For 10 years now, the world has come together for a few days to unite in support of entrepreneurship. This year’s convening was in Istanbul, and I had the honor of being part of the US delegation. From the Global Entrepreneurship Network (GEN)’s report there were just over 2400 international delegates from 171 countries. The content was rich, with 376 speakers at 148 sessions, and thankfully they were taped so you weren't stressed to get to every single one and if you lose your notes, you can review the sessions, once they have completed compiling them, phew!
The MOST important thing to learn from any conference, summit or gathering…
That seems like a no brainer, but there are good ways and not so good ways to network. While that box of 500 business card seems like a fabulous idea and you’re passing them out like a blackjack dealer in Vegas, take a breath and think about this: is this someone I really want to talk with after we leave this conference? Will you remember them after you walk into the next panel session? There were people who came up to me, eager to pitch and hand me their card, but never looked at me; those I toss. Again, time and effort, why do I want to follow up with you when you didn't even ask my name? Maybe you don’t want to stay in touch; remember, make worthwhile connections. On the other hand, there was an attendee who didn't carry business cards, he took other people’s cards and decided whether or not he wanted to connect. While that seems borderline brilliant, it doesn't help him, in that others couldn't assist him if the perfect thing came along; they had no way to reach him if he didn't make the first move. Makes for missed opportunities. Perhaps there’s a bit of bravado with this approach because you assume you are memorable and people will seek you out. Nah, not going to happen because frankly, you’re not THAT special. It’s sort of quid pro quo, you should invest in that encounter, at least enough to justify the cost of the business card, your time and energy. Just an FYI on business cards, people notice the card stock, fonts matter and offer it to the person with both hands (yes, it’s a thing).
Yes, I know you are there for the conference; but making connections are a big part of that. So to that end, know that deep meaningful connections are made through shared experiences. So… get out of the hotel, conference center, meeting room! Have lunch with people you don’t know, take a walk with someone, go sightseeing. Startup Turkey hosted a lovely cruise on the Bosphorus and had a speed networking event on board. Speaking of sightseeing, please go out and experience some of the city that is hosting your event. They go to great expense to have these things in their community in hopes of having you spend some tourism dollars and contribute to the local economy. I could not imagine going to Istanbul and not seeing anything, but the hotel ballroom. (I’ll post about the rest of my experience shortly).
Also, for goodness sakes, you collected all those business cards, when you get home, send a follow up! Connect on LinkedIn! These are business connections, that’s what it’s all about. If you have a bad memory, make a note on the back of them so you have a trigger to remind you of the conversation. They’re not like baseball cards you collect and trade; there’s no winning by having more if you’re not doing anything with them.
Defining entrepreneurs and ecosystems.
I had a conversation with Andy Stoll from the Kauffman Foundation while he was interviewing people and we came upon interesting insight. There were various and differing definitions of entrepreneurs and entrepreneurship, but the idea of ecosystems were similar. An entrepreneur has been described as someone with an itch to scratch, a change-maker, a disruptor, an innovator , problem solver and out of the box thinker. Empretec, a United Nations initiative for entrepreneurship’s definition was explained to me by Arnab Chakrabortty, the National Director for India, as someone who no longer trades their time for money (a self employed person) and creates an enterprise wherein they generate income without the direct trade of their time. (He stated it more eloquently and hopefully I got it right). Regardless, there were a myriad of ideas about what an entrepreneur is. It varied depending on who you were speaking with, regardless of nationality. Small business people felt like they were entrepreneurs, but not all entrepreneurs agreed.
Conversely, the feedback of what makes up an ecosystem was very similar across cultures. An entrepreneurial ecosystem, the elements that make up a successful and vibrant community are pretty much the same for many of the people I met. These things are measured in connectedness, funding opportunities, education, mentorship and other resources, and are all imperative for growth. These data points are collected and analyzed by organizations like Startup Genome, who presented their 2018 report at GEC. My friend, Arnobio Morelix, who is one of their research gurus shared the importance of Global Benchmarks and how beneficial it is to know yourself and what ventures are ripe for your respective community. There was agreement on the ecosystem panel, with representatives from the US, Vietnam and Turkey, that engagement was necessary, and there’s a need for collaboration, not solely competition for growth. The need for globalization was a common thread as well as the necessity for the powers that be, whether it’s government or establishment to listen.
Have & Have Nots, the things that divide us and more than meets the eye.
