The GES is the pre-eminent, by invite-only, gathering of entrepreneurs and investors which attracts some 2 000 attendees. Photo: Reuters
JOHANNESBURG – The Dutch take the power and impact of start-ups very seriously.

This was demonstrated when I recently attended the Global Entrepreneurship Summit (GES) hosted by the Dutch government in The Hague, Holland.

The GES is the pre-eminent, by invite-only, gathering of entrepreneurs and investors which attracts some 2 000 attendees: 1 200 competitively selected entrepreneurs, 300 investors, 500 guests and other hand-picked entrepreneurial champions.

It's also a platform that the US government uses to build partnerships with host countries and explore ways to advance enterprise development.

Her Majesty Queen Maxima of the Netherlands opened her address, saying, “There are so many business opportunities to be found in social issues that will create a lasting impact. There is no zero sum game when society is your big client. What divides us is smaller than what brings us together. As the Netherlands, we consider ourselves as a gateway to the future and to Europe. For global challenges, there is always a Dutch solution, provided we keep investing in entrepreneurs, we are on the right path."

She reiterated that an entrepreneurial culture was the foundation of any thriving economy.

“Entrepreneurship is a key part of our nation's agenda. About 1.7 billion people globally cannot access financial services and we have to do something about this. Many micro, small and medium enterprises lack financial access to scale their businesses. Traditional entrepreneurs have been the backbone of various economies over the years. Today, we are seeing the rise of young start-ups that are using technologies to disrupt various industries,” she said.

Queen Maxima said as new technologies appeared, the likelihood of a winner-takes-all situation could be more pronounced in emerging economies, especially in the digital space.

“It is, therefore, important for regulators in developing countries to mitigate against excessive market concentration,” she said.

“For all these things to work in an inclusive and fair way, we will need certain prerequisites. These include cybersecurity, digital ID systems, customer data protections, financial and digital literacy, data privacy and connectivity to all segments of the population," said Queen Maxima.

She highlighted six key points:

  1. Access to finance: Lack of credit history makes it difficult for young firms to access finance.
  2. Technology: Technology and digitisation can help reduce costs and help entrepreneurs to scale much faster.
  3. Customer-centric: This is key for usage, scale and impact. For example, Go Jack, an Indonesian start-up, has now scaled and offers 18 different services, including a digital wallet.
  4. Enabling environment: The government must provide a conducive environment. The speed and complexity of new technology can be a problem for some governments, but regulation should not stifle the innovation and growth of start-ups. My fintech working group recently released a report on how policymakers can regulate without hindering innovation.
  5. Level playing field: Entrepreneurship should be inclusive. Women receive less funding in early stage start-ups than men - and sadly, women start-ups deliver way more than male start-ups.
  6. Strategic partnerships: Business does not operate in isolation. We have to look at open innovation because this accelerates innovation when we work together.

Summing up, she said that “at the end of the day, technology needs to improve the lives of everyone. We must support the global spirit of entrepreneurship, so together we can all have a better world”.

Another attendee, Marcelo Claure, the chief operating officer of Softbank, said Facebook had only disrupted 1percent of the world's gross domestic product while Amazon had disrupted 5 percent, so we still have 94 percent to be disrupted. He then posed the questions of how do we have things that move connect with things that do not move? How do we integrate technology in a safe way to secure the future that we all want to live in?

The European Commissioner focused on the waves of progress, saying that in the first wave, Europe was the leader. America took over in the second wave and he thinks that Europe will take the third because it has the passion for deep technology in a deep wave.

Personally, I think Africa has a vital role to play in the third and fourth wave, although the reality is that we are too far in the development chain to achieve this yet.

So as Africans, how do we have smart regulation? How can we regulate the future we do not know?

How do we open opportunities for African start-ups? How do we ensure that African start-ups move from ideation to commercialisation? How do we make it easier for African start-ups to access credit and scale? How do we advance Africa's development in a sustainable way?

I firmly believe we should regulate principles and not products as other speakers concurred. Entrepreneurs have a vital role to play and must be invited to sit in open, transparent forums with politicians and regulators.

Because the future is now.

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

BUSINESS REPORT