In her book "From The Other Side Of The World: Extraordinary Entrepreneurs, Unlikely Places", author Elmira Bayrasli knocks entrepreneurism off it's romantic pedestal and plants it firmly on its problem-solving feet. Being an entrepreneur is not for the faint of heart and it is definitely not just about technology or apps or something those in Silicon Valley get to pursue (as she notes in her 2015 Startup Istanbul talk).
Being an entrepreneur is about solving problems.
Entrepreneurs globally face many obstacles in their desire to solve a problem and create a recurring, scalable business model. However, universal obstacles documented on startup or technology blogs and in tweets (product-market fit, finding the first paying customer, funding) are dwarfed in magnitude by challenges of war, corruption, political gridlock, poor infrastructure, monopolies, weak rule of law... As Elmira says in her book
"Entrepreneurship isn't about a place. Regardless of locale, entrepreneurship is about community, fortitude, persistence, resilience, trust and values--and using those qualities to overcome obstacles."
As Global Entrepreneurship Week - a celebration of the innovators and job creators who launch startups that bring ideas to life, drive economic growth and expand human welfare - (as their website states) launches this week in 160 countries, I turned again to Elmira for her thoughts on the challenges entrepreneurs face building businesses outside of Silicon Valley and why, more than ever, the world needs transformative entrepreneurs to create jobs, grow economies and shift mindsets.
Terrorist attacks and state corruption dominated headlines in the past week. What do these developments mean for entrepreneurs in those countries (on top of all of the other challenges they currently face)?
More than ever entrepreneurship and entrepreneurial mindsets are necessary. In the 20th century information flowed from the very top levels - between grey haired government officials in oak paneled rooms. Today information travels everywhere instantaneously. That is an opportunity and risk. People react, which gives government little time to mobilize and strategize. Technology and innovation are moving at such a rapid clip that government - any government - struggles to adapt policies to the reality of the globally wired and connected world.
Meanwhile entrepreneurs move forward.
In countries where the rule of law and governance is strong those entrepreneurs are shaping policy and strategy. Where the rule of law and governance is weak, the government is ramping up its strong, heavy hand. Either way it's a Catch-22 and a reflection of today's dilemma: who holds power? Regardless of location, those in power struggle to hold onto power. At the same time while they struggle with this power dynamic, governments are eager that entrepreneurs continue to innovate and build; economies depend on new ideas, businesses, and growth.
Entrepreneurs have more responsibility than ever. As they move forward entrepreneurs must realize and take to heart that they are shaping not only our economies, but our social and political futures as well.
Entrepreneurial nerves have been tested before in countries such as Turkey, Beirut, Mexico and Russia, and will be tested again. Do you ever wonder if "this is it" for entrepreneurs you've met when you see a negative headline?
An entrepreneur will be an entrepreneur regardless of location or circumstance. It's hard to stop someone with an idea, passion, and vision. In many respects those entrepreneurs in challenging places are driven harder than those where conditions for startups are conducive.
Entrepreneurs are by their very nature problem solvers. While they're interested in making money - money is not only what drives them. Adding value, solving problems, creating opportunity does. A negative headline for an entrepreneur in places like Turkey, Nigeria, Pakistan, and Mexico is only a signal that there is opportunity to make improvements and impact lives. That is certainly what I found in researching my book, From The Other Side of The World.
Entrepreneurs are driven to solve problems. And in many ways where there are more problems there are more opportunities to innovate.
Why is it important for entrepreneurial ventures to succeed in regions of conflict?
Conflict is at the core of entrepreneurship. Entrepreneurs are driven to solve problems and resolve conflict. It drives entrepreneurs to be more creative. Silicon Valley was born during the height of the Cold War - as the U.S. and the Soviet Union competed to build the better space ship, missile, and airplane. It was that competition that brought us the integrated circuit, the computer, the Internet. Innovations aren't born in comfort but in discomfort - out of a drive to solve a pressing problem.