Meeting in Medellin: More than an entrepreneurial jamboree
By Tim Vorley
Each year thousands of individuals from entrepreneurial ecosystems around the world come together to participate at the Global Entrepreneurship Congress (GEC). From Australia to the UK, Russia to Chile and of course the US, the event draws a truly global audience. This year in Medellin, one of the most entrepreneurial cities in the world, over 4000 delegates will be attending the event. But who are the participants and why do they travel from all around the world to Colombia to attend the GEC?
With representatives from policy makers in national and regional government to business support professionals and even academic researchers, the delegate list is diverse… It even includes some entrepreneurs! What all of the attendees have in common is an interest in the ‘entrepreneurial game’. North (1990) first referred to ‘the rules of the game’ to explain how institutions both enable and constrain behaviour – a concept that resonates with all attendees at the GEC. For entrepreneurs being successful is all about how they play the game. For me, and many other ‘non entrepreneur’ participants, our interest is in understanding and improving the game with a view to creating more productive socio-economic outcomes.
Over the past decade you cannot help but be struck by the way that entrepreneurship has become a buzzword globally. Several entrepreneurs around the world have come to command rockstar status (and at the same time some rockstars have established themselves as entrepreneurs). However, this is not the reality of entrepreneurship for the majority – the entrepreneurial game is often tough and not helped by ineffective institutions and institutional arrangements.
As highlighted thought my own work with Dr Nick Williams, we should really talk about entrepreneurial games as if every entrepreneurial environment is different. Each attendee at the GEC brings a different perspective, from a different place with different insights into entrepreneurship. Such a forum provides a unique opportunity for different communities to discuss what works (and what doesn’t) as well as reflecting on their own role in their respective entrepreneurial ecosystems. As an engaged academic the GEC provides a real opportunity to span boundaries and learn about the policy and practice of entrepreneurship in a real world setting and share my thinking with those who can make a difference.
Formal institutions, most notably in the form of public policy, are important in defining the rule of the game. On one hand the more attractive the game the more people who will play. But this isn’t necessarily the desired outcome. The real challenge for governments around the world is to realise wider systemic socio-economic impacts of entrepreneurial activity in terms of growth and wellbeing. Clearly, as is evident from many of the entrepreneurs at the GEC, this is achievable but poses a challenge for policy makers in how to raise the ambition of entrepreneurs (see Hermans et al, 2015).
The answer for me lies in informal institutions, the norms and cultures that define societies. As Estrin and Mickiewicz (2011) suggests such reforms can take generations, however, as discussions at the GEC highlight there is an opportunity to think more about how formal institution relate to informal institutions (Williams & Vorley, 2014). This is not a new idea, but it is one that is seemingly overlooked if not misunderstood by policy makers. Thinking in such terms applies equally in advanced and emerging economies, it is just the approach and implementation that will differ. The fact that such discussions are on the agenda at the GEC is critical if entrepreneurship is to justify and retain its prominence on political (and popular) agendas and not become another fad.
Finally, in being part of the GEC I reflect on the analogy of Kilby (1971) who likens entrepreneurs to the ever elusive ‘heffalump’ in A.A.Milnes’ Winnie the Pooh. Of the heffalumps in attendance at the GEC some are more prolific than others. However, where the analogy ends is that unlike the fictional 100 acre wood, the economic landscape in which entrepreneurs operate is very real. Many of the delegates in Medellin are those striving to enhance the ecosystems for entrepreneurs. Harnessing the socio-economic potential of entrepreneurship is more than a question of policy (formal institutions) or culture (informal institutions) it is about their alignment.
Tim Vorley is a Professor of Entrepreneurship at Sheffield University Management School and is a coordinator of the Global Leadership Initiative (GLI) trip to the Global Entrepreneurship Congress in Medellin with Dr Chay Brooks. Tim’s research interests are in the policy and practice of entrepreneurship from an institutional perspective.
Estrin, S. & Mickiewicz T. (2011) Entrepreneurship in transition economies: The role of institutions and generational change. In Minniti, M. (Ed.) The Dynamics of Entrepreneurship (Oxford University Press Oxford)
Hermans J., Vanderstraeten. J., van Witteloostuijn, A. , Dejardin, M., Ramdani, D., and Stam, E. (2015), Ambitious Entrepreneurship: A Review of Growth Aspirations, Intentions, and Expectations, in Corbett, A., Katz, J., and Mckelvie,A. (ed.) Entrepreneurial Growth: Individual, Firm, and Region (Advances in Entrepreneurship, Firm Emergence and Growth, Volume 17) Emerald, pp.127 – 160
Kilby, P. (1971) Hunting the heffalump. In: P. Kilby (ed.), Entrepreneurship and Economic Development, New York: Free Press; London: Collier-MacMillan.
North, D.C. (1990) Institutions, Institutional Change, and Economic Performance. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Williams, N. and Vorley T. (2014) ‘Institutional asymmetry: How formal and informal institutions affect entrepreneurship in Bulgaria’. International Small Business Journal, Online first, DOI: 10.1177/0266242614534280