Monday, April 05, 2010

Ask An Expert: Entrepreneurs, We Are The World

Ask An Expert: Entrepreneurs, We Are The World
LYON, France — Here at the second annual World Entrepreneurship Forum a few things are clear.

Do you want the good news or bad news first?

Let's start on the positive side: Entrepreneurship is not only alive and well, it is obviously and powerfully on the rise around the world. Whether it is women entrepreneurs in Africa, social entrepreneurs in Singapore (my favorite – Jack Sim, CEO of the World Toilet Organization– a group using entrepreneurial ideas to help the world's poor gain access to sanitary conditions), or small business owners from the U.S., the talent, energy, ideas and initiative that defines entrepreneurship is gaining ground in a multitude of ways and in every corner of the globe.

But that also brings me to the bad news. Americans – both politicians and other policymakers alike – clearly seem bereft of any good, new ideas to help small business.

From the Republicans: Cut taxes! Yawn.

From the Democrats: More Stimulus! Hope it's better than Round 1.

But here, what I have learned so far is that there are no shortage of great ways to stimulate small business and entrepreneurship, ways that go far beyond our myopic view that cutting taxes and spending more are the only two policy initiatives available.

While this think tank is made up of entrepreneurs, policymakers, educators, experts and other people from every continent concerned with entrepreneurship, what they share in common is a plethora of ideas for promoting small business and entrepreneurial risk taking.

To wit:

South Africa has a yearly entrepreneurship day to promote and stimulate small business creation. Exhibitions created jointly by government, education and private institutions offer people a one stop shop to get excited and learn about entrepreneurship.

In The Netherlands, "Green Wheels" is a time-sharing automobile program that saves entrepreneurs money and is eco-friendly to boot.

In Belgium, a program is designed to help long-term homemakers re-enter the workforce by starting their own home-based business. The thinking is that these women have already run a small business – their home – and thus are uniquely qualified to become entrepreneurs. They get training, inspiration and other assistance.

In Canada, an entrepreneur community school helps kids (including at risk kids and dropouts) learn essential entrepreneurial skills like individual initiative, financial management and risk-taking.

In Bangladesh, the most profitable bank, BRAC, began by giving non-collateral micro loans that offer higher interest returns and result in exceptionally high repayment rates. They just opened a brand in Afghanistan, and Haiti is next.

India, as we all know, is one of the hotbeds for business growth on the planet so it was not surprising to hear one participant mention the "entrepreneurial ferment" that his country is experiencing. He talked about the technology business incubation parks that have sprung up around the country.

In Africa, there seems to be a surge of women-oriented entrepreneurial programs designed to teach and foster women-owned business development. Whether it is helping indigenous craft makers get their products ready for export or teaching African women how to be better managers, African entrepreneurship too is on the rise.

Of course there was plenty of talk about law and taxes, but the discussions I participated in and the ideas that are working elsewhere were thankfully void of our stagnant left-right, good-bad, right-wrong policy discussions. Indeed, it was great to see adults have policy debates that did not demonize the other side, that looked for agreement, that offered creative solutions for long-term problems, and which fostered understanding and cooperation.

We have all heard so much about globalization, and some related horror stories, but I have seen the future, and it is a very bright one for entrepreneurs.

Today's tip: An example of social entrepreneurship is the organization Responde. In Argentina, hundreds of rural villages are at risk of disappearing due to deforestation and rural-to-urban migration. Responde teaches entrepreneurial skills to these villagers – how to export their indigenous art, eco-tourism, etc. – and in the process is saving these national treasures. You can help here.

Ask an Expert appears Mondays. You can e-mail Steve Strauss at: you can click here to see previous columns. Steven D. Strauss is a lawyer, author and speaker who specializes in small business and entrepreneurship. His latest book is The Small Business Bible. You can sign up for his free newsletter, "Small Business Success Secrets!" at his website.

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