Entrepreneurs are happier and more satisfied with their work than most. That’s what the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM) found in a recent report. And while launching a start-up involves numerous setbacks and disappointments, some believe that, assisted by technology, the climate for entrepreneurs and social entrepreneurs has never been more favourable.
Of course, technology can’t fix all obstacles. Take red tape. The World Bank’s most recent Doing Business report found that while, for example, it takes on average seven procedures and 25 days to start a business, this varies from just one procedure and half a day in New Zealand to more than 200 days in the Republic of Suriname.
Elmira Bayrasli points to other hurdles that continue to make life difficult for entrepreneurs. “Poor infrastructure, corruption, monopolies, lack of capital and lack of talent – those are still very big barriers around the world,” says Bayrasli, whose book “Steve Jobs Lives in Pakistan: Extraordinary Entrepreneurs in the Developing World” publishes in early 2015.
And starting a business means embarking on a steep learning curve – some of which is not much fun. Wrestling with the accounts or figuring out the tax implications of a certain decision can be a bore compared to developing the idea itself.
“There’s a lot of logistical detail and laws that might have no relationship to the work of your business,” says Nicole Stubbs, co-founder and chief executive of First Access, a New York-based start-up that creates risk scores for microfinance clients in emerging economies. “But that’s an extra category of skills you need to have, even if you’re only two or three people.”
Yet despite the headaches, conditions for entrepreneurs are very different from what they once were. “I’ve been in places where there wasn’t even a term for entrepreneurship 15 years ago,” says Linda Rottenberg, co-founder and chief executive of Endeavor, a global NGO that supports entrepreneurship.
“We’ve seen a sea change in terms of people’s belief that they can really make change and take charge of their lives,” says Rottenberg, whose book “Crazy Is a Compliment: The Power of Zigging When Everyone Else Zags” publishes in October.
Technology has helped, providing a wealth of information and making it easy for entrepreneurs to build global networks of likeminded individuals.
Technology also levels the playing field as peer-to-peer lending, crowdfunding, mobile banking and open source innovation break down barriers to entry. And armed with technologies such as 3D printing, entrepreneurs no longer need to invest in manufacturing plants or fork out large sums of money for prototyping.
“Technology has been a game changer – it’s been an equaliser and its helped people see what’s going on around the world,” says Bayrasli. “It’s so much easier to form communities because you can use social networks to find people who are interested in the same issues,” she says.
Being able to find mentors online is something Rottenberg sees as critical for entrepreneurs. “We have people in Silicon Valley and Seattle skyping as mentors across the Middle East, Latin America and Asia – and Latin American entrepreneurs are mentoring people in Asia and the Middle East,” she says.
What’s more, practical questions can be easily answered online. For Chid Liberty, YouTube has provided answers as he has tried to learn about the different production operations needed in the factory of his business, Liberty & Justice, a Fairtrade-certified garment manufacturer in Liberia.
“I was looking at my engineer’s operations list and I had no idea what it meant to mark a back dart on a pair of pants,” he says. “I can put that into the internet and find out what he’s talking about instead of figuring out a time when I can call someone in China or Bangladesh – that part is beautiful.”
And Liberty’s experience of being an entrepreneur certainly supports the GEM findings. “It can get really frustrating,” he says. “But there have been so many experiences that I wouldn’t trade in for anything.”
The good stuff
Here, I invite my interviewees to name a favourite charity and – in the spirit of Mixing It Up – a favourite cocktail.
Elmira Bayrasli @endeavoringE
Charity: Turkish Philanthropy Funds
Cocktail: a Bloody Mary
Nicole Stubbs @nicole_stubbs
Charity: Surmang Foundation
Cocktail: a White Russian
Linda Rottenberg @lindarottenberg
Cocktail: a Cuba Libre
Chid Liberty @chidegar
Charity: Face Africa
Cocktail: an Old Fashioned or a Vodka Gimlet