Mexico runs with a great American export: Unfettered entrepreneurial spirit

Vivek Wadhwa
Contributor, Innovations November 16, 2012

In case you haven’t noticed, this past week was Global Entrepreneurship Week (GEW). What started off as a modest effort to inspire entrepreneurship has evolved into a massive global movement. According to the Kauffman Foundation, more than 7 million people will participate in entrepreneurship events across 130 countries. The idea is simple: build and strengthen local entrepreneurial ecosystems to nurture the next generation of entrepreneurs.

I participated in one of these events in Mexico City this week. At the Instituto Politecnico Nacional, I talked to several hundred high-school and college children about the opportunities that exist for them to solve the problems of Mexico—and the world—by becoming entrepreneurs. The children were enthusiastic and engaged. They were as motivated to succeed and to do good for the world as children I speak to in Palo Alto or Chapel Hill. But it was clear from the questions they asked that they lacked the confidence. They didn’t believe that they could become a Steve Jobs or Elon Musk.

Vivek Wadhwa is a fellow at Rock Center for Corporate Governance at Stanford University, director of research at Center for Entrepreneurship and Research Commercialization at Duke, and distinguished fellow at Singularity University. His past appointments include Harvard Law School, University of California Berkeley, and Emory University. View Archive

That is what the organizers of GEW want to change.

Plans for a global celebration to inspire young entrepreneurs were announced by the Kauffman Foundation and British Prime Minister Gordon Brown in 2007. According to GEW President Jonathan Ortmans, it started with a simple question: “What if all the organizations dedicated to advancing entrepreneurship joined forces for one week each year?” The first GEW event kicked off in November 2008 in with events, activities and competitions designed to inspire, connect, mentor and engage young entrepreneurs taking place in 77 countries.

Ortmans says he was surprised that the momentum built so quickly. GEW now has 24,000 partners that are conducting 40,000 activities. It has received support from world leaders on each continent and celebrity entrepreneurs such as Virgin Group founder Richard Branson and Dell, Inc. founder Michael Dell.

This week, all across the world, thousands of founder teams are coming together for the first time and working feverishly toward the launch of a new startup. Meanwhile, researchers and policymakers are gathering at hundreds of events around the world to examine the underlying policies necessary to promote entrepreneurial growth.

Entrepreneurship has been at the core of the American economy for decades — a key ingredient of the American Dream. This ethos is now spreading around the world quickly. That’s because entrepreneurs everywhere have access to the sea of knowledge online, and the cost of technologies such as computers, software, and sensors have dropped exponentially. Anyone anywhere can now start a company that positively impacts their local communities and perhaps the world. This has allowed young go-getters all over the world to become entrepreneurs. They are not waiting for governments to remove barriers or to give them grants—they are taking the leap on their own. Then they are doing what entrepreneurs do best—overcoming obstacles.

I could see from the beehive of activity at the Mexico City event how entrepreneurship is spreading there. Instituto Politecnico Nacional showcased about 50 companies that had been started by students or college alumni. These startups were doing things as diverse as solving energy problems, automating manufacturing, and selling energy drinks and exotic foods. Many were building Silicon Valley-style mobile apps. All of the entrepreneurs I talked to said they were glad that they took the path to entrepreneurship rather than becoming a government bureaucrat or working for one of Mexico’s stodgy old-line enterprises. At the event, the experienced entrepreneurs were doing the same thing I was: telling the next generation to get ambitious and change the world—that there is no reason a Steve Jobs can’t be born in Mexico.

The author has conducted research supported by several grants from the Kauffman Foundation.

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