An aussie view from GEC 2013, the biggest global event for entrepreneurship

| April 16, 2013


The world’s brightest business minds gathered in Rio in March for the Global Entrepreneurship Congress. Jeremy Liddle, who led the Australian delegation, shares his experiences of the largest event of its kind.

Thousands of people from 135 countries arrived in Rio de Janeiro for the Global Entrepreneurship Congress (GEC) and festival in Rio de Janeiro.

As lead delegate for Australia it was extremely exciting to witness, for the first time, the emergence of this global platform for collaboration among entrepreneurs, their investors and national leaders held in a new country every year.

So what happened?

What is interesting about this event is its reach and scale and the evidence it provides of the democratization of entrepreneurship—the phenomenon of startups, and the communities that foster them springing up in the most unexpected corners of the globe. It was really wonderful to see the African nations represented in such strength, and what an incredible group of entrepreneurs they are producing!

Governments from all continents have been racing to make their nations more attractive to entrepreneurs. The list of countries embarrassed into improving “ease of doing business” in the latest World Bank rankings lists nations of all economic classifications. This is why at the GEC, while Brazilian entrepreneurial prowess was on show, delegates experienced not an all Brazilian or American show, but a global one focused on startup cities, experiential education, startup legislation, new models for where entrepreneurs can get their money, and an array of the most effective practical efforts in the world— from the likes of the Kauffman Foundation and Endeavor—to help entrepreneurs scale.

Over the past few years, the GEC has gathered many entrepreneurs and leaders in the startup community who are quick to dismiss government as irrelevant to their success. It has also welcomed government leaders uninformed about how their existing informal entrepreneur communities are already out there making things happen. In Rio, Brad Feld, author of “Startup Communities,” reminded us that a startup revolution has been and should continue to be led by entrepreneurs. At the same time, staff from governments that are exploring legislative and regulatory steps to help startups point out it is government that sets the rules and incentives—and that while public sector employees may not look the part, entrepreneurs should be careful not to be so dismissive. The GEC brought the two together—to find where top-down and bottom-up meet in developed, emerging and underdeveloped economies.

This annual Congress started in Kansas City in 2009, when the Kauffman Foundation convened the very first GEC with the goal of bringing together those leaders implementing Global Entrepreneurship Week (GEW) among their fellow citizens. Since then, the GEC has grown rapidly to a gathering that empowers serial and new entrepreneurs, investors, researchers and policymakers to work together to bring ideas to life and drive economic growth.

When the second GEC took place in Dubai, entrepreneurship champions from 90 countries convened under the patronage of Sheikh Nahayan Mabarek Al Nahayan, the Minister for Higher Education and Technology in the UAE. Shanghai hosted the GEC in 2011, gathering 1,000 leaders from 100 countries and introduced the idea of the world getting a thorough introduction to the entrepreneurial ecosystem of the host country. High-ranking Chinese government officials, such as Yan Junqi, the vice chairwoman of the standing committee of the National People’s Congress of China, as well as that country’s Minister for Science and Technology interacted with a number of native entrepreneurs and angel investors who had been leading the country’s new wave of entrepreneurial activity.

Most recently in 2012, as noted in the Economist, Liverpool raised the bar again, adding economic researchers and bright personalities to the GEC—including the likes of Richard Branson, founder and chairman of the Virgin Group which consists of more than 400 companies. As part of Liverpool’s own economic renaissance, the city expanded the Congress into a true festival of entrepreneurship with nearly 80 fringe events held around the town. Ideas floated among entrepreneurs, researchers, investors and government officials from 125 countries about everything from seeding startup communities to smarter national policies.

This month in Rio, a new addition were the national advisory boards attending that steer efforts through GEW to build more robust entrepreneurial ecosystems in neighborhoods and cities around the world.

The GEC this year also attracted collaborations with global entrepreneurial support organizations such as the Startup Weekend Organizers Summit (SoSummit) which kick started everything on Saturday, March 16—bringing more than 200 organizers from over 100+ communities around the world for a three-day gathering of the organizers behind the Startup Weekend movement.

