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Making Cents Conference: The power of entrepreneurship

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Nobody ever starts a big business – nobody comes up with an idea and goes out and hires 10,000 people. You start with the right idea at the right time in the right place and then you grow.

~ Andrew Fiddaman, Managing Director of Youth Business International

The Entrepreneurship Plenary panelists

Day Two of the Making Cents Global Youth Economic Opportunities conference ended with a really dynamic plenary panel focused on “Strategies to Support Youth-Owned Growth Businesses,” moderated by Making Cents’ own founder and CEO, Fiona Macaulay. This session put the spotlight on high-potential entrepreneurs (often called “gazelles” or the “missing middle”) with a panel of highly entrepreneurial people, including Samuel Gonzalez Guzman, Founder of Fundación E, Jonathan Ortmans, President of Entrepreneurship Week and Senior Fellow at the Kauffman Foundation, Chris Haughey, Founder of Tegu, Nell Merlino, Founder of Count Me In and the Make Mine a Million Dollar Business program, and Andrew Fiddaman, Managing Director of Youth Business International.

The panelists began with brief introductions and took a stab at answering the difficult question of why they do what they do. Ortmans, a self-proclaimed “Evangelist for Entrepreneurs,” stated that he thinks they are the only ones who can “dig us out of this recession.” Haughey talked about the power that for-profit businesses have to transform society. Fiddaman echoed both of those sentiments and quoted his boss, the Prince of Wales, whose charity launched YBI, on the importance of helping young people who have no access to resources to start their own businesses.

Ortmans then took the opportunity to give the conference participants a sneak peak at the Kauffman Foundation’s new video, “Three Things Entrepreneurs Do.” The video celebrates entrepreneurs for the innovations they generate, the problems they solve and the jobs they create.  The video did a good job of summarizing the panelists’ views on entrepreneurs:  they are a positive and powerful force in society and can change the world through the marketplace.

With that basic premise agreed upon and out of the way, Merlino jumped in to talk about women entrepreneurs specifically, citing statistics to show that while there has been a lot of growth in women’s business ownership, too many women-owned businesses are just “eking out a living”…they’re very very small. According to Merlino, only 17 percent of women-owned businesses in the US have more than one employee. For that reason, Count Me In decided to move away from supporting microfinance and towards expanding the “missing middle” by helping women’s businesses grow. A key point that Merlino raised was about how women entrepreneurs need examples and role models to show them that businesswomen like them can succeed and that growth, ambition, and success aren’t bad things. That’s where publicity and exposure come in.

Recognizing the importance of motivation and empowerment, Fundación E has also developed a business incubator model and now has franchised 150 consultancy firms that work with a wide range of entrepreneurs from hi-tech to rural enterprises. Guzman also talked about working “shoulder to shoulder” with the government in Mexico to develop an entrepreneurship policy and to support entrepreneurs in the US who will have economic impact in both US and Mexico. He shared another inspirational video with the audience. The featured entrepreneur, Fransisca López Reyes, makes Guzman’s point for him: real entrepreneurs don’t ask “what are you going to do for me?”

But just because they don’t ask, doesn’t mean they don’t need support. As Fiddaman put it, small entrepreneurs can grow into big entrepreneurs–and good employers–very quickly with the right support and encouragement. And that support does not have to be financial (although financing is important); Fiddaman highlighted as a breakthrough the new focus on non-financial support. To learn more on this topic, check out YBI’s newest youth entrepreneurship resource, “Closing the Gap.”

Haughey closed the panel by offering his perspective as a socially-conscious entrepreneur working in a developing country. For him, access to capital was critical, but beyond that, opportunities for exposure (like business plan competitions) and the support of family, friends, and advisors have been major contributors to Tegu’s success so far. To see Haughey’s “for-profit engine for social change" in action, take a look at the panel’s final video: