Global Forum on Innovation: Top 15 Tips for Accelerating Entrepreneurship

By Madanmohan Rao|30th May 2013
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The 5th Global Forum on Innovation & Technology Entrepreneurship held this week in South Africa by the World Bank’s infoDev programme featured a range of entrepreneurs and experts offering tips and advice on how to accelerate the startup movement around the world. Here are my Top 15 takeaways from the opening sessions and startup showcases on Day One!1. Immerse yourself in your domain

Founders should be deeply immersed in their domains to connect with their customers and partners, develop unique insights and market their products. “You need a first person perspective to succeed. What keeps me going is my students,” said Toni Maraviglia, founder of education startup Eneza.

2. Don’t brand yourself just with technology

Entrepreneurs should focus on clear problem areas but not bind themselves too strongly to one technology or platform alone. For instance, the Kenyan startup Eneza Education makes its interactive education services available via Web, WAP, SMS – but pitches them as mini-lessons, ‘Ask a Teacher’ features, self-assessment tools and learner analytics, according to its founder Toni Maraviglia. “Apple is a movement, Dell is just a computer,” she cited as an example of focusing on while ecosystems and not just boxes.

3. Overcome fear of failure

The fear of failure is driven into us through our schools, parents and society at large – and is also related to punishment, observed Andile Ngcaba of Convergence Partners. Conditioning aspiring entrepreneurs to overcome fear will be an important part of nurturing innovators.

4. Set the stage for directed as well as accidental innovation

Not all innovations emerged as the result of systematic processes and strategy – some emerged quite by accident, such as the microwave oven and Post-It notes. Innovation organisations should set up conditions for directed as well as accidental innovation, recommended Andile Ngcaba of Convergence Partners.

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5. Tap analytics to show impacts

Startups need to master analytics and big data to show impact of their products and services, and woo new customer and investors. Eneza Education shows off its performance with the following stats: 12,000 students paying, 400 schools, 1,000 head teachers, and improvement of 9% in student scores. Even the growth potential is specified: 2 million more students to reach in rural Kenya.

6. Innovation is a mindset and an ecosystem

Innovation is catalysed in the mind, and spreads and scales through innovation ecosystems, said Andile Ngcaba, angel investor and founder, Convergence Partners. Concerned stakeholders and successful entrepreneurs should cooperate to create startup communities and investor networks in their neighbourhoods and across other regions.

7. Angel funds

Seed funding need not be in the millions or even thousands of dollars, smaller amounts can suffice to launch small businesses in many emerging economies. Typical sources are the 3 Fs: immediate family, friends, fools (one Forum participant even joked that father-in-law could be the fourth F)! Crowdfunding is another growing option to raise funds for small startups and even mobile app development, with a number of countries passing laws legalising crowdfunding.

8. “Audacious” funds

Investors need to not just make funds available but be willing to take risks and bet on the next big thing. Investors in many emerging economies tend to be conservative and act more like banks than VCs. “We need availability of capital as well as audacity of capital,” said Janamitra Devan, VP for financial and private sector development at the World Bank.

9. Build Alliances

While areas like Silicon Valley are managing quite well now without direct government intervention, many emerging economies still have a controlling (and stifling) role of government. The “triple helix” of university, government, and industry alliances is key for innovation success.

10. Spread Innovation beyond Big Cities

In many emerging economies, innovation hubs are emerging in major cities, but not beyond them. “Provincial innovation systems” are needed to bring the startup spirit to remote parts of the country as well, according to Derek Hanekom, South Africa’s minister for science and technology. “It is important to turn imaginative assets into productive capital,” said Janamitra Devan of the World Bank.

11. Bring luck on your side

Create conditions so that the odds favour you. “There is luck in startups – and luck in incubators and innovation policy as well,” according to Janamitra Devan of the World Bank. In the long term, stakeholders should brace themselves for ups and down in the economy and tech lifecycle swings.

12. Local content drives local innovation

In many emerging economies, local languages are not supported on computers at the interface or OS level. Having tools, content and services in the local language can drive local innovation. For instance, there are over 2,000 languages in Africa but not many apps or not much Web content has been created in these languages; the same holds true for many Asian languages.

13. Advantage: Youth

Countries with huge youth populations can do particularly well in digital innovation – provided adequate support exists. For example, Africa has over 740 million mobile subscribers and 40% of the population is under 19 years old – most of these are ‘digital natives,’ and can use and create new digital tools.

14. Showcase innovators

Regular annual awards by theme and region can be used to showcase successful innovations, benchmark progress, generate ‘buzz,’ and open up areas for research and funding. The Global Forum highlights Top 50 SMEs from emerging economies around the world, of which 20 winners are picked; there are also regional awards such as Africa Mobile Awards (to be launched in 2013).

15. Tap historical roots

Countries like India and China are tapping their historical economic successes in the pre-colonial era to spur an economic resurgence in the 21st century – and so is Africa. “The human race traces its roots to Africa – can Africa become a centre of innovation again?” asked South African minister Derek Hanekom.

It would be good to end this piece with some nice quotes from the sessions.

“Failure is a step towards success.” – Richard Branson

“Without struggle the world would have no progress.” – Fredrick Douglass

“Entrepreneurship is a struggle, it is more than pitches and parties.” - Toni Maraviglia

[Follow YourStory's research director Madanmohan Rao on Twitter]

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