I came back from the World Entrepreneurship Forum in Singapore this morning.
It was three days of meetings, discussions and sharing of experiences with some 150 entrepreneurs from all over the world.
It's also three days of informal but oh-so-valuable social interactions: coffees, dinners, drinks and laughs. Friendships were started, business cards exchanged.
The brainchild of Patrick Molle – former director of l’Ecole de Management de Lyon, one of France’s most prestigious business schools – the annual Forum meeting acts as a global think-tank aiming to explore entrepreneurship in practice, from education to business; from social entrepreneurship to policymaking. It also has a profound desire to build a global community of like-minded individuals and create change.
I travelled to Singapore intending to explore the cultural aspects of entrepreneurship. I wanted to report back on a fundamental question: if one believes entrepreneurship is the future of a sustainable economy, what is the best cultural environment for fostering entrepreneurs around the world?
I came back with so much more! I spoke with American, French, Nigerian, Jordan and Ecuadorian entrepreneurs and observed a petri dish of worldwide entrepreneurial skills for three days.
So, what are the social characteristics that stimulate entrepreneurship? As one would have expected, any environment with little to no social support fosters the very first kind of entrepreneurship: that rooted in necessity. The United States is still a leading example. “In 2008 in New York City, you could feel economic depression much more than in Paris,” says Guillaume Gauthereau, the French founder of Totsy.com,a private sales website for mothers of young children, and a very well integrated New Yorker.
Unexpectedly, a second notion emerged for me – entrepreneurship founded on opportunity. I came to this from something said to me by IniOnuk, the vibrant Nigerian founder of Thistle Praxis, a consulting company that specialises in developing social performance and CSR frameworks for African corporations.
“In Nigeria you have more than four telecommunications companies, and a great number of Nigerians have at least two to four mobile numbers - so the market is vast and very available, making it possible for businesses to be constantly created and copied, because the market is literally hungry for everything, for anything. The fact that by the one-year horizon, 75 per cent of these businesses had disappeared is another story! So all types of economic structure should be able to foster entrepreneurs”.
As expected, the importance of a lighter-touch regulatory environment when it comes to property rights, tax benefits, and the company creation process were all mentioned. However, the ability to quickly access appropriate funding appeared most critical.
“Having the right overall money ecosystem is tremendously important to sustain entrepreneurship. The value stream from grant to sponsorship to private channels needs to be efficiently structured,” noted Karen Kerrigan, an advisor to successive US governments, and CEO of the Small Business and Entrepreneurship Council. Governments should be continuously alert to opportunities to enable fast business establishment, leading to exponential job creation. They should make a point of supporting investment clubs and encouraging individuals with flexible tax benefits.
Additionally, high net-worth or ultra-high net-worth individuals should start leading the way in engaging and investing in people. Change your investment patterns from a deceiving stock market to real value creation through people. All potential investors should not overlook non-graded assets and instead contribute to the level of their abilities.
A changing education
The importance of an agile educational system also emerged as a theme. It is important to educate at the youngest age with room for observation, valuing tolerance and difference, and allowing for experience – ‘an education a la Montessori,’ as Guillaume Gauthereau jokingly labelled it.
Or as Tamara Abdel-Jaber, a 36-year-old Jordanian, ranked 39 on a list of the 100 most influential women in the Arab world, put it: “I am trying as much as I can to bring students to Palma’s [her business consultancy] office. I want to show them another way, show them responsibility and consequences in action. Inspire them by example.”
Let’s face it,the traditional educationsystem need to be re-thought if we want innovation and entrepreneurship to flourish. Western educators, it might be time to challenge the status quo. Look east; embrace the Singaporean example. “We are encouraging people from all backgrounds and nationalities to join us here and study to compare and contrast opinions and systems, and to open their perspectives,” stated Lam Khin Yong of Nanyang Technological University, one of the founding members of the Forum.
What does ‘success’ even mean?
Finally, the need for a new definition of success and – to some extent – new leaderships models received widespread support at the Forum. It is time to celebrate risk-taking individuals. It is time to start valuing intent and action. We also have to start praising failure as a way of learning.
“Emprende Ecuador – a national business-creation competition – has received tremendous press coverage in the last couple of years. It provided real life models of entrepreneurs in the making. It aimed to create sparks in people and show them another way. This is what it would take to change a national culture,” observed Fernando Moncayo Castillo, founder of Start-Ups, one of the first business incubators in Ecuador.
I went to Singapore to answer a question, but came back with a vision. There is a possibility of a better economy, driven by a high-powered community of culturally aware, highly resilient and supremely delivery-focused individuals, regardless of their individual cultural background.
I came back with compelling advice: think above and beyond your national frontiers and behaviour. Become a true citizen of the world, hungry to explore and observe, able to integrate what you learn with your own culture and create your own call for change.
My experience at the forum showed me that the real power of the World Entrepreneurship Forum was its supreme diversity and common spirit.
So, what should you do next? Get engaged, commit and create your own call for change.
Marianne Abib-Pech is an advisor at FIG www.marianne.hk