Marrakech Hosts Anchor Global Event for GEW
22 Nov 2014

The GEW team was in Morocco part of this week to join U.S. Vice President Joseph Biden for the Global Entrepreneurship Summit (GES), an anchor event of Global Entrepreneurship Week celebrations. Held under the patronage of His Majesty the King Mohammed VI, in partnership with the White House, the summit chose the theme “Harnessing the Power of Technology for Innovation and Entrepreneurship”. I am happy to report several announcements and observations from here.

Spotlighting Women, Youth and Africa
Held in an Arab-African country, the selection of Morocco as the host country reflects the growing role that entrepreneurship plays in the overall economic development of this continent especially as a force for integrating women and the young into the formal economy.

The day before the official Summit, the GEW team – including GEW Global Advisory Board member Dash Balakrishnan -- in partnership with the State Department and others organized GES Youth, an event that brought together more than 50 young entrepreneurs – who have recently started new firms around the world – at a gathering at Université Cadi Ayyad in Marrakech. With a focus on scaling businesses and creating useful connections across borders, GES Youth selected participants based on the level of implementation of their venture, the impactfulness of their venture on their communities, and how inspiring they are to others. Seven of the selected startups came from Sub-Saharan Africa and are returning to their countries equipped with knowledge to broaden the success of their entrepreneurial vision. Maria Contreras-Sweet, the head of the U. S. Small Business Administration (SBA), opened the event challenging the audience to become role models when they return home so that entrepreneurship can multiply. The participants also heard from Chobani’s Turkish CEO, Hamdi Ulukaya, who talked about how to turn passion – yogurt in his case – into a viable business by taking risks.

The Summit that followed over the next two days continued to highlight the power of young people who have proven through hard work, creativity and calculated risk-taking that innovations can solve many of today’s challenges. The GES welcomed both young tech entrepreneurs as well as makers of things such as Kenyan entrepreneur Barclay Paul Okari and his venture to meet demand for low-cost sanitary pads for young girls to reduce school absenteeism and enable them to get an education that could help them break the cycle of poverty.

Women’s entrepreneurship also featured prominently at the GES. A report launched by two Global Entrepreneurship Research Network (GERN) members, Wamda and Endeavor Insight, provided a comprehensive understanding of trends and gaps in funding activity for MENA entrepreneurs. The research team found, for example, that currently 78% of all founders who receive funding are male vs. 22% who are female. The GES showcased the rise of women’s entrepreneurship in Middle East and North Africa (MENA). It challenged funders to look for investment opportunities among start-ups and young ventures led by female entrepreneurs. U.S. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker personally helped lead these activities with Dr. Jill Biden.

Data analysis as a tool for more effective programs and policies 
As Vice President Biden expressed during his remarks at the Summit, it takes a value system to give the freedom to try and fail but it also takes a welcoming environment. Initiated by U.S. President Barack Obama in Washington DC in 2010 and subsequently held in Turkey, Dubai and Kuala Lumpur, the GES has been an opportunity for heads of State and high level government officials to align government efforts to support global entrepreneurs. At the last year’s GES, a Kauffman-led Policy Roundtable called for more data to guide investment in policy changes and programs. That same request was again voiced by many policymakers here in Marrakech including heads of state and advisors. For example, Minister Delegate to the Ministry of Industry, Commerce, Investment and the Digital Economy, H.E. Mamoun Bouhdoud called upon all nations to find smarter policies to incentivize economies “to move from small businesses to smart businesses."

While it remains exceptionally complex to assess national entrepreneurial performance, this week saw the release by GEW’s global network, GEN, of the Global Entrepreneurship Index (GEI). This annual index measures the health of various pillars of entrepreneurship ecosystems in 130 countries. The research team behind it examined 34 essential institutional and individual elements that make up a national system of entrepreneurship. Their analysis is a tool for diagnosing and prescribing the most effective interventions– seeking to more accurately predict how improvements in weak areas would affect overall system performance.

