From Crime to Creativity – Medellin, hosts the 2016 Global Entrepreneurship Congress | Allan Gray Orbis Foundation
From Crime to Creativity – Medellin, hosts the 2016 Global Entrepreneurship Congress

From Crime to Creativity – Medellin, hosts the 2016 Global Entrepreneurship Congress

Starting from a small initiative in the United Kingdom in 2007 to promote entrepreneurship through the idea of an entrepreneurship week, that seed has grown into a global movement touching 160 countries across the world, consolidated into a single global entrepreneurship ecosystem known as Global Entrepreneurship Network (“GEN”) with a wide variety of offerings in the areas of support, compete, understand and connect. In each of these fields, GEN is able to harness its global reach to create unique scale and insight for the purpose of accelerating the development of entrepreneurship across the globe.


The flagship connect event of the year is the Global Entrepreneurship Congress (“GEC”) which on an annual basis gathers key thought leaders, researchers, entrepreneurs and practitioners in one place to move the entrepreneurial agenda forward.  From the 14th to 17th March, the 2016 Congress was hosted at Medellin, Colombia with a total of 6,500 people in attendance. In our capacity as a founding member of the Global Entrepreneurship Research Network (“GERN”) and a member of the Local Organising Committee of the Johannesburg 2017 GEC, the Foundation was there to contribute and pick up on the latest thoughts and developments in the entrepreneurial field.

Fredell Jacobs, participating in the annual GERN meeting
Fredell Jacobs, participating in the annual GERN meeting

But first we must start with Medellin. How did the previous murder capital of the world get to host a Global Entrepreneurship Congress? It has been termed the “Medellin Miracle”.  Through a focus on social transformation, “the point was to bring together a fragmented society and show respect for the most humble,” says Sergio Fajardo, the city’s mayor in 2004-07, and a collaborative approach between business, the municipality, NGOs, unions, universities and even gang members a new future for the city was mapped, resulting in Medellin beating out New York City and Tel Aviv to be announced the most Innovative City in the world in a 2013 global competition, before then going on to win the bid for the “world cup of entrepreneurship” to host the 2016 GEC.  It is a remarkable story of hope and inspiration for all those that believe change is possible. No wonder the city is known by locals as “The city of the Eternal Spring.”

In addition to the power of Medellin’s story the GEC did not disappoint with its gathering of some of the best minds in the entrepreneurial world. Here are five takeaways from the 2016 GEC:

  • Trust is the new differentiator

The opening key note of the congress introduced a new paradigm as to how enterprise should be understood, moving from a simple consumer economy to a relationship economy where trust is the driver. In this new world, “the business of next”, the theme of the congress, values such a generosity and transparency replace scarcity and secrecy.

  • Relationships before transactions

As part of this reimaging the business of next, the importance of relationships comes to the fore. As we move from a transactional understanding to a transformational one, this cannot be achieved without authentic relationships.  It is fascinating to witness how softer issues and values are becoming increasingly central to the future of enterprise. It confirms our confidence at the Foundation in the importance of values driven business including our investment in the Allan Gray Centre for Values Based Leadership.

  • The audience of one

One of the highlights of the congress was a talk by Bill Aulet of MIT on “What’s next in Entrepreneurship and Entrepreneurial Mindset.”  A key insight was the observation, “In entrepreneurship specificity wins, generality does not win – that is consulting!” As we understand more about the process of entrepreneurship it inevitably becomes more specific and we need to apply this principle to our development of entrepreneurs.  Aulet uses different “personas” which follow different development paths to acknowledge the uniqueness of each individual pursing their entrepreneurial journey.

A treasure chest of entrepreneurship development materials are available at Entrepreneurship Educators Forum

  • Innovation hides in strange places

Innovation does not always come from the places that we would most expect.  One fact that emerged is that the average age of high impact businesses is 17 years old.  Not quite the fast emerging technology companies we would have predicted.  Another entrepreneurship development programme, which describes itself as the “non accelerator” doesn’t look for high potential, only for coachability in participants.  It also uses no external coaches and takes no equity in the business, yet their alumni of 400 have generated revenues in excess of $1bn over the last four years. We need to be careful in our implicit assumptions about how innovation is expected to work, else we might be denying ourselves important opportunities for unexpected breakthroughs.

  • Data is king

There is a tidal wave of data coming our way around entrepreneurship.  Whether it be a study of 100’s of accelerators or the intention to map the entrepreneurial ecosystem of 100 cities, or efforts to standardise government data collection, we will soon have no place to hide in terms of assessing what works and doesn’t work in the field of entrepreneurship. This is the next frontier for entrepreneurship and it is to be celebrated.

Finally, for South Africa, the best news is that this festival of entrepreneurial learning and partnership is coming to Africa next year for the first time ever, when Johannesburg hosts the 2017 Global Entrepreneurship Congress in March 2017.  We look forward to seeing you there as we build on the momentum of Medellin to showcase another part of the world capable of miracles of economic transformation.

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