Messy Policy and Entrepreneurs Everywhere: Three Takeaways from GEC 2019
Last week, several of us had the pleasure of participating in the 2019 Global Entrepreneurship Congress (GEC) in Manama, Bahrain. Hosted by our partner, the Global Entrepreneurship Network (GEN) and the Bahrain government, the GEC brings together entrepreneurs, investors, ecosystem builders, policymakers, and others. While there, we released an article looking at the development of the Bahrain startup ecosystem and the dedicated efforts that the government has made to support it.
We left Bahrain inspired and awed by the work being done around the world to support entrepreneurs — and overwhelmed at how much work there is still to do. Here are three takeaways from our experience at GEC 2019.
1. Policymaking Is Messy, Not Elegant
We had the good fortune to participate in the Ministerial at GEC, which brought together Ministers and other senior level policymakers from governments around the world. Our Director of Research, Arnobio Morelix, gave a presentation on our research, while our President, Dane Stangler, moderated a discussion about lessons learned. The policymakers were incredibly candid about the challenges they have faced in enacting and implementing entrepreneurship policy in their countries.
A key lesson from this discussion was that the design and structuring of a policy is only half the battle. Actually, it's more like one-eighth the battle. Prior to the actual enactment of a policy, there is a tremendous amount of work to spread awareness, build support, and generate and strengthen political will. A perfectly-crafted policy is nice, but is secondary to the support you need to garner before it can be adopted. Even after adoption, however, implementation remains an enormous task. Policymakers repeatedly cited the gap between idea and implementation as a challenge for their efforts to help entrepreneurs.
What can you do? If you're an entrepreneur, have patience with your policymakers. Help them make the case for a policy, and understand that it's a slow process. If you're an ecosystem builder, rally the troops — get your support organizations and community leaders to understand the importance of the policy environment. (Jason Wiens at the Kauffman Foundation is doing a terrific job of expanding policy beyond just policymakers.) If you're a policymaker, get ready for a long, hard process. Policymaking is as much political as it is technical, even when it comes to something like entrepreneurship, which everyone professes to be in favor of.
2. Despite the Mess, You Need to Integrate
Nevertheless, the slog of policymaking — and the endless meetings and calls that go with it — can be ordered a bit. One of the most consistent themes in our outreach to Members and in our participation at GEC was that integration and a focal point are essential for entrepreneurship policymaking. Every government has experienced a proliferation of efforts to help startups, entrepreneurs, SMEs, and so on. Not all of that can, or should, be integrated. But some measure of coordination is necessary to ensure that agencies are stepping on each other's toes or inadvertently subverting their efforts.
We often hear this refrain on both sides, from policymakers and those in the ecosystem. With the rapid spread of startup support organizations and programs (SSOPs) like accelerators and competitions, many have felt inundated with all the options and unsure of what makes sense for their entrepreneurs. Coordination and integration — without attempting to control — can help.
What can you do? If you're an entrepreneur, connect with others and tell them what it feels like on the ground. If you see resources being devoted to something that doesn't seem like it's really necessary in the ecosystem, tell someone. If you're an ecosystem builder, figure out what works for whom and under what circumstances. That's easier said than done, of course, and it's something we're tackling at Startup Genome. If you're a policymaker, listen to your entrepreneurs and ecosystem builders and don't simply grab the policy levers that are the easiest to pull.
3. Startups Truly Matter Everywhere
Venezuela, Sudan, Iran, and Syria — what do these places have in common? Well, they don't often generate positive headlines. They aren't topping anyone's list of startup hubs. Yet these are precisely the places where entrepreneurship may matter the most. In fact, against all odds, entrepreneurship is happening in these and other troubled areas. But that's kind of the definition of entrepreneurship, isn't it? Against all odds, seeking opportunity and solving problems where they are most difficult.
The GEC brought delegations from these countries, as well as individuals and organizations from elsewhere who are helping them. As one person told us, the representatives from these countries are planning for "the day after," when the current troubles end and some semblance of normalcy returns. On that day, these countries will absolutely need entrepreneurs, so the support systems and resources need to be built today.
In addition to the revitalization entrepreneurs can bring within these countries, the refugees that they have unfortunately generated can be major economic contributors to other places. In Europe, for example, Refugees Forward is supporting refugee entrepreneurs and the Centre for Entrepreneurs in the U.K. released a report on refugee entrepreneurship last year.