By Alisee de Tonnac, CEO of Seedstars World
Compared to Silicon Valley, the markets we operate in are eager to keep up by creating environments for entrepreneurs and startups. This is driven by investments in institutions and infrastructure, however, in general, the countries still lag behind when it comes to the number of opportunities (even worse when it comes to the “entrepreneurship culture”).
In terms of having the right institutions and infrastructures, all regions are doing well except Africa. Countries from Central and Eastern Europe have been specifically successful here. Asia is definitely the most developed region concerning entrepreneurship.
One of the biggest challenges I observe is that, unfortunately, many of these countries are confronted with brain drain, although startup hubs like Singapore and Hong Kong are able to attract outstanding minds.
Fortunately, investments start to flow to these countries now, as many companies, business angels and venture capitalists already see them as opportunities: entrepreneur hubs like Mexico, Bangkok or CapeTown are attracting more funding every year.
On top of infrastructures and institutions there’s another difficulty: training and mentoring habits are missing in many places. Nevertheless, we can see some hubs emerge while accelerators and investments in training schemes are created: Singapore, Shanghai, HK, Santiago de Chile, Nairobi, Mexico City, Cape Town, Belo Horizonte, and others.
The one thing that is really different for those countries is that entrepreneurship is just starting to hit their culture now. Nowhere in the world are there as many self-declared entrepreneurs as in San Francisco. For emerging markets, culture seems to be the biggest challenge, with notable exceptions: Singapore, Nairobi, Lagos and Cape Town.
What is interesting about these frontier markets is that out of their challenges rises the opportunity to disrupt the status quo and even sometimes be the test market for new innovations. We witness in more and more industries that phenomena of leapfrogging through which you would skip one technology movement directly to the next – less costly, more efficient and usually more sustainable one. From their weaknesses comes also the advantage of maybe less regulation, less lobbying and a lesser hurdle of consumer habits to change. The most obvious example is that of skipping land lines directly to mobile phones. It is predicted that by 2020, over 80% of all smartphones will be located in emerging markets! When you think about businesses in these markets you consider a mobile economy from day 1. The opportunities of disruption in the financial sectors with mobile payment (50% of Kenyan GDP passes through M-PESA mobile payment application), healthcare sector and others came from there. You also see the rise of solar powered or electric powered energy solutions for remote areas due to the inefficiencies of the national grid.
There’s a reason for the collaboration of European or American companies with entrepreneurship in these markets: the opportunities for innovation are wider. I am talking, for example, about drone companies who work with the Rwandese government to change aerial regulations, in order to allow the first national drone airport in the world to reside in their land of a thousand hills…
Talents are everywhere
What I see throughout all regions and countries though, is that no matter what the difficulties are, passion and dedication always make things happen.
I like to shout out that talents are everywhere. No one’s potential is linked to an environment. It’s true that a good education and a secure context help, but the good “seed” can be in anyone, regardless of the social environment. Anyone can build anything great from scratch if you give them time, resources, patience and help.
I agree that motivations differ according to circumstances. Some have no choice and are entrepreneurs out of necessity, some fundamentally believe it is their mission to change the status quo in their local communities and countries, whilst others are born with that DNA of wanting to build something new and involve others in their journey.
I wonder if it is also generational. We, millennials, see life differently and do put a lot of emphasis on our personal purpose. We’re very much attracted by the nomadic lifestyle that, many times, a digital entrepreneur can give. I think the previous generation did not realize or plainly abused of the way we treat our planet and entrepreneurship became something very relevant to solve the major challenges of today.
Do one thing that scares you everyday
In the end, I think that entrepreneurship is more a lifestyle and a mindset, rather than a position. What really moves the needle is then courage and capacity to go out of your comfort zone.
I was working for a big luxury company in cosmetics and I had this feeling of dissatisfaction and unhappiness. I needed to find a project which made me feel complete and useful. I felt it was a shame not to work for a product capable of changing the world. I came across a quote from Eleanor Roosevelt: “Do one thing that scares you everyday.” I realized I was deeply in my comfort zone and not doing this at all, so I decided to go out of my comfort zone and tour the world from Nigeria to Colombia in 2013, with the goal to meet the best entrepreneurs in those countries. That’s where Seedstars World was born, a startup competition focused only in emerging markets. Now that we’re turning five, one can surely say it is our main tool to impact millions of lives through technology and entrepreneurship!
Today I work hard to be comfortable… being uncomfortable. I wouldn’t say it’s an easy thing to do and that I excel at it everyday, but it’s with a good attitude towards it that you will get there. This is what we call the “Growth Mindset” at Seedstars. We focus particularly on that one while recruiting.
Advice for entrepreneurs
The most important thing for an entrepreneur is that you know yourself. You need to understand yourself to be able to define what kind of entrepreneur you are (and yes, this can evolve over time and experiences). Are you the kind that builds/creates? Are you the type that follows and scales? Are you the kind that manages and leads?
This has been the most challenging and overwhelming journey I have lived to date. But it is, by far, the “healthiest of insanities”, one with a purpose that makes the whole journey great and worth it. A lot is linked to the number of failures you will live, your ability to master these moments and build agility and resilience. J.K. Rowling gave it all it’s meaning when stating that “some failure in life is inevitable. It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all – in which case, you fail by default”.
For all entrepreneurs and professionals, I’ll advise to:
- Surround yourself with great talent and more generally in your life, cut out those who pull you down; keep the best of hearts, minds and laughs.
- Cut out the noise (reality is not what you read on tech magazines) and stay focused.
- Don’t underestimate the time to define and build the culture within your organisation. Someone once said, “culture is management at scale”.
- Measure, measure, measure.
- Choose your core team because you align with the values, not because you align in terms of skills.
- Coach – don’t micromanage (most difficult experience when going from founder to manager)
And finally, make your dreams reality. It’s all in the doing. Until death has been cured/resolved/augmented, we need to respect the time we have and be content of what we achieve on our day to day.