Today, it’s cool to be an entrepreneur. Many people across the globe admire the great entrepreneurs of our time such as Bill Gates, Elon Musk, Jack Ma, Jeff Bezos and the late Steve Jobs for the companies they founded, and aspire to make the same impact as these entrepreneurs have done via the technologies and products their companies created.
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But for many, entrepreneurship isn’t just about fame and fortune - it’s about basic prosperity. Social and economic pressures continue to rise across the globe. In many countries, we see stalling economic growth, escalating inequality and rising youth unemployment. When people’s environments are stagnant and the available opportunities are uninspiring, entrepreneurship offers individuals a chance to not only create a path for themselves, but also to create jobs and growth within their communities.
Digitizing Entrepreneurship for Impact, a new report from the Global Future Council on Entrepreneurship, highlights how to improve entrepreneurial outcomes. Given the significant resources and effort going into growing entrepreneurial ecosystems, we identify in the report some best practices based on real-life examples that policy-makers, corporate leaders and educators can follow.
But in this article, we want to flip things around and share what our findings mean for aspiring entrepreneurs.
Where should I train to become an entrepreneur?
Today entrepreneurship classes, incubators and bootcamps are sprouting up all across the globe. Historically, however, entrepreneurship education has focused on textbook theory, case studies, business planning and ideate-and-pitch programmes. By studying the best practices of innovative entrepreneur education programmes, we found that the best usually have three components. They are:
1. Develop an individual mindset. The goal is to shift the underlying perceptions and belief systems of individuals, to build their conviction and risk/reward tolerance at a personal level to help them take the leap to becoming an entrepreneur.
2. Simulate (or actually execute) the founding and operation of a new business. Great programmes always have an active component in which attendees simulate or actually build a new business, to help them develop the skills they need to do it in the real world.
3. Connect new entrepreneurs to the business ecosystem. Founding a company or organization might start with a few individuals, but it takes a society to scale it successfully. Great programmes connect budding entrepreneurs with networks that can support their ongoing growth and skill development, and which can offer access to the resources they need to develop their ventures.
For more examples of what this looks like, our report showcases innovative programmes around the world including African Leadership Group, Babson College, Cisco’s Global Problem Solvers series, Harambe Entrepreneur Alliance and Grindstone Accelerator.
What if I don’t live in a start-up hub?
Entrepreneurs need a functioning ecosystem that provides access to knowledge, capital, talent, networks and clients, all within a progressive regulatory regime. Physical hubs so have been critical for thriving ecosystems, such as the accelerator model pioneered by organizations such as Y-Combinator and used around the world’s major start-up hubs from Silicon Valley to Beijing and Bengaluru. But what if you don’t live in one of these cities?
Digital platforms can help to spread world-class business expertise to entrepreneurs, especially those not located in major start-up hubs. Provided the platform reaches critical mass, it can fill gaps in the tools and resources available to entrepreneurs locally.
Firstly, the network effects of a digital platform bolster entrepreneurs’ ability to find talent and capital. Digital platforms can also enable open and transparent procurement channels, which can be critical in driving procurement spend towards start-ups. Digital platforms can ultimately evolve to full marketplaces for entrepreneurs, managing payments and coordinating delivery through a multitude of providers. These platforms also offer a digital venue through which entrepreneurs can provide information on their ventures - for example their revenue, size and funds raised - and on which they can demonstrate their solutions to build their reputation.
One notable example of an evolving digital platform targeted specifically at scaling entrepreneurship regardless of where its users operate is IDB Lab; other online entrepreneurial networks leverage broader platforms such as LinkedIn and Meetup. However, it is still probably true that moving to physical hubs provides an advantage for today’s aspiring entrepreneurs.
What’s a shortcut for an information technology start-up? Data!
Data can be the bedrock on which digital entrepreneurship is built. Start-ups typically struggle to access the data that can fuel their growth and enable them to build a competitive advantage. Data can reduce the costs of building a start-up, and can thus alleviate funding concerns for businesses in countries in which capital markets are not yet fully developed.
Many public and private organizations have therefore realized that data can act as a ‘digital public good’ for entrepreneurs, in much the same way that railways, roads and ports were first created as public goods. These organizations are sharing their data to help the best-performing start-ups develop innovative solutions. For example, Tokyo’s Electric Power Company shared its data as part of a contest to find innovative ways to forecast electricity load. The competition attracted entrepreneurial solutions not only from mature enterprises and research institutions, but also from start-ups and students. The City of São Paulo held a ‘Pitch-Gov’ challenge, where hundreds of start-ups were granted access to datasets from key sectors in health, education and housing; a final 22 were invited to pilot their solutions with government. Kaggle is a platform that hosts multiple similar competitions from both private and public sectors. Similar programmes are becoming more common around the world – so if you’re an aspiring digital entrepreneur, leveraging this could be a low-cost way to get an edge.
It will get easier
We expect entrepreneurship to become easier in the future as governments, corporations and civil society devote more resources to supporting entrepreneurs, and improve their programmes based on their previous experiences.
Entrepreneurship can be both challenging and exhilarating. It may not be for everyone, but we hope this article can help those who have the start-up itch to take the leap and start their journeys.