In 1995, Xiu Laigui was a policeman in Tonghua City pulling traffic duty when he discovered a small drug factory that was in trouble. The factory was operating at a loss that was pushing it precariously close to running out of money – but Xiu sensed an opportunity.

So, he left the police force, bought the factory, and started his own company, which he named Xiuzheng Pharmaceutical Group. In the two decades since then, Xiu turned that near-bankrupt enterprise into China’s second-largest pharmaceutical company, employing over 60,000 people.

In the face of a still-fragile economic recovery, stories like Xiu’s remind us that the key to stronger global growth is no mystery. It rests on how we empower the global economy’s greatest engine: entrepreneurs.

Last week, EY honoured entrepreneurs like Xiu at our 15th annual World Entrepreneur of the Year awards, it’s an important moment to reflect on three things: the crucial role these businesspeople play in our global economy, how we can support them, and where we’re still falling short.

First, it’s important to remember that, in so many ways, our global economic future rests in the hands of entrepreneurs. In fact, in China, entrepreneurs create 75% of all jobs. In the U.S., the Small Business Administration reports that entrepreneurs are responsible for nearly all of the net new jobs in the country. And our own research shows that while only a third of established large companies worldwide are looking to hire for new jobs over the next year, nearly half of all entrepreneurs are planning to increase the size of their workforce.

There are many ways that we can support this work – and that’s the second thing we need to consider. To start, we need to recognize that entrepreneurship relies on vibrant ecosystems, which draw on close collaboration between governments and local institutions, large businesses, and entrepreneurs. Together, these stakeholders can create coordinated support, funding opportunities, favorable tax regimes, and strong educational systems encouraging entrepreneurship. I think of this as the “power of three” – and it’s essential to creating a culture of entrepreneurship.

The world’s hubs for innovation and entrepreneurship – places like Silicon Valley, Tel Aviv, and London – all have these kinds of ecosystems in place. Governments worldwide should follow that lead, and then leverage their success by sharing best practices. This will help others avoid pitfalls, because in our globally connected economy, a rising tide lifts all boats.

Fortunately, we have seen some recent progress on this front. Over the last ten years, the World Bank’s Doing Business reports indicate that, across the world, the cost of starting a business has dropped, while governments have sought to streamline the rules for exporting and importing goods. In the last year, over 80% of 189 countries surveyed made some improvement that made it easier to do business. In 2005, only 41 countries had processes for starting a business in place that took less than 20 days to complete – now, that number is at 127.

To ensure that our entrepreneurial ecosystems truly thrive, however, many governments still have a lot of work to do when it comes to simplifying the process, and reducing the costs, required for starting a business. This is the third crucial point when it comes to entrepreneurship. We need to address unnecessary hurdles to starting a business – and do better at supporting entrepreneurs at every step.

In Brazil, for instance, it still takes about 83 days to start a business. In India it can take close to a month – compared to just half a day in New Zealand. And in a recent EY study, 70% of the entrepreneurs we surveyed reported difficulty accessing the funding they need.

We need to tackle those problems – and that’s just the first step. We’re also falling short when it comes to providing mentoring and support to emerging entrepreneurs. In the same study, 75% of existing entrepreneurs said they think they do enough to support young, emerging entrepreneurs. However, when we asked those young people, only 36% said they get enough support from local entrepreneurs. That’s a striking gap – and it’s up to us to fix it.

Just think about the impact on the global economy if every police officer was encouraged and supported to start a business the way Xiu Laigui did. Entrepreneurs are willing to do what it takes to fuel economic growth and create jobs around the world. If we want to supercharge the global economy, we need to pursue policies that help – rather than hinder – entrepreneurs working to build businesses, create jobs, and grow the global economy. They’re ready to lead the way to shared prosperity. But we need to clear the road for them first.

Author: Mark Weinberger, Global Chairman and CEO, EY 

Image: Nuno Carvalho, CEO of The Portuguese Bakery, clears tables on a terrace at one of its outlets in Lisbon December 21, 2012. REUTERS/Rafael Marchante