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Why Global Entrepreneurship Week Matters


Adam Farrell founded a solar technology business when he was just 15 years old. His entrepreneurial career started in ninth grade while working on a science project designing a solar-powered house.Surprised by the costs of the photovoltaic technology his team needed, Farrell realized there was an untapped market for smaller cells.Farrell has since expanded his business, Silicon Solar, turning it into a major research and development firm and one of the largest suppliers of solar energy technology in the world. Elon Musk, one of the key founders of PayPal (EBAY), made hundreds of millions of dollars in his early 20s. Not satisfied with mere riches, Musk decided to aim for immortality by going on to start Tesla Motors, the sexy electric car startup, and Space Exploration Technologies, one of the most advanced private sector efforts to date to create a cheap and accessible space launch capability. Farrell and Musk are emblematic of a new generation of young entrepreneurs. Fueled by easy access to information on the Internet, lower barriers to entry in many industries, and burning curiosity, these young go-getters are starting earlier and going further faster than in any previous generation. Startup Culture Goes GlobalAnd while society might have glorified them in the past—inventors have always been heroes around the world—today young people feel that the achievements of people like Farrell and Musk are not entirely out of reach. In fact, it's now accepted and even considered a beneficial trait to have this sort of entrepreneurial stardust and drive. What's more, this shift has clearly gone global. Even in the poorest, most remote parts of the globe, aspiring young entrepreneurs are more informed about startup culture and have more affinity with their foreign peers than at any time in the past. They are not waiting for their governments to remove the barriers to starting business—they are leading such change. Take telecom infrastructure, for example. Young entrepreneurs are bringing technologies like mobile banking and cellular phones to rural areas on every continent, enabling others to start and grow their own ideas. In Ghana, a nation that the World Bank ranks 135 out of 183 economies in the ease of starting a business, Hermann Chinery-Hesse at age 26 founded SOFTtribe, one of Ghana's first, and now largest, software companies. Chinery-Hesse also started a venture that will effectively move Ghana's mostly cash economy to a new level of financial sophistication by offering consumers the ability to pay for a variety of goods and services via text messages on mobile devices. Entrepreneurs like these, driven by a dual motivation to do well and do good, offer hope amid a world somewhat overwhelmed by so many problems ahead. And with a world population of 6.5 billion and growing, we will continue to face new challenges of increasing complexity. More than half of the companies on the 2009 U.S. Fortune 500 were launched during a recession or bear market offering comfort that our next generation of entrepreneurs will likely lead the way to economic recovery. But it is our young entrepreneurs' ability to create solutions that could be our leaders' greatest tool to achieve much needed, global-scale innovation as they address poverty, increasing energy demands, disease, and climate change. Global Entrepreneurship WeekThat's why this year's Global Entrepreneurship Week, taking place Nov. 16-22, in 85 nations, is so important. It's not just a collection of concurrent networking, ideas competitions, and mentoring events designed to spur young people to consider entrepreneurship. It's also affirmation that upstream there is a larger pool of innovative entrepreneurs about to enter the world stage just when they're needed most. Last year's Global Entrepreneurship Week sparked a wave of entrepreneurship in countries from all parts of the world. In Somalia, young people explored ways to fabricate useful materials from plastic waste collected on the streets, turning it into mats, ropes, bags, and furniture. In Nepal, youth from around the country presented creative, entrepreneurial ideas ranging from caring for prisoners' children to preserving antique arts to energy efficiency. By the end of the event, organizers and mentors had backed these ideas with commitments to help turn them into realities. In its inaugural year, the Week appealed to some 3 million people in 77 countries who participated in just over 25,000 events and activities. The lament of international economic development experts that poorer nations do not understand basic business concepts is out of date. The creative genius among the young is perhaps one of the least-tapped resources in the world. Given the opportunity to explore entrepreneurship as a career path, proper guidance, access to credit, and a cultural climate that makes risk far less intimidating and failure far less damaging, young people can unleash their potential and turn the marketplace into a generator of economic and social value.
Jonathan Ortmans is president of the Public Forum Institute in Washington, DC, a senior fellow at the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, and president of Global Entrepreneurship Week.
Vivek_wadhwa
Vivek Wadhwa is vice president of Academics and Innovation at Singularity University, Fellow at Stanford Law School and Director of Research at Pratt School of Engineering at Duke University. You can follow him on Twitter (@wadhwa) and find his research at wadhwa.com.

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