(yes, I crammed a lot in this one, but bear with me)
Speaking of definitions, remembering lessons from history class on “have” and “have not” nation/people, I looked upon the attendees of the GEC and was struck by how much we don’t really see or understand. Keep in mind, the textbooks I studied in the US were written with a certain lens, and that particular viewpoint taught a slanted version of places and cultures rich in natural resources versus those of ‘third world communities’.
Just as people’s definitions of entrepreneur differed, so does that of a ‘developing nation’. In Wiki there is a vote on which countries fall under the Third World header. (On a side note, Wiki is banned in Turkey, ironic cause you can tweet, but you can’t see Wikipedia).
Unless you delve deeper, you might not know that in the OPEC region, there are countries that don’t export oil. There are more connected innovation corridors in cities like Taipei, than many cities in the United States and Canada. There are 40+ countries with 30 years of successful capacity building through the United Nation program I mentioned.
Across the board, everyone I met, when asked about the biggest barrier and challenge named education in the top 3. Whether it was lack of educational opportunities, access, insufficient support and resources, there was always a HUGE hole. It never ceases to amaze me how much governments and powers that be drop the ball on this…or perhaps it’s on purpose. Makes you wonder.
As an inclusion and diversity facilitator, I embrace the idea that diversity is wide ranging. It’s not simply about race and nationality. In countries like Saudi Arabia, there are numerous tribes with different languages and customs, as well as all the immigrants that are a an integral part of their community. As I spoke with fellow attendees about their experiences they shared how citizens of countries like India have a different dialect every 10 miles.
For you native English speakers, consider yourself lucky. The common language of entrepreneurship and commerce is English. Even if it was spoken hesitantly or minimally, it was the language in which people engaged. When a Taiwanese ecosystem builder spoke with the economic development person from Lebanon, it was in English. Americans, Brits, Canadians and Aussies as well as all the other countries influenced and conquered by Great Britain take a lot for granted when it comes to communication. In my experience, a larger number of people for whom English is their first language, it is their only language. Many of the people I met from other countries where English is not the local language speak two or three languages. I have found that if you attempt to learn a little bit, even something simple like “Thank you” in a language other than your own, it is appreciated. OK, thank you is a bad example in Turkish cause even though I speak several languages, it was a phrase I could not wrap my mouth around. Teşekkür ederim…yeah, that wasn't happening; gratefully you could use sağol.
Our organization, Civic Ninjas has been involved in initiatives across the US and Western Europe. As our projects are flexible and adaptable for different size communities, we have tried not to pigeonhole ourselves into a sector or market. We simply solve problems, but for the most part in the Western Hemisphere. This trip has served to remind me of all the amazing people and abundance there is out there. Since I moved back to the United States, I have focused on raising a child and the impact I can have locally. My son graduated from university this month and after returning from truly connecting with a global mix of fabulous ecosystem builders, I’m inspired to move our efforts beyond and sharing that enthusiasm with my team. So many emerging ecosystems are more mature than some of us realize and the only limits are the ones we set upon ourselves.
The last morning of the conference, there was a panel at plenary introducing GEN Space. Fascinating views of development and innovation from the perspective of NASA astronaut, Greg Johnson. He talked about looking out on Earth from the International Space Station where there are no lines and borders. Thinking about that ‘final frontier’ as only the beginning of opportunities.
It’s a small world after all…
Later on that day, I was at the Nigerian reception and introduced myself to the Director of GEN Space, Stephan Reckie. We had a short conversation about where we resided and I mentioned that I grew up in New York. Just like anyone from ‘the city’, he asked in a challenging tone, “where in NY?”. Those of us who call the city home will inevitability grill you since the tendency is to look down on those who lived Upstate as not “really” from New York. When I informed him I am a Queens gal, he nodded approvingly, telling me he was from Manhattan. Then he quizzed me on the true qualifier, “where did you go to high school?”. It turns out we both attended the Bronx High School of Science at the same time, he graduated two years before me. It just goes to show, you should be nice to everyone and you never know where you intersect.
As the chapter closed on the 10th Global Entrepreneurship Congress, one of my favorite memories is of some delegates taking over the stage at Cloud 34, the lounge at the Hilton Istanbul Bomonti at the end of the evening. Several karaoke songs later, capping off the night, the whole room sang, “We Are The World”…indeed we were.
We are the world, we are the children
We are the ones who make a brighter day so let’s start giving
There’s a choice we’re making we’re saving our own lives
It’s true we’ll make a better day, just you and me….