By making the 2015 GEI report available to all policy discussions around the world, GEW teams are responding to the demand for better data and analysis for policy-related discussions centered on advancing entrepreneurial growth. The Index results are a diagnostic tool based on a wide variety of objective data sources (e.g. World Bank’s Doing Business) that tell a story that is deeper than a country’s rank. Morocco’s national ecosystem, for example, ranks 82nd among 130 countries, but there are several more important insights such as:

  • The Index shows that Morocco is making steady improvements in developing its entrepreneurship ecosystem. Morocco is particularly strong in the area of networking, ranking in the top 25% globally.
  • Morocco may benefit most from programs that support new product innovation and increase the use of technology among new firms.
  • As the GEI report explains, the latest individual-level data on attitudes and aspirations comes from a GEM survey last conducted in the country in 2009. Since then, several campaigns, including GEW, have arisen to improve the profile of the entrepreneurial path and built an unprecedented amount of cultural capital for entrepreneurs. These results did not reflect the recent spurts of entrepreneurial energy among the post-Arab Spring young, who are transforming Morocco's economy and mentality.

More entrepreneur-led initiatives across Africa 
The GES also saw a variety of new initiatives. For example, Marrakech became the first city outside of the U.S. to pilot a 1 Million Cups (1MC) event, a program run by entrepreneurs for entrepreneurs. Successfully implemented around the United States by the Kauffman Foundation and soon to be made available through GEW and its partners such as the U.S. State Department’s GIST program, this community-catalyzing tool offers two local entrepreneurs an opportunity to present their startups to a diverse audience of mentors, advisors, and entrepreneurs. Presenters prepare a six-minute educational presentation and engage in 20 minutes of feedback and questioning after they present. Whether attendees passively listen or deeply engage with the entrepreneurs, the result is the same -- belonging to a dynamic 1MC community. This simple but effective idea promises to be effective for many nascent startup communities within the GEW network.

We also saw this week the launch of the first African Business Angels Network (ABAN). The continent’s angel group’s already see greater capacity for dynamic collaboration, through the exchange of information and ideas. The launch was set against the backdrop of Global Business Angels Day that coincided with the opening day of the GES. As more Africa startups start to master the science of validating ideas and developing new starts with more robust business models, an angel network in the continent will be vital. Next year GEW plans an expansion of this effort globally.

Vice President Biden also referenced the Global Entrepreneurship Network (GEN) in his remarks that has emerged out of GEW communities across the globe and acknowledged its scale and contribution to US government led efforts to promote entrepreneurship globally. Several GEW teams across Africa for example are working to form leadership teams and boards to maintain GEW’s energy year round and to use GEN’s platform to align efforts nationally and exert greater impact through tools used in other ecosystems. In Morocco, for example, supporters of entrepreneurship from across areas of expertise (finance, high-impact, youth programs, mentorship, etc.) plan to come together as GEN Morocco, an entity that will provide leadership to build on the momentum and programs generated by GEW.

The Global Entrepreneurship Week booth at the GES was a centerpiece of the Innovation Village, an expo area and meeting place to support Moroccan and African entrepreneurs. Of particular note was the attention afforded the Global Enterprise Registration portal, an index of national websites allowing online business registration or describing the business registration process. GES participants formed a seemingly never-ending line to get a demo of the portal and learn how it can make it easier to launch and register a new business. The Global Enterprise Registration portal is jointly produced by UNCTAD and by the Global Entrepreneurship Week to engage all players along the investor and entrepreneurship spectrum in strengthening business ecosystems around the world.

GEW’s engagement in Africa continues to expand with investments from the John Templeton Foundation and U.S. State Department through the LIONS@AFRICA partnership. The GES Summit in Morocco affirmed the value of mobilizing the knowledge, expertise and resources of leading public and private institutions to encourage and enhance Sub-Saharan Africa’s innovation ecosystem.