SUPPORT | November 22, 2016

Intellectual Leadership in Entrepreneurship Policymaking from Latin America

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As part of its vision to generate and disseminate cutting-edge knowledge for more effective and evidence-based policymaking, GEN recognizes individuals for Groundbreaking Policy Thinking as part of its Startup Nations Awards. While the knowledge of the finalists for this Award is already being applied, the Award gives global recognition to the actual visionary bringing such knowledge to light.  

Myth-busting research and concepts emerge from passionate, dedicated investigators who take the lead in engaging in the challenging tasks of evaluating often scarce data, creating analytical frameworks and clearer definitions. These investigators also actively engage actors in governments who are seeking to fine-tune their policies' design, implementation plans and evaluation mechanisms. The latter task is an entrepreneurial journey in itself. Impactful innovative thinkers endeavor to accompany the public sector's progress in capturing new concepts and in articulating new entrepreneurship policy strategies. 

At the Startup Nations Summit in Cork, Ireland, Startup Nations members recognized for a second year a paradigm-shifting leader who is attributed with the mindset change in Latin America's approach to building high-impact entrepreneurship ecosystems. The winner is Dr. Hugo Kantis, founder of PRODEM, an organization based in Buenos Aires, known as Latin America's foremost think-tank in entrepreneurship. 

Dr. Kantis is the co-author of many publications, including Developing Entrepreneurship: Experience in Latin America and Worldwide, and the Index of Systemic Conditions for Dynamic Entrepreneurship: A Tool for Action in Latin America. He has devoted his career to narrowing the knowledge and talent gaps to foster high-impact entrepreneurship ecosystems in the Latin American region. Specifically, he has led a multi-pronged effort to shift the policy mindset of a whole continent from a focus on microenterprises toward the more ambitious aim of promoting dynamic entrepreneurship from a systemic perspective. His achievements elevated the concept of evidence-based policymaking, as well as encouraged regular regional knowledge exchange to more effectively support entrepreneurs.

In 2015, the former Envoy for Startups from The Netherlands, Neelie Kroes, received this award, setting the bar very high for future nominees. Kroes brought to the Dutch ecosystem an important track record as former vice president of the European Commission for the Digital Agenda, a role in which she managed to put the topic of innovative startups on the European policy agenda. 

What also makes the Startup Nations Awards of great international prestige is its high-caliber Selection Committee, which includes renown experts from across continents, sectors, and policy areas of focus, such as Dane Stangler, vice president for research and policy at the Kauffman Foundation; Kwanghyon Kim, executive director at the Banks Foundation for Young Entrepreneurs, one of the largest non-profit organizations in Asia founded by South Korea’s 20 major banks and financial institutions, and Thomas M. Cooney, policy advisor to the European Commission and the OECD. This Selection Committee evaluated nominations based on the following criteria:

  • Level of contribution to unveiling new angles, perspectives or policy areas brought to the entrepreneurship discussion table
  • Extent to which the nominee helped shift public discourse on startups and scale-ups in the public sector
  • Extent to which the nominee’s effort was based on solid research
  • Extent to which it is possible to adopt recommendations in a variety of entrepreneurship ecosystems

To highlight the long, dedicated journey from which this recognition emerges, we share with you Dr. Kantis' remarks delivered at the Awards ceremony in Ireland on Saturday November 22, 2016. These thoughtful words bring to the light what it takes to push the frontier forward in entrepreneurship policy thinking, for an entire region and globally.

Thank you so much. It’s an honor and a pleasure to receive this award.

First of all, I’d like to say a few words of thanks. Thank you to the organizers and judges, and to my mentors Francisco Gatto, José Veciana, Bengt Johanisson, and Colin Mason, who have had such a profound influence on my professional life and my learning process.

My team at Prodem deserves a special mention. Thank you, in particular, to Juan Federico, and also to Cecilia, Sabrina, and Paola, for your commitment and contributions. This award is yours, too. I’d also like to thank my colleagues at the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), the Multilateral Investment Fund (MIF or FOMIN in Spanish), and the CAF Development Bank of Latin America, as well as my colleagues in governments, and in other Latin American organizations in the entrepreneurial ecosystem.

Last but not least, I am grateful to my family, who have played a key part in everything I have done: my parents, my wife Estela, my daughter Flor.

I really am delighted and humbled to receive this award.  And it comes at an interesting time for entrepreneurship in Latin America.

Fortunately things have changed a lot in our part of the world over the last 15 years. Let’s take an evolutionary perspective and think back to 2002. Where were we at that moment? Back then, we still had to define and promote the concept of dynamic entrepreneurship among policy makers. We had to explain to them how dynamic entrepreneurship is completely different from traditional microenterprise. We had to describe its characteristics and needs and demonstrate that it contributes differently to economic development. Nowadays this may seem quite clear, but it wasn’t then.

At that time, or even five or ten years ago, how many governments had really implemented start-up initiatives? Only a handful.

But the local landscape has started to change.

Today, most of the countries in Latin America are making enormous efforts to improve the context for dynamic entrepreneurship.

And it’s not just governments and universities that are taking part. The number and diversity of players that are involved in these initiatives are good news in themselves.

Entrepreneurs have started to lead entrepreneurial recycling processes. It’s still early days, but we are beginning to see seed accelerators, business angel networks, company builders, and coworking spaces, all founded or led by entrepreneurs.

Organizations are also contributing to the regional integration of our ecosystems by expanding operations from their home countries to other places.

Even large companies, some of them are getting involved, and not just through corporate social responsibility programs. They’ve realized that entrepreneurs can help them come up with answers and breathe new life into their business models, which are facing many challenges.

Does all this mean our ecosystems are good enough? Is it time for us to sit back and congratulate ourselves?

Of course not. There is still a long and challenging road ahead of us. We need to help our ecosystems take a qualitative leap forward.

To achieve this, we need to build capacities and better institutions. We need to carry out more and better research and more experiential learning through networking in places like this. We need to build stronger links and communicate better with the rest of society, with all the people who are not part of this group of people who live, sleep, and breathe entrepreneurship.

Finally, we need to make greater efforts to influence the policy agenda even more. To do this, we need evidence-based policy designs and strategic communication.

It’s a special time for us at Prodem, because we are celebrating our fifteenth anniversary this year. We founded Prodem in 2002 in the middle of the deepest crisis in recent Argentinian history.

Our aim, since then, has been to close the knowledge and talent gap for dynamic entrepreneurship and ecosystem development, focusing not just on Argentina but on Latin America as a whole. Actually, in 2003, we put forward the systemic approach as a more effective conceptual tool for understanding and fostering dynamic entrepreneurship. We later refined this approach by designing the Index of Systemic Conditions for Dynamic Entrepreneurship.

Two main concerns have been at the heart of Prodem’s work from the start.

First, we have aimed to capture the specific features of the ecosystems that we study and are trying to help, which are mostly in developing economies.

We knew that the concepts that came from the developed world could not be applied mechanically to other places, so we have tried to complement and build upon this valuable research. Although our focus has been Latin America, we hope our work can be applied productively to other regions facing similar challenges.

Second, we define our work as operating at the intersection between research and action. We believe that by interacting with real players we are in a better position to do research, and that by doing research we are in a better position to provide good advice and contribute to developing strategic intelligence for the ecosystem.

Thank you again for this award, which I accept on behalf of Prodem and Latin America. As I’ve said, it comes at a very suitable moment. Receiving it will help us face the challenges ahead of us with renewed energy.

Cristina Fernández focuses on integrating policymakers into startup ecosystems across the world, creating platforms for them to exchange ideas… About the author