised in schools.

Sierra Leon – a scientific approach

“It can be confronting to see numbers that show what interventions are not making an impact.”

The panellist from Sierra Leon shared a scientific and structured approach to engage, enable, and dialogue. A lack of data means you do not know who to engage with. They embarked on a review of statistics and presenting to key stakeholders and identified the donor agencies driving what is happening in entrepreneurship space. It can be confronting to see numbers that show what interventions are not making an impact, but the data helps to change the narrative.

Egypt – Collaboration is key

“People thought we were coming in to compete, but collaborating with others across the ecosystem is critical.”

The panellist from Egypt shared about being able to capitalise on young people to embrace entrepreneurship and engage with as many young people as possible. They did over 2000 activities during the Global Entrepreneurship Week, and the GEN brand helped give support. They are now looking at physical space and have mapped out Egypt ecosystem on one page. 

Collaboration has been key through the process. Initially others thought that the entrepreneur support activity was competition, but eventually others saw them as working with everyone across the ecosystem.

Topic #4: Better measurement and knowledge

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The final panel focused on measurement and knowledge with experts focused on entrepreneur impact measurement. What do we need to know that we do not know? All interventions need to be measured, but measurement is not easy particularly in a post GDPR environment and with limited budgets. What metrics matter most and how do you measure impact with limited budget?

MaRS Discovery District, Toronto – Make it easy for entrepreneurs

“Make it easier to get information from entrepreneurs.”

MaRS is a major innovation hub in Toronto Canada and is working with a collaborative network to identify ways to better measure impact of entrepreneurial programs. This involved building a data sharing agreement among hubs and a small list of metrics based on what was easiest to get. This has evolved into what is most actionable. 

A key is to make it easier to get information from entrepreneurs. Previously, entrepreneurs could see benefits a year down the line. There is a need to experiment with showing benefits at different points of time. This is a balance between collecting insights that will help program and policy makers as well as entrepreneurs in the immediate moment., feed back to programs at this point in time

SABRAE, Brazil – Know the data you are collecting

“Know what data you are collecting and why”

Renata Henriques shared from her role with small business support firm SABRAE, which supports the 8.5 million small businesses in Brazil through 27 regional offices in Brazil and over 600 centres provided over 8,000 events for Global Entrepreneurship Week with over 6000 partners and over 700,000 people involved.

Their approach to measurement emphasised their communication strategy and a focus on social media through three pillars: visibility, engagement, performance. The aim was to identify how many were reached, how many engaged through social media, and then to how many started a business.

Susan, GEN Accelerates

“Start with the end goal, then look at cause and effect.”

Susan Amat from GEN Accelerates shared from a perspective that it comes back to the end goal. Set the culture and tone from the beginning, ensure entrepreneurs know you are collecting data, then they will understand how important key data is.

One of the challenges is that when information comes back that does not appear favourable, people are scared it will reflect poorly on them. However, if you are not measuring, you are not managing. 

What is the goal? If it is job creation, it will be different to if it is building a company. Clear goals are required, be it margins, sales, etc. Start with the end goal, then look at cause and effect.

National checklist, applied to Australia

So what does this mean for Australia, or any country for that matter? While the comments do not reflect the depth of what is happening in each region, we can take the collective feedback from the hundreds of people in the room to identify conditions that appear to be conducive to effective local entrepreneur support.

Part of my research is to identify common principles that can be applied across regions. Examples include a review of characteristics that distinguish regionscommon principles of ecosystem support services, and a review of Blakely’s focus on Australia and place-based entrepreneur support. This work continues to refine models to assist those who support entrepreneurs in their regions.

Based on common themes from the session, statements emerged that create beneficial local, state, and national entrepreneur support systems:

  • Government leadership supports local entrepreneur success: National, state, and local government leadership through policy frameworks and media position helps align and focus the collective attention and creates a more competitive environment for entrepreneurs.
  • We collaborate on big challenges that improve life for everyone: A collective focus on a big, shared challenges helps break down individual silos, introduce more diverse groups to opportunities, and span sector and geographic boundaries with others who share the same challenge.
  • We are inclusive of all aspects of the community: Bringing all members of the community, including those traditionally under-represented, increases opportunities for everyone.
  • We are inclusive of all parts of the ecosystem: Establish strong relationships between everyone in the ecosystem, including NGOs, government, schools, universities, hubs and accelerator programs. It is open to everyone who provides value to the entrepreneur, founder-focused, and connected with industry sectors and real commercial customers to avoid innovation theatre.
  • We are inclusive of the entrepreneur life-cycle: Include programs to develop entrepreneur-thinking from high school, university, government, and corporates; and from idea-stage to global scale.
  • We have innovative policy initiatives: Examples include removing regulatory barriers and incentivising the flow of resources (capital, talent, IP) between regions and countries; and tax structures and incentives conducive to early-stage and R&D activity.
  • We measure impact and use data to make decisions: Identify metrics up front and establish effective approaches to measurement.
  • We invest in entrepreneur ecosystem leader capability and capacity building: We support those who help entrepreneurs through training, development, and exposure to new ways of thinking.

My aim is to continue to test these statements as I continue my tour across Australia later in 2019 and work with regions to develop frameworks for supporting entrepreneurs in their regions. I am also curious as to what is missing and other insights I may not have captured.

To what extent do you feel these are true for your region? What other principles need to be added that were not raised?

Innovation ecosystems are complex, and there are many interventions that can be applied. There is no single model, but the conference identified a wide range of approaches that can explored to see what might apply in other regions. It also built relationships locally and globally to help these changes happen. This is one of the main values of organisations like the Global Entrepreneurship Network to connect and share.

While the Congress was a point in time, I look forward to continuing the spirit of the conference through the year as we connect, understand, support, and celebrate what is happening across Australia.

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