Can the world produce 75 million more entrepreneurs?
The answer to that question is critical, because that's how many people around the globe need jobs, according to the latest United Nations research. The development of small businesses could be a key path to creating economic stability, self-sufficiency, and wealth.
The topic was addressed in Davos, Switzerland, this week at a panel with Ed Thai, a partner at seed venture fund 500 Startups, and John Harthorne, founder and chief executive of Boston-based accelerator MassChallenge. The duo spoke as part of the World Economic Forum with entrepreneurs from all over the world.
"The question is not, 'Can we create 75 million entrepreneurs?', it is simply 'How?,'" Thai said, adding that that number represents a mere 1 percent of the global population, who simply need access to the right opportunities.
The answer boils down to basics, the panelists said. Solutions include changing education to emphasize more creative problem-solving, removing regulatory obstacles that smother small business innovation, and fostering supportive environments that encourage risk taking.
Of course, there remain many obstacles preventing people from becoming entrepreneurs, the panelists and various audience participants said. Particularly difficult roadblocks in emerging markets include a cultural aversion to failure, and regulatory environments that often favor the status quo.
To illustrate, an Indian entrepreneur in the audience who identified herself as a comic book maker said parents in her home country frequently discourage children from starting their own businesses. Instead, young people are urged to join larger companies, which is considered a more secure job path.
And Thai, who is based in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, cited examples where video sharing and ride sharing startups in Vietnam and Indonesia, respectively, have been shut down by those governments in recent years.
"It is much harder to change the regulatory problems," he said.
Access to resources in the form of capital or help from other entrepreneurs is also necessary, and often in short supply, particularly in war-ravaged countries.
"The challenges entrepreneurs in the U.S. are facing are multiplied 10 times in conflict areas and refugee camps," an entrepreneur in the audience from Gaza said, adding that unemployment in Palestine is as high as 45 percent. "People there have to create their own job opportunities," she said.