CELEBRATE | November 16, 2017

As Understanding of the Entrepreneurship Ecosystem Shifts in the UK the GEW Campaign Evolves

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As this November marks 10 years of unleashing ideas through Global Entrepreneurship Week, GEN is reflecting on the countries that have been a part of the movement since the beginning. The United Kingdom was one of the founding countries of GEW, and it has celebrated entrepreneurship and the entrepreneurial spirit as part of the global movement for the past decade. Ewan Gaffney, acting managing director of GEN UK, answered a few questions about their GEW campaign and its impact on the country's entrepreneurship ecosystem.

Q: What does Global Entrepreneurship Week, and its 10 Year celebration mean for your country? How has the celebration grown in UK since its inception in 2008? 

A: This is a strange question for GEWUK, because we have had a GEW type campaign, in one shape or form, since 2005. Before we added the ‘G’ to the GEW, here in the UK we hosted the first ever Enterprise Week, in 2005. A startup created by our then-Prime Minster Gordon Brown.

Enterprise Week was a government funded initiative designed to celebrate the world of self-employment and enterprise in the UK. We were just on the cusp of the explosion in what we now know as start-up culture and the world was a very different place in 2005, for entrepreneurs especially.  To give you some context as to how far the ecosystem we work in has changed, in 2005 Paul Graham’s Y Combinator had just launched, coining the term ‘startup accelerator’ in the process. This was the first ever accelerator, now there are thousands in every city, town and business sector, so the market for a campaign like GEW was very different.

In 2007 representatives from 37 countries were on hand when GEW was announced by the Kauffman Foundation and included  among those  were the first likeminded  host organisations to commit their to participate in the campaign.

They all saw value in the Enterprise Week model and wanted to replicate it. GEW was born and has continued to go from strength to strength. Everyone in the UK takes tremendous pride in the seeing the growth of the GEW movement around the world and we’re delighted to be celebrating the tenth anniversary of the GEW campaign with our global partners this week.  Our President Jonathan Ortmans talks about the this story in the video released this year to mark the 10th anniversary. 

Q: What impact has GEW had on your community or your country? What is your favorite, most memorable, or best GEW event from the past 10 years? Why?

A: Truthfully my favourite GEW campaign is the next one! That is because I always like to think about planning what we can do next, but also because putting on such a big campaign is a serious undertaking- we have close to 1000 events hosted by almost 100 partners – so I often don’t take the time to really sit back and digest the campaigns until after the week is over.

But I always get a real rush from watching the campaign kick-off each year. We’re lucky to be a big campaign so we always make quite a splash in the media. Over the years we have used some engaging social media strategies to deliver some really exciting an innovative social campaigns to help people all over the UK connect with the kind of best in class startup resources that people in major cities, take for granted. Other times the highlights come from an external event hosted by one of our fantastic partners.

All good entrepreneurs put innovation, change and re-invention at the center of what they do, and we are no different. The campaign is changing all the time, responding to changes in our national ecosystem and we have some huge ideas for 2018.

We’ve continued to grow and develop the campaign, in line with the growing aspiration of our colleagues at GEN in Washington, D.C., and around the world. This year we’re formally launching GEN UK alongside a new platform to connect the every element of the UK ecosystem all year round. I’m excited about the role of GEN as a year-round hub for the UK ecosystem, evolving into a year -ound platform that will connect audiences from all parts of their local ecosystem and foster connections and resources that enable them to thrive.

Q: How has your entrepreneurial ecosystem changed or evolved in the past 10 years?

A: It has exploded in size and scope. From quite a niche pursuit, the idea of startup development, accelerators and incubators have become something that we are all aware of. One crucial change has been a fundamental shift in our understanding of the role of entrepreneurship support and development as a key tool for macroeconomic policy.

Accordingly, the GEW campaign has moved forward too, then, when we started out focus was on large mass participation and awareness raising events, especially in schools and universities.  Today, the GEW campaign is the centrepiece of a sophisticated and comprehensive effort to connect people and resources together to create a new opportunities, called the Global Entrepreneurship Network.

One of the most profound shifts we have seen is the development of one collective entrepreneurship ecosystem, which is gradually replacing a series of isolated GEW campaigns around the world. Of particular interest to me is the relationship between the technologies facilitating the development of one unified entrepreneurship ecosystem, being driven by this confluence of changes is the power for real time growth of entrepreneurship communities that are able to operate and advocate collectively.

Today GEN engages entrepreneurs, investors, policymakers, researchers, support organizations and others, helping them to collaborate to advance economic growth and innovation in more than 175 countries around the world. The UK is a respected leader in this global community and we’re launching GEN UK to connect our entrepreneurs and start-ups to an even wider world of opportunity. 

Q: Why should people participate in Global Entrepreneurship Week? 

A: Because there is no other campaign which provides so many access points into entrepreneurship.

GEW is an open source, grassroots multi-stakeholder platform and we’re very proud that our campaign encompasses all the different facets of entrepreneurship.

The UK has one of the most sophisticated and effective entrepreneurship ecosystems in the world, and the UK is rightly seen as one of the best and most attractive locations for inbound entrepreneurial talent.  But our relative success masks a raft of structural weaknesses across the web of institutions which support entrepreneurs, resulting in cultural and sectorial silos, regional and economic imbalances and uneven access, wasted resources, and squandered potential.

As the UK economy becomes more entrepreneurial, and more reliant on entrepreneurial behaviour our ability to create an enabling environment for new businesses has become an urgent economic concern with consequences for job creation, regional development, innovation and economic growth.

At GEW UK we share a sense of urgency about developing vibrant start-up ecosystems and institutions in the UK and retain a focus on ensuring that their benefits are felt evenly across the economy.

GEN is a compass to help address these needs by identifying effective initiatives that positively impact whole societies, and interventions that target the most critical areas for entrepreneurial ecosystems around the world. 

Q: What should the world know about GEW in UK? 

A: That this is a truly exceptional campaign. Unlike every other startup and entrepreneurship event or vehicle in the UK, GEW is a cornerstone of a hugely sophisticated entrepreneurship ecosystem the the country that continues to evolve and develop.

If you have never taken part before, know that we are excited to connect and collaborate with new partners around the world. We’re working towards a new paradigm in our shared understanding of entrepreneurship as a social, as well as an economic tool.

The globalization of entrepreneurship has brought an explosion of programs, startup communities and investment into a new field where there is a paucity of data around what works in supporting nascent entrepreneurs trying to scale.

In the UK we need more sophisticated tools, programs and research to help us support most efficiently direct their attention and funds to areas that have the greatest impact on future economic growth.

GEW has helped shape the UK ecosystem over the past decade and we have a vision of GEN UK helping to shape the next decade too, as the UK reimagines its place in the world after Brexit. 

Q: Are there any partners or organizations you would like to spotlight? 

A: As with every year I want to give a shout out to our amazing hosts up and down the UK. We’re lucky to have a huge network of committed partners who host fantastic events year after year. GEW UK is a true grass roots campaign and without our network of hosts and partners the campaign would not exist.

Of course I want to give a special spotlight to our Compass Partners. These organisations are our star players who have a long standing relationship with GEW. We work with our compass partners to deliver curated content across a wide range of thematic areas identified by GEW participants.

Without them the campaign would not exist in the way it does, reaching hundreds of thousands of people each year, and that is the highest compliment I can pay them.


Jessica is a former multimedia journalist with a background in print and online media. At the Global Entrepreneurship Network, she created daily… About the author