Global Entrepreneurship Congress in Istanbul. The writer says these programmes help develop crucial capabilities and integrate new critical concepts for a vibrant sustainable private sector. Photo: Supplied
JOHANNESBURG – The Global Entrepreneurship Congress (GEC) held its annual get-together in Manama, Bahrain, over the last two weeks, with more than 2 000 delegates representing 170 nations descending upon the kingdom island country in the Persian Gulf.

Today, Bahrain is undoubtedly a forward-thinking country. It's moving from being just another oil-reliant economy to one that's more inclusive, most notably, investing in entrepreneurs and high-impact start-ups.

This initiative is led by Tamkeen, a public authority established in 2006, tasked with supporting Bahrain's private sector and positioning it as the key driver of economic growth and development. Tamkeen is one of the cornerstones of the country's national reform initiatives and Bahrain’s Economic Vision 2030.

Tamkeen has two primary objectives: to foster the development and growth of enterprises, and to provide support to enhance the productivity and training of the national workforce. It offers a number of innovative programmes to businesses across all economic sectors, including training, financing, grants, advisory and entrepreneurship support.

These programmes help develop crucial capabilities and integrate new critical concepts for a vibrant sustainable private sector.

Using more than 330 different programmes, Tamkeen has empowered in excess of 170 000 individuals and businesses to date. If my memory serves me right, I believe around $2 billion (R28.69bn) has already been invested in Bahrain’s entrepreneurs.

A key highlight for me at the GEC was meeting the former President of Estonia, Toomas Hendrik, Shaikh Mohammed Bin Essa Al-Khalifa and Zayed R Bin Alzayani. They shared updates on the progress and efforts they are making as a country to support entrepreneurs to become global founders and to attract the best high-impact start-up talent into the country.

The congress opened with a welcome address from the Global Entrepreneurship Network President Jonathan Ortmans, whose in-depth speech was very insightful.

He began by stressing that “at the Global Entrepreneurship Network (GEN), our true north is about making it possible for anyone, anywhere to have a vision, to unleash an idea, to test, to listen, to do, to make and to create new value. We know anyone can be an entrepreneur.

"Within GEN, we share a common commitment to the collective possibilities of human endeavour sparked at the intersection of cultures, peoples and disciplines for the benefit of all.

“Looking around the world in 2019, we see great disruption and uncertainty - but being a curator in this global entrepreneurial ecosystem is very exhilarating. While for some, uncertain environments and constant disruption breed fear. For entrepreneurs and those of us enabling them, it is an energising thrill.”

He added that “GEN offers a compass for decentralised communities around the world to navigate this new normal. Better than a linear blueprint, the global entrepreneurial ecosystem is breathing and alive, made up of people randomly connecting, listening, collaborating and acting. GEN brings you a guide, a platform of programmes and policy ideas and a trusted community to help.”

To overview the past year, he said that “GEN has been as busy as always. We have broadened our partnership with the US government around the Global Initiative for Science and Technology (Gist) programme, Global Enterprise Registration and the Global Entrepreneurship Summit coming this June in the Netherlands.

“For our Start-up Nations Ministerial, following the Start-up Nations Summit in Surabaya last November, we are especially honoured to have ministers and staff from 40 nations who have answered the call of their entrepreneurs to collaborate with their peers around the world in sourcing new ideas to develop their ecosystems and accelerate the pipeline of the entrepreneurs experimenting within them.

“The outputs from the ministerial discussions will be taken to the broader Start-up Nations policy network and develop a new round of narratives and outputs leading into the Start-up Nations Summit, hosted by the government of South Africa and City of Durban in November and all policymakers are welcome.

“Our research arm, the Global Entrepreneurship Research Network, has been adding partners, aligning agendas and beginning the task of helping entrepreneurial support organisations find quantifiable methods and data to measure effectiveness.

"We began to form a ‘data-ready community’ to co-design new tools around determining what to measure, how to collect data and how to analyse it.

"We have released the Index of Dynamic Entrepreneurship and a preview copy of the Global Start-up Ecosystem report will be released soon.”

When it came to collaboration, a vital part of the GEN’s mandate, he mentioned that “our investors, entrepreneurs and ecosystem leaders have been actively collaborating across borders and gathering at our local GEC+ events, Global Entrepreneurship Week and other global events and activities - all the time sharing knowledge, networks and trust” and he requested all relevant parties to please attend the next GEC+Africa event in Kigali on October 8 and 9 this year.

What’s also new this year is a fresh strategy for deepening the GEC’s support for those who lead - the entrepreneurs - by reinventing its programmes on the front line.

He explained that “first, recognising the role density plays in local ecosystem connectivity - and following the success of the 22 On Sloane in South Africa - we broke ground on our second GEN Campus, [email protected], where alongside university labs, we will offer some of the best entrepreneurial learning programmes in the world” and he invited all to bring their ideas and help co-design this exciting new space alongside their peers.

On the second point, he was proud to announce that “we have launched GEN Accelerates to provide seasoned expertise to nascent entrepreneurs and capacity-building programming for ecosystem builders. Run by a team under the guidance of Susan Amat, executive director for GEN Accelerates and vice-president for education, the platform has already served tens of thousands of entrepreneurs and several cohorts of ecosystem builders.

“Third, having been active for years in promoting multiple global pitch competitions, GEN is refocusing its work around the Entrepreneurship World Cup concentrating on a one pitch competition platform. Centralising GEN’s competition efforts forged a path for us to directly support early stage start-ups through virtual and live training and expanded mentorship capacity.

“Aligning the Entrepreneurship World Cup with GEN Accelerates and our GEN Starters Club is allowing us to better serve start-ups - whether they win prizes or return to re-work their ideas. Since we challenged the world to join this effort in early February, more than 40000 entrepreneurs have entered the EWC and over 50 nations have signed up to host a national final this summer.”

He went on to encourage each national delegation to make sure their ecosystem has a plan to participate, as GEN hopes to - and expects - entrepreneurs from every nation in the world to use the free virtual accelerator, compete and leverage a friendly and global ecosystem of support.

“Finally, in an effort to help one entrepreneur at a time, GEN has expanded the Start-up Huddle programme now to 33 chapters. Built on an ingenious model developed by the Kauffman Foundation, communities come together to listen and give feedback to one or two entrepreneurs a week. The effort is creating communities and providing intensive support for start-ups,” he concluded.

As the co-chairperson of the GEN Africa, I would like to join GEN Global President Ortmans in congratulating Egypt, which won the GEN Country of the Year award.

This is in recognition of the work its government and the private sector are doing to build a strong entrepreneurial ecosystem, as well as the work of the youth, which are driven daily to find solutions for the most pressing problems facing them in order to grow their local economy.

The GEC 2020 has been scheduled for mid-April in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. We look forward to seeing you there.

Kizito Okechukwu is the co-chairperson of the Global Entrepreneurship Congress (GEC). 22 on Sloane is Africa’s largest start-up campus.

BUSINESS REPORT