The Congress opened on March 18th with an event hosted by Dell called “Women as a Strategic Advantage: To Excel in Business.” Building off Dell’s successful Women’s Entrepreneur Network (DWEN), this event discussed how technology can help women entrepreneurs succeed. In the afternoon, the GEC continued the tradition started in Liverpool of opening with a GEC policy forum focusing on ideas to foster more startups and faster scale-ups.

More countries are streamlining regulations and implementing policies such as new legislation to facilitate the immigration of entrepreneurial talent and the inflow of startup capital. This summit offers policymakers an opportunity to exchange innovative policy ideas and approaches. March 18th also offered—for those getting used to a new time zone—a relaxing option of participating in an entrepreneurship film festival which ran a feast of full production films made about entrepreneurs and investors with filmmakers attending from Iceland to the United States.

The annual GEC Summit officially opened on March 19th and featured dozens of experts from across the globe sharing common experiences in building startup communities, evaluating effective interventions and experiential learning programs that really help entrepreneurs, airing new models for financing growth and how to scale up after starting up.

GEW Hosts, partners and leaders then went behind closed doors for executive sessions on March 20 and 21, whilst hundreds of other delegates found themselves spoiled for choice with more than 50 event options. For example, GEC participants had an opportunity to learn about the Kauffman Foundation´s Ice House Entrepreneurship Program. Kauffman FastTrac also shared an overview of Alana Muller’s “Coffee Lunch Coffee” networking concept—an accessible, relevant, immediately actionable approach to help you formulate a strategic mindset around networking. Various delegations were also hosting educational events. For example, the Peruvian Delegation to the GEC 2013 shared information about new initiatives in the entrepreneurial ecosystem in Peru, including: FINCyT, FIDECOM and Startup Peru. March 20th also saw the launch of ERLY Stage, a new media platform with a focus on the global market for education technology startups.

On Thursday, March 21, the Cleantech Open hosted a discussion of cleantech innovation in Latin America, a region that represents a major global opportunity for entrepreneurs in the field. There were examples of breakthrough innovations that aim to tackle today’s most pressing environmental and energy challenges, including those from finalists and partners from the GEW Cleantech Open Global Ideas Competition. Thursday offered “Entrepreneurship 2.0: Taking Your Local Ecosystem to the Next Level” an interactive workshop that allowed delegates to take home new tools and resources.

Throughout the event I had the chance to connect with opinion leaders like Brad Feld, co-founder and mentor at TechStars, Jeff Hoffman, co-founder of, Nairobi ecosystem driver Mbwana Allily, founder and managing partner at Savannah Fund and many more. While the types of events and activities vary widely, they all share a common thread—how to empower entrepreneurs in any part of the world and enable them to start and grow firms that create jobs and improve lives.

As many nations continue to face considerable economic challenges, there is a rising sense of urgency around jump-starting entrepreneurial growth. The GEC provides a platform for cross-border collaboration around the world in high-growth entrepreneurship. It also bridges a gap in the worldwide entrepreneurship movement by bringing bottom-up voices together with top-down public sector leadership.

So when you start to see GEW events in Australia, and perhaps a GEC within the next few years, make sure you get there!

This story was first published on Jeremy Liddle’s blog and is republished here with his kind permission. Jeremy believes entrepreneurial thinking can change the world. He is an entrepreneurial maniac, who’s life work is devoted to create a world of job creators, people who are in control of their own financial destiny. His legacy will be assisting millions of people succeed in business. He is currently Chief Entrepreneur Officer of The Enterprise Network for Young Australians (ENYA), a not for profitorganisation established in 2003 with the vision that Australia will lead the world on innovation, and every person in the country will understand that starting their own business is an immediate, viable career choice. Within this role Jeremy is Sherpa (2IC to the President) and head Australian delegate for the G20 Young Entrepreneurs Alliance Summits, advising world governments on policy regarding young entrepreneurs.