Jonathan Ortmans needed a shot of caffeine before an early morning interview in Auckland, New Zealand. He stopped by a coffee shop that happened to be owned by a young Israeli. The Israeli owner, drawn to New Zealand by a project at the University of New Zealand, had opened the shop as a way of supporting himself.
But that morning, the owner was focused on something else. He showed Ortmans, a senior fellow at the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation in Kansas City, Missouri, a room at the back of his shop where students were working on a piece of software backed by financing from California for the high-tech market in that state.
“That shows how national boundaries have become porous and how entrepreneurial spirit has become boundless,” said Ortmans. In such a world, innovation can be unleashed and spread more quickly, he added.
Ortmans, who was in Auckland in 2008 to open the first Global Entrepreneurship Week, said the young Israeli and his ventures were an example of what Global Entrepreneurship Week tries to achieve: encouraging young people around the world to think of entrepreneurship and innovation as exciting ways of achieving their goals.
In the past, he said, idealistic young people who wanted to change the world shunned corporations and business in general because they viewed them as motivated primarily by greed. But the emergence of computer maker Apple Inc., search engine Google and similar companies has begun changing this attitude. Those companies’ founders see profits as only one component of their companies’ missions, which also include social and environmental goals. What makes such companies even more appealing is the fact that those endeavors less than 5 years old are the greatest generators of jobs, according to Ortmans.
A 2007 survey commissioned by the Kauffman Foundation shows that almost 80 percent of young people in the United States either would like to start their own business or believe starting their own business is a possibility.
New-generation startups often offer opportunities beyond those of the corporate world or traditional small business. Growing out of innovative ideas, such startups present entrepreneurs with interesting challenges and a chance to make their mark on the world. I’d like my children to be entrepreneurs,” Ortmans said.
Inspiring young entrepreneurs
Sometimes an entrepreneurial streak runs in the family. Alastair Mitchell’s grandfather ran a U.K. civil engineering company that built the world’s largest oil and gas platform. He “was a huge inspiration,” Mitchell said. Mitchell launched two startups before pairing with Andy McLoughlin to set up the award-winning Huddle.net, a Web-based project management platform. “You start off with an idea and a desire to change something, then learn the rest as you go,” said McLoughlin.
Samata Angel, who was born in the United Kingdom of Ghanaian parents, started humbly by customizing her own and her sister’s clothes. Realizing that she had a “raw talent” for designing clothes, she sought work in the fashion industry. “I always loved being creative and wanted to see where it may take me,” she said.
A clothing label Angel created, Samata’s Muse, has been featured in newspapers, Web articles and magazines. Her books and TV appearances have made her a celebrity in England. She serves as ambassador of the Ghanaian chapter of the Global Entrepreneurship Week.
Another young entrepreneur, Juan Ramón Nuñez, has overcome tremendous obstacles to find his calling. Having lost both parents at an early age and his wife shortly after he got married, he lived in one of the most dangerous areas of Buenos Aires. But he saved every penny he could to set up a community radio station and The Light of Sound, a company offering electronic services for parties and other events. Today he, Mitchell and McLoughlin are candidates for the title of the 2009 Young Entrepreneur of the Year.
The founders of the event — the Kauffman Foundation and Make Your Mark, the United Kingdom’s entrepreneurship campaign — together with 500 partners, sponsors and supporters around the world, aim to fire up entrepreneurial spirit of people under the age of 30 and encourage them to channel their energy and pursue their ideas. Mentors, experts and ambassadors for the week include U.K. Prime Minister Gordon Brown, NYSE (New York Stock Exchange) Euronext and Blake Mycoskie of TOMS Shoes.
The events of November 16–22 are aimed at encouraging worldwide networking among young people and organizations and giving participants coaching from entrepreneurial leaders. The official program includes an innovation challenge that requires participants to come up with products, services or special projects that make saving money fun and a competition for the best clean-technology ideas from around the world.
In 2008, its inaugural year, Global Entrepreneurship Week involved more than 3 million participants in 77 countries, 25,000 activities, and more than 8,800 partners ranging from large nongovernmental organizations to small community-based groups.
In 2009, the organizers hope to demonstrate to policymakers the potential benefits of unleashing entrepreneurial energy to their nations’ economies, health and culture.