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GES 2019 thinks of: The Future Now

KIZITO OKECHUKWU | JUNE 10, 2019

Photo: Queen Maxima being welcomed at the GES by the Dutch Minister of Foreign Trade and Development

While driving from Amsterdam to The Hague to attend the Global Entrepreneurship Summit (GES), I couldn’t help noticing the plump, almost cartoon-like cows and the lush, protein-rich emerald grass, which I presume has made them so healthy. I also noticed many young and old using bicycles to get from their A’s to B’s, thereby minimising carbon footprints.

Yet I digress. Another thing the Dutch take very seriously is the power and impact of start-ups. The GES is the preeminent, by invite-only gathering of entrepreneurs and investors, which attracts some 2000 attendees. It’s also a platform that the US government uses to build partnerships with host countries and explore ways to advance enterprise development.

This year, the GES was hosted by the Dutch government in The Hague, attracting some 1200 competitively selected entrepreneurs, 300 investors, 500 guests and other hand-picked entrepreneurial champions. Among the A-listers at the summit were the US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo, the Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, the Mayor of Hague Pauline Krikke, Her Majesty Queen Maxima of the Netherlands (whom I believe also cycles to meetings), Prince Constantijn, Ivanka Trump and the Dutch Foreign Minister of Trade Sigrid Kaad, next to whom I found myself seated at the Investor lunch on Tuesday. There were also other ministers and key figures from both the US and Dutch governments, NASA, CEOs from MasterCard, Softbank, Silicon Valley Bank and OPIC, to name just a few.

Pomp and ceremony aside, all the speakers were well-informed and brilliant, and I think this is one of the most insightful and inspirational GES’s ever held, offering great content and establishing invaluable networks.

I would like to focus specifically on her Majesty’s speech and also add a sprinkling of content from other speakers into the mix. But first, we cannot ignore the role of Dutch start-ups across the world with their inventive innovation and the support they receive from their government. At the GES, the Dutch government committed €65million to the Dutch start-up lobby group Start-up Delta, which was renamed at the event as Techleap.nl. Its main aim is to position the Netherlands as a unicorn nation globally and build partnerships with selected key nations.

All of us at the GES committed to a different future and a better future by being part of the ecosystem that creates and innovates using technology as the primary and sustainable game-changer. We also need to ensure our approach is inclusive and bridges the divides, while we strive for a fair game and create ideal conditions for investment that helps everyone.

Queen Maxima opened her address by saying that “we have to keep the road liveable for everyone. To achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is to achieve sustainability. The GES aims to tap into convening the power of private/public partnerships. There are so many business opportunities to be found in social issues that will create lasting impact. There is no zero sum game when society is your big client. What divides us is smaller than what brings us together. As the Netherlands, we consider ourselves as a gateway to the future and to Europe. For global challenges, there is always a Dutch solution, provided we keep investing in entrepreneurs, we are on the right path”.

Photo : Photo: The US Secretary of State, Mayor of Hague & Dutch Prime Minister

The Queen reiterated that an entrepreneurial culture is the foundation of any thriving economy. Entrepreneurship is a key part of our nation’s agenda. About 1.7 billion people globally cannot access financial services and we have to do something about this. Many MSMEs lack financial access to scale their businesses. Traditional entrepreneurs have been the backbone of various economies over the years. Today, we are seeing the rise of young start-ups that are using technologies to disrupt various industries. Technology enables various sectors like health, water, agri and financial services, etc. Governments in developing economies should also guard against the possibility of businesses growing into monopolies or oligopolies.

She added that “as new technologies appear, the likelihood of a winner-takes-all situation could be more pronounced in emerging economies, especially in the digital space. It’s therefore important for regulators in developing countries to mitigate against excessive market concentration.

For all these things to work in an inclusive and fair way, we will need certain prerequisites. These include cyber security, digital ID systems, customer data protections, financial and digital literacy, data privacy and connectivity to all segments of the population.”

Here are six key points that, according to the Queen, need attention:

– Access to finance: Lack of credit history makes it difficult for young firms to access finance.

– Technology: Technology and digitization can help reduce costs and help entrepreneurs to scale much faster.

– Customer-centric: This is key for usage, scale and impact. For example, Go Jack, an Indonesian start-up has now scaled and offers 18 different services, including a digital wallet.

– Enabling environment: Government must provide a conducive environment. The speed and complexity of new technology can be a problem for some governments, but regulation should not stifle the innovation and growth of start-ups. My fintech working group recently released a report on how policymakers can regulate without hindering innovation.

– Level playing field: Entrepreneurship should be inclusive. Women receive less funding in early stage start-ups than men – and sadly, women start-ups deliver way more than male start-ups.

– Strategic partnerships: Business does not operate in isolation. We have to look at open innovation because this accelerates innovation when we work together.

Summing up, she said that “at the end of the day, technology needs to improve the lives of everyone. We must support the global spirit of entrepreneurship, so together we can all have a better world”.

According to the COO of Softbank, Facebook has only disrupted 1% of the world’s GDP while Amazon has disrupted 5%, so we still have 94% to be disrupted. He then posed the questions of how do we have things that move connect with things that do not move? How do we integrate technology in a safe way to secure the future that we all want to live in?

The European Commissioner focused on the waves of progress, saying that on the first wave, Europe was the leader. America took over the second wave and he thinks that Europe will take the third, because it has the passion for deep technology in a deep wave.

Personally, I think Africa has a vital role to play on the third and fourth wave, although the reality is that we are too far in the development chain to achieve this yet. Our leaders have to work together to advance Africa’s development.

So as Africans, how do we have smart regulation? How can we regulate the future we do not know? How do we open opportunities for African start-ups? How do we ensure that African start-ups move from ideation to commercialisation? How do we make it easier for African start-ups to access credit and scale? How do we advance Africa’s development in a sustainable way?

I firmly believe we should regulate principles and not products as other speakers concurred. Entrepreneurs have a vital role to play and must be invited to sit in open, transparent forums with politicians and regulators.

Because the future is now!

Remember those Cartoon-like cows, we had a taste of it at the closing ceremony of GES at Scheveningen beach!

 Kizito Okechukwu is the co-Chair of the Global Entrepreneurship Network (GEN) Africa – 22 on Sloane is Africa’s largest startup campus.

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