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Building Entrepreneurial Communities


I recently reviewed the 2016 Forbes' rankings of "Best Countries For Business" and pondered America's slide from the top spot in 2006 to number 24. The respected Kauffman Foundation has identified a current three year improvement in the U.S.A., and other indexes are much kinder. Still, a summer search for ideas seemed a worthy mission. The discussions and interest in entrepreneurship as an economic development contributor are everywhere.

Several noteworthy successes can be isolated to a specific region, such as shared borders/proximity to China- the largest market on earth. Another is the "safety net" of services in socialist countries covering daily human needs if ventures fail.[i] A third situational stimulant is entrepreneurship as a recovery tactic from national economic melt-down.[ii] It is no surprise that businesses emerge out of necessity for a livelihood, and that can occur on a large scale. Still, countries capitalizing on these unique opportunities faced challenges, as did all countries reviewed. "Failure" earns social stigma in some cultures, and pressure to not disrupt is present.[iii] I find it intriguing that simply not thinking big enough as an entrepreneurial hub/cluster is cited as an impediment to greater success.[iv]

It appears that being small (nationally speaking) has advantages since many of the top entrepreneurial countries are the size of major cities.[v] First-off, I noticed that cities generally ranked in the most livable category like Amsterdam, Oslo and Reykjavik have a major percentage of their country's population. That skews statistics a bit since studies of Gen-X and Millennials indicate the priority placed on location. Small, entrepreneurial countries have some of the best developed networking to be found- forming an effective, national collaboration between government, industry and academia. The results are seen in best case accelerators, incubators and access to venture capital. Another intrinsic advantage is that companies based in small countries have always had to think globally.

Immigrants with needs, ideas and determination add to business starts in virtually every country looked at, and I have commented on this before. With regard to America's downward slide in tech start-ups, silicon-valley immigrant founded businesses dropped between 2005 and 2012.[vi] Let's hope that Colorado or Illinois benefitted from this, and not another country. Jackie Yang, co-founder of the Silicon Valley venture capital firm- TransLink Capital thinks that many talented Taiwanese are staying home thanks to strengthened local education and improved employment opportunities.[vii] Countries with favorable admission terms like Belgium, Canada, Estonia, New Zealand and Portugal are marketing their countries to entrepreneurs. Estonia has conceived of "E-RESIDENTS" and is in the process of carrying out disruptive innovation.[viii] Disruptive innovation, to me, describes a tactic that is unique and creative enough to change the rules for everyone. You may obtain a digital address in Estonia while operating your business from anywhere. Estonia also provides free Wi-Fi to all citizens, uses the digitalization of government as an economic driver and has a seven year entrepreneurship development plan.

A handful of countries gain kudos for their unique support of women entrepreneurs- a demographic group that joins immigrants at the top of most startup rankings. Similarly, several national visioning statements rise above the rest, like Taiwan's "Let Knowledge Be Our Infrastructure".[ix] To be a top ranking economy with regard to R&D (Research & Development) is a Dutch goal. Denmark's culture has long emphasized collaborations of independent thinkers and flat, non-hierarchical organizations- things that much of the world is trying to put into place. Then, for a direct "bullish" attitude, the UK just flat out posts big numbers, with approximately 500,000 annual new business starts.

"The Fourth Industrial Revolution: What It Means, How To Respond" speaks to why interest in entrepreneurial thought, strategy and action is so high. Klaus Schwab, Founder and Executive Chairman of the World Economic Forum, opens his piece by declaring "We stand on the brink of a technological revolution that will fundamentally alter the way we live, work and relate to one another."[x] If America conquered the second and third "revolution", are we able to do it again? We MUST effectively meet the challenges presented. Also look at discussions about ideation versus commercialization. Some suggest there are more than enough ideas; that bringing them to market is where time-critical and investment-critical battles must be won. Can the U.S. remove city, state and national discrepancies in order to compete with nimble small nations? One factor in America's decade-long slide is an estimated 180 new business related national regulations since 2009.[xi] STEM Education (Science, Technology, Engineering & Math) is a primary pipeline for innovators and also part of the revolution. How does our national network of public/private and basic/advanced learning centers stack up?

Focus and prioritization of entrepreneurial initiatives are the differentiating factors between countries. National commitment must be long term, consistent and clearly communicated so that organizations and resources align with this national agenda. A seamless, supportive network takes time to evolve and to achieve sustained results. Inertia fuels more results.

[i] I would cite some of the Scandinavian countries who occupy top ranks in many entrepreneurial indexes.

[ii] An early 21st Century worldwide recession certainly occurred, although dates vary slightly. Entrepreneur-friendly countries such as Iceland, Portugal and Slovenia came back from complete disaster with the help of new businesses.

[iii] Singapore is a remarkable international commerce center with a lingering Confucian mindset.

[iv] In Switzerland, is there pressure to not jeopardize a wonderful work/life balanced culture, or is it just harder for small economies to really think BIG?

[v] Just to name some having a national population under 5 miilion; Estonia, Iceland, Luxembourg, Lithuania, New Zealand and Slovenia


[vii] Excerpted from "Taiwanese Entrepreneurs Saying Goodbye To The U.S., Hello China" by Samantha Huang,, 11/6/2012.

[viii] "Why Estonia Is Letting Entrepreneurs Become 'E-Residents'" by Juan Pablo Vazquez Sampere, March 9, 2016, Harvard Business Review.

[ix] Taiwan's SMEA (Small & Medium Enterprise Administration).

[x] "The Fourth Industrial Revolution: What It Means, How To Respond", Klaus Schwab, 1/14/16,

[xi] Estimated by the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, with the figure quoted in "Sweden Heads The Best Countries For Business, Kurt Badenhausen,, 12/21/2016.