Europe’s Urgent Entrepreneurial Imperative

bridges vol. 34, July 2012 / OpEds & Commentaries

By Jonathan Ortmans

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Jonathan Ortmans Jonathan Ortmans chaired the 2012 Global Entrepreneurship Congress in Liverpool. © Global Entrepreneurship WeekThe softening of German Chancellor Merkel's views on how to support Spain's banks, following the Greek elections, has been interpreted by some as improved confidence in Europe's economy. In truth, pessimism still abounds.

One promising path forward that remains remarkably marginalized in Europe is a bolder growth strategy – putting more faith in the future doers and makers who generate new wealth and create jobs. While Europe largely clings to family-controlled "big firm capitalism" and existing small businesses, even the world's most impoverished economies are rapidly surging ahead by upgrading their policies and ecosystems in ways that capitalize on a new generation of entrepreneurs ready to disrupt markets for the better.

This is perhaps most evident when you look at Global Entrepreneurship Week (GEW) – the largest entrepreneurship festival in the world, where 40,000 events and activities attract nearly 10 million attendees -- held during a one-week period each November in more than 125 countries. Global collaborations of creative minds turn ideas into real-life ventures at GEW competitions: a Startup Open identifies the most promising new start-ups from 60 countries since the last GEW; a Cleantech Open Global Ideas Competition finds the best new green firms GEW Logolin 22 countries; and 54-hour Startup Weekend boot camps churn out hundreds of competing founder teams from 60 cities around the world. Thousands of small gatherings are also held in classrooms or under village trees, as well as larger-scale events in football stadiums and convention centers. One can hear speeches by heads of state, talks by entrepreneurs, and thousands of pitches from teams of ordinary people with ideas and drive who are raring to go. The most potent vision of GEW is simple: the enormous promise of today´s nascent entrepreneurs for innovating us right through the world's toughest problems. And these entrepreneurs are not of solely commercial consequence. People dismissed in past eras as "left-wing dreamers trying to change the world" are today's creative thinkers who, with the support of their peers, are using the marketplace to make their marks.

The predictable linear world of Brussels, driven by top-down institutions, is being challenged for its cumbersome pace and gently led toward a new frontier by a welcoming chorus of informal networks operating across national boundaries. The likes of GEW and Startup Weekend are breaking down barriers. The bottom-up push for stronger start-up ecosystems and the increasing availability of research and data from established sources such as the World Bank and the Kauffman Foundation are creating a race to offer the best start-up ecosystem and to be the "easiest economy for doing business."


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