But then I asked, “What kind of companies are we trying to nurture in this entrepreneurial ecosystem and what are we trying to accomplish with this ecosystem?”
Start Up weekends, boot camps, and accelerators have perfected many of the techniques for nurturing entrepreneurial start-ups. But these efforts generally focus on "asset lite" companies devoted to app development, ecommerce, gaming, social media, etc. Of course, there are also large numbers of development-oriented app developers emerging from hackathons and elsewhere who are working in such important fields as mobile money platforms for Diaspora remittances, telemedicine and remote diagnostics, disaster mapping, crowd sourcing reports of corruption and other manifestations of bad governance, and providing marketing and crop management information to local farmers, to name just a few. But these efforts too generally depend on asset-lite companies.
As useful and/or profitable as these services may be, entrepreneurial ecosystems that support these endeavors do not address such basic development needs as electricity for all, the provision of clean drinking water, food processing, and the provision of other essential services. The challenge for ecosystem builders in emerging markets, I believe, is to apply the lessons generated from start up weekends, bootcamps, and accelerators to these more asset-intensive activities. Put slightly differently, how can we take the lessons learned from start-up weekends and accelerators to develop entrepreneurial ecosystems that can build reliable businesses around the technologies featured in the Global Solutions Summit and the work of the Global Technology Deployment Initiative (GTDI).
None of these technologies were developed with emerging market customers in mind. Quite a few, in fact, were developed for the US military which needs new ways of generating off grid renewable energy and clean drinking water for its forward operating bases. But many of these same technologies have large and rapidly growing potential markets in emerging markets. Unfortunately, the entrepreneurs who developed these technologies know how to sell to the US Department of Defense or other governmental entities. They do not know how to sell to emerging market customers, even though they acknowledge that this is a new and potentially lucrative source of business.
To help the technology deployment process operate more smoothly, these technology companies need reliable local partners who can (i) incorporate these proven technological solutions into viable local businesses and (ii) tailor these services (clean water, renewable energy, etc.) to the customs and financial capacity of the local population. Building entrepreneurial ecosystems to support these local entrepreneurs should be the next priority task for entrepreneurial ecosystem builders. Without these ecosystems, neither the Millennium Development Goals nor the post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals will be achievable.
Fortunately, some interesting work is taking root in precisely this area. In India, for example, the World Bank’s Development Marketplace is striving to build entrepreneurial ecosystems that can nurture “ non-state providers of basic services” such as clean drinking water and rural microgrids. Also in India, the Lemelson Foundation and others are supporting Vilgro, “an Indian non-profit organization that incubates, funds and supports early stage innovative social enterprises that impact the lives of India’s rural poor.” In the Maghreb, GIST is sponsoring a Green Start Up Boot Camp for 35 Moroccan and Tunisian green entrepreneurs. And in Africa, Asia, and the Caribbean, the infoDev network of Climate Innovation Centers are sponsoring boot camps and other activities designed to build entrepreneurial ecosystems that will support the development and deployment of green technologies developed by local innovators and entrepreneurs.
These and the many similar programs that were not mentioned here are modest, but essential, first steps. However, the key to sustained sustainable development and shared prosperity will require finding ways to scale up these programs so that they extend to many more countries, regions, and villages.
Note: If you know of additional programs, please post additional information in the comments section, including the website address and other salient details.