Entrepreneurship Around the World: Takeaways and Questions from #GEC18ISTKyle Smith
Every year, the Global Entrepreneurship Congress (GEC) gathers together thousands of entrepreneurs, investors, researchers, policymakers and other startup champions from more than 170 countries to identify new ways of helping founders start and scale new ventures around the world.
At this year’s weeklong GEC in Istanbul, Turkey (April 15-19), delegates made connections, gained insights, learned about new research, and returned home ready to energize their entrepreneurial communities.
Today, we hear from Kyle J Smith, communications coordinator at KCSourceLink in Kansas City, about his experience at GEC, key takeaways and the questions he will be exploring in the coming months:
GEC was a life-altering experience for me. Not only was it only my third time out of the United States, it was also incredibly eye-, heart- and mind-opening to see firsthand the power of entrepreneurship around the globe. In one week, I made friends with people from so many different countries who are passionate about the work their entrepreneurs are doing to improve living conditions and to provide economic opportunity to more and more folks.
I am excited to bring this energy, knowledge and the connections back to Kansas City so that our community can continue to work toward the goal of becoming America’s most entrepreneurial city, while perhaps working more alongside our international brothers and sisters to make the world more entrepreneurial and better connected.
Here are a few takeaways that I will continue to chew on when my mouth isn’t full of the Turkish delights I brought home. And some open-ended questions for you: how can we all become better global citizens? If you have thoughts, we want to hear from you.
Startup Huddle brings the 1 Million Cups model of community building to the world
1 Million Cups, in case you’re not familiar, is a weekly (or so) entrepreneurial showcase and networking event hosted in 170+ U.S.cities. The program is celebrating its sixth birthday in Kansas City where it began to solve a simple enough problem: how can we corral our entrepreneurs and the people who support them so that we can learn from one another and grow together?
The 1 Million Cup event became the answer, centered around entrepreneurs sharing their stories and made powerful through community feedback and connections. This model was born in Kansas City, raised in the United States and now is growing international thanks to the Global Entrepreneurship Network’s Startup Huddle program.
Startup Huddle follows a similar format to 1 Million Cups. The program had a soft launch last year in nine locations in Russia and a few other countries and was well received by the international audience at the kickoff event at GEC.
I was selected as a Startup Huddle ambassador thanks to my work as a 1 Million Cups community organizer and day-to-day work with KCSourceLink in Kansas City. It was awe-inspiring to me to see how entrepreneurial ecosystem builders from around the world are excited to use Startup Huddle to jumpstart their entrepreneurs, network their communities and inspire more people to pursue entrepreneurship.
>>>If you’re interested in bring Startup Huddle (or 1 Million Cups) to your community, email at [email protected].
One of the great things about Startup Huddle is that it is adaptable and can integrate seamlessly into an existing community. For example, the name 1 Million Cups is in reference to the 1 million cups of coffee it would take to get to know your community well. We often joke in Kansas City that an informal version should be called 1 Million Beers. Ekatrina from Moscow said they have a similar joke, but in Russia it’s 1 Millon Vodkas!
Does our Global Entrepreneurship Week need more of an international focus?
Last year was the 10th anniversary of Global Entrepreneurship Week (GEW) in Kansas City. GEW is celebrated each November in 170 countries to inspire entrepreneurial activities through celebrations, activities and workshops.
GEW was a huge success in Kansas City last year: we had more new community partners than ever before, covered important ground like youth entrepreneurship and access to capital and attracted a very diverse crowd.
But, GEC got me thinking, have we lost sight of the G in Global Entrepreneurship Week? I know there were at least a couple of events about exporting and doing international business, but could we be doing more to enlighten our entrepreneurs on international opportunities and shine a spotlight on the work of global entrepreneurial ecosystem builders?
What do you think? Here’s a few more questions to get your brain juices flowing:
Business owners and entrepreneurs: Do you have any international customers? What would it take for your business to think and grow globally? Of course, you don’t know what you don’t know, but what countries, topics or issues interest you when it comes to global businesses?
Community members: Do you pay attention to international business news? How would international insight make your life more rich and your part of the world better? Maybe you don’t think you have bandwidth to care about what’s going on around the world, do you want to change that? (I know the feeling very well.)
Kansas City ecosystem builders: What questions do you have for someone from the other side of the globe about their entrepreneurial communities? What problems are you trying to solve that others may be able to help with? How would Kansas City’s entrepreneurial community improve if we were better connected to the world around us?
If you have thoughts on any of this, please let us know. The Global Entrepreneurship Network (the organization behind GEC) is working to answer questions like these and to make meaningful international connections with their new GEN Connect program. And I look forward to inviting some of my new international brothers and sisters to speak (virtually) at this year’s Global Entrepreneurship Week.
That was a lot of questions, but one thing I know for sure: I want to be a part of an entrepreneurial community that believes in international well-being (all for one and one for all) and works hard to build a world that provides opportunity for everyone, from the top to the bottom of the economic ladder (and everywhere in between), both now and in the future.
Does your entrepreneurial community need more ecosystem-wide thinkers and doers?
I’ve been using the term entrepreneurial ecosystem builder this entire article, knowing full well it’s an emerging idea whose definition is still evolving. For these purposes, what I mean is a person who works across their community to solve problems and create economic opportunity by supporting, fueling and connecting their entrepreneurs (and the people who sustain them). And then uses on the ground insights and data to help build a stronger entrepreneurial infrastructure.
This role takes a wide variety of forms and degrees: from a business-focused reference librarian creating entrepreneurially focused events for the community to a serial entrepreneur turned venture capitalist who helps organize KC capital and encourages their network to invest in startups as well.
The work we do here at KCSourceLink is classic ecosystem building (as much as anything is “classic” in a nascent field). A big part of what we do (though hardly all of it) is connecting entrepreneurial support organizations to one another and entrepreneurs to those resources, while leading initiatives that create a more entrepreneurship-friendly environment, all the while tracking Kansas City’s progress toward becoming America’s most entrepreneurial city.
This has been very rewarding work for me the last couple of years. It’s incredibly heartening to me to hear about how a story I’ve written or an event I helped facilitate helped an entrepreneur overcome an obstacle and take steps forward toward their lofty vision. And I’m proud to know that because of the bird’s-eye view I have of entrepreneurship in KC that I can help connect entrepreneurs and community members to people who can help them advance their mission.
I don’t say all of that to toot my own horn, but instead to pose a question to you: how would Kansas City (or your community) improve if more people thought about the big picture of entrepreneurship and worked to improve conditions across the board?
Two things come to my mind straightaway:
If there were a way to activate more people in Kansas City to think of themselves and their work as ecosystem building, we could make noticeable strides toward representing the diversity of Kansas City in our entrepreneurial ecosystem. Why? Inclusion 101: invite more community stakeholders to the table and bring their perspective and wisdom into the decision-making process.
Too many people do not feel they have access to the power of entrepreneurship. Too many think entrepreneurship isn’t for them, it’s just a fancy word for the rich getting richer. It doesn’t have to be this way. At its core, entrepreneurship is about self determination and changing the world from how it is to how it should be (credit to Jeff Hoffman for this gem). We would be better able to make this sentiment a reality if a wider range of people were involved in this quest. Which leads nicely to my last takeaway . . .
What problems is entrepreneurship not (yet) addressing in your community?
There is a common misconception that entrepreneurship is just referring to high-growth tech businesses. If you’ve been following the conversation for a bit, you know the definition of entrepreneurship has broadened to include all types of new business owners, from Etsy shop owners to restaurateurs to bricklayers.
GEC opened my eyes to the fact that there is still room to broaden this definition. In the United States, entrepreneurship is all about creating business models to fix, as the kids say, “first-world problems” like giving Whole Foods’ customers more yogurt options and streamlining how plastics manufacturers make new widgets.
Now don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing “wrong” about solving those problems. If value and jobs are created, more power to you! But, that being said, if we don’t expand the role of and access to entrepreneurship, we are missing out on the power of entrepreneurship to help solve some of our community’s deepest and trickiest problems.
Here are a few examples that I learned about at GEC to give you a taste of what I mean:
The Caribbean island of St. Vincent has a 43 percent unemployment rate. Ecosystem builders are teaching entrepreneurial skills to the youth who otherwise have no hope of getting a job someday.
Gambia, a country in West Africa, was under a dictatorship for 22 years until just 2 years ago. Entrepreneurship plays a huge role in rebuilding their economy and providing jobs for their ex-pats who are being exiled from places like the United States and returning to Gambia without any hope of a job.
In Paraguay, the mainstream media is being run by the oppressive national government. As you can imagine, this provides little in terms of transparency and accountability. One ecosystem builder is starting an entrepreneurial pitch competition for young journalists to help teach them how to create platforms to give voice to the oppressed.
These are sobering stories, but what do they mean for Kansas City (or your community)? I don’t have a clear cut answer, other than to encourage you to work tirelessly to provide access to entrepreneurship for the communities in your neck of the woods who need it most and to explore how entrepreneurship can help play a role in solving the systematic, enduring and often upsetting problems that plague your community.
Here are a few questions that I am actively and personally exploring. What are the big questions you want answered?
How can entrepreneurship help to solve the problems of and curb systematic racism?
How can Kansas City’s entrepreneurial community work to reduce our homicide epidemic?
Can the entrepreneurial mindset help people who are returning home from incarceration get back on their feet and improve their communities?
If you have thoughts about any of this, let me know.
There’s nothing like exploring a new country and meeting new people to strengthen your empathy muscles and encourage you to work harder and dream bigger. If you haven’t taken the time to make this investment, I highly recommend it. And by the way, you don’t have to fly to Istanbul. Drive a few hours to a new city and visit their 1 Million Cups or spend a few more minutes each week to read the international section in your favorite newspaper.
I do want to thank the Global Entrepreneurship Network community for making this such an impactful event. And specifically, thank you to our gracious hosts in Istanbul, Turkey, for sharing your world with me. A lot of people told me to be wary and careful while visiting Syria’s next door neighbor in this day and age. And maybe they were right, but I know this to be true: big-hearted and hard-working people come in every shape, color and creed. And we are all doing our best to grow beautiful in our part of the world, our shared home.
One last time, if you have thoughts or questions about the power of entrepreneurship to improve our world, we want to hear from you. Please share this article and keep up the good work.