In the past year I have witnessed a burgeoning of interest on the parts of major cities from Bogota to Cape Town to kick start entrepreneurship. Here are some do's and don'ts for committed leaders, whether you are a private or public sector leader:
-- Be clear that the objective is high aspiration, high ambition, high impact entrepreneurship. Micro-enterprise (what I call employment-substitution) is often necessary for getting food on enough tables in the short run, but it is not real entrepreneurship and does not drive economic development. These are often lumped together in policies and practices but they are very different from each other and require different types of support.
-- Get together a small but powerful coalition of committed leaders representing different parts of the public and private sectors, including successful entrepreneurs, universities, family business, multinationals, domestic companies, and the mayor. Make sure all of you, including but not limited to the mayor, are clear, vocal, and public advocates for entrepreneurship. Invite the national government to have a seat at the table, but don't rely on them for support or guidance or expect them to do the job. Do make sure this coalition will do everything possible to make change.
-- Get a clear focus on realistic and accessible entrepreneurship. I have found that most public and private leaders know the term "entrepreneurship," but they have neither familiarized themselves enough with the process of entrepreneurship nor have thought enough about the kinds of entrepreneurship that are feasible in their region. "Educate" yourselves about this.
-- Set measurable objectives as to how many new high aspiration ventures have to annually "pass the market test" of getting customers. Experience suggests that one new such venture a year for every 100,000 inhabitants will go a long way towards creating a self-sustaining "entrepreneurship ecosystem." But remain a-sectoral. Encourage the really ambitious entrepreneurs to "sniff out" the opportunities. You cannot tell them where the opportunities are -- the entrepreneur's "job" is to surprise the market.
-- Allocate the financial resources required, from public and private sources. Most city municipalities severely underfund entrepreneurship. My rule of thumb is 0.25 percent of the annual municipal budget should be used to launch and support a new independent effort to bring about the "entrepreneurial revolution." Government should cajole, pressure, incentivize and invite the private sector to allocate a similar amount for for-profit capital programs.
-- Put together a dedicated "SWAT" team of entrepreneurship enablers who are organizationally independent, and accountable for actual results. Train them and make sure they have the best professional guidance in the world. This team will have the responsibility for designing and running programs to bolster different elements of the ecosystem simultaneously. They will need to partner with existing entrepreneurship organizations and strengthen them to get the job done.
-- Adopt a holistic approach, focusing on multiple aspects of the entrepreneurship ecosystem simultaneously. Stimulating private equity investment, for example, in the absence of education and culture change, for example, will be wasted. Media campaigns are an essential element of the "revolution," but not in the absence of concrete action and accomplishments.
Most important, believe that you can do it. We have accrued a lot of experience in how to get the entrepreneurial revolution started in just a year or two -- it IS possible.