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The start-up bubble: How abundant money is actually not helping

Victor Mulas's picture



A start-up office in New York.
Photo Credit: © Victor Mulas


We are in the grip of start-up hype. Today, every large city in the world aspires to become a start-up hub. New York City became a start-up role model; Berlin and London were the “go to” start-up hubs in Europe two or three years ago; Nairobi is the start-up darling in Africa; and Dubai promoted itself as start-up destination.

Start-ups are seen as the new solution for job creation in the emerging economy of the so-called “fourth industrial revolution.” Indeed, they can help produce the jobs of the future — those new employment opportunities that are created in brand-new industries or technology categories. For instance, this has already happened in New York City, where the connection with local industries has resulted in new jobs, new industries, and greater competitiveness for traditional sectors. And it is has not been only about jobs. Solutions for critical development challenges, such as online payments and access to energy in off-grid areas, have emerged from Nairobi and India’s ingenious start-up scenes.

As I visit these cities, however, I wonder if the actual — and potential — impact of these emerging start-up ecosystems is being exaggerated and if we are all collectively witnessing an overflow of attention and resources that cannot translate into “magic” solutions to unemployment and other global challenges.

Indeed, many of the ecosystems I visited and studied seem to be overinflated. Not many start-ups become sustainable businesses, and the few successful examples are cited over and over again. Start-ups are disconnected from local industries and there is little absorption of start-up innovation by the economy.

In some cases, the result is a massive, large-scale training program where a new generation of aspiring entrepreneurs can learn technical and management skills (this is a good outcome). On fewer occasions, the ecosystem becomes sustainable, producing successful new businesses that reinvest in new talent and connect with the local industry base (this is a better outcome).

But these seem to be a handful of cases, and it’s not easy to get there. I suspect this is the result of a lack of maturity of the infrastructure supporting the ecosystem, as well as the poor understanding of what we need to translate the energy of new entrepreneurs and innovators into productivity and business success.

Why gender equality in doing business makes good economic sense

Cecile Fruman's picture

Photo Credit: Stephan Bachenheimer / The World Bank

Women today represent about 50 percent of the world’s population and, for the past two decades, about 50 percent of the labor force. Yet there are stark differences in the outcomes they achieve: Women are only half as likely as men to have a full-time wage-earning job. The women who do have paid jobs earn as much as one-third less than men. Fewer women than men are involved in trade or own registered companies. And women are more likely to work in low-productivity activities or informal employment.

There are many reasons for these outcomes, including socio-cultural norms, access to high-quality jobs, the lack of transport and the lack of child-care facilities. In many countries, such differences also continue to be written in the law. 
 
For the first time since it was launched in 2002, the World Bank Group’s annual Doing Business report this year added a gender dimension to its measures, including to the annual ranking on each country's ease of doing business. This is good news, since the report attracts the attention of policymakers worldwide. Global benchmarks and indicators are a powerful tool to raise awareness, motivate policy dialogue and, above all, inspire action by policymakers.
 
Ensuring that women have the same economic opportunities by law and in practice is not only a basic human right, it makes economic sense. A recent study estimates that achieving equality in economic opportunities for women and men could spur $28 trillion in world GDP growth by 2025 – about the equivalent of the size of the Chinese and U.S. economies combined.
 
Looking at gender differences when it comes to starting a business, registering property or enforcing contracts, Doing Business shows that 23 countries impose more procedures for women than men to start a business. Sixteen countries limit women’s ability to own, use and transfer property. And in 17 economies, the civil courts do not value a woman’s testimony the same way as a man’s.

This pattern might give the impression that such legal differences are really only an issue in a selected group of countries.  But Doing Business’ sister publication – Women, Business and the Law  tells us otherwise. The report analyzes gender parity in accessing institutions, using property, getting a job, providing incentives to work, building credit, going to court and, most recently, protecting women from violence. It finds that 90 percent of the 173 countries measured have at least one law impeding women’s economic opportunities. In 30 economies, there are 10 or more legal differences between men and women, predominantly across the Middle East and North Africa.
 
To counter this, there is ample evidence that those countries that have integrated women more rapidly into the workforce have improved their international competitiveness by developing export-oriented manufacturing industries that tend to favor the employment of women. Legal gender disparities are also associated with lower female school enrollment and labor-force participation.
 
There is some good news. The Women, Business and the Law 2016 report shows that, between 2013 and 2015, 65 economies made 94 reforms increasing gender parity. The World Bank Group’s Trade & Competitiveness Global Practice (T&C) – a joint practice of the World Bank and the International Finance Corporation (IFC) – works across the world to support governments as they design gender-informed and gender-neutral policies, and in many cases implement gender-targeted interventions to improve the business environment and expand market opportunities for women.

More than a trend: Africa is becoming better by the year at reforming its business environment

Cemile Hacibeyoglu's picture

"Doing Business 2017: Equal Opportunity For All" was released on October 25, and it marked record progress for the business environment reform agenda in Sub-Saharan Africa. Implementing 80 of the 283 reforms recorded globally, Sub-Saharan Africa once again claims the status of the world's top reforming region. Beyond the record reform count, this year is also marked as the year with the highest number of countries in the region having passed reforms (37 out of 48), confirming that more and more economies in Africa are putting private-sector-led growth at the heart of their development agendas.




There is actual transformation tied to those rankings. For example: It now takes 156 days to build a warehouse in Mauritius, compared to 183 days in France and 222 days in Austria. Rwanda ranks second globally on the Getting Credit indicator, not to mention that, years ago, it used to take 370 days to transfer a property in Kigali, while today it takes only 12 days.
 
But, beyond the figures, a few additional thoughts come to mind.

How has Africa become not only better at reforming, but also become home to some good practice that inspires many to reform?

First, one should mention the unique momentum for reform. Most African countries’ development strategies place the private sector as the engine of their growth, and recognize that creating enabling business environments is a key pre-requisite to attract investments and encourages business expansion. That is a timely move from African governments, especially in the context of the present commodity-price fall, which calls on African countries notably to move away from an exclusive dependence on minerals and to diversify their growth models.
 
Then, Africa countries are simply getting better at reforming. A good sign of this is that reforming today costs less in Sub-Saharan Africa. Recent analysis shows that it costs on average of $310,000 to implement a reform today, versus $730,000 merely four years ago. That is a clear sign of increased efficiency. The capacity-building and hands-on assistance of World Bank Group teams to governments and implementing agencies throughout the region is beginning to bear fruit.

How start-ups can turbocharge global productivity growth

Ganesh Rasagam's picture



Attendees at Republica Berlin 2016, an annual conference on digital culture for entrepreneurs from around the world.
Photo Credit: © Victor Mulas/The World Bank


We have witnessed in recent years the emergence of technology start-up ecosystems across the world. New technology trends are reducing the costs as well as the barriers of access to markets and resources for developing technology start-ups. If in the 1990s an entrepreneur needed $2 million and months of work to develop a minimum viable prototype, today she would need less than $50,000 and six weeks of work.

Entrepreneurs are also surging in emerging economies. India hosts major start-up ecosystems in New Delhi and Bangalore, with their start-ups having raised $1.5 billion in funding in 2016, respectively. São Paulo ranks among the top 20 start-up ecosystems with more than 1,500 active start-ups, closely followed in the region by Santiago and Buenos Aires. Warsaw hosts around 700 active start-ups, and Nairobi is the home of leading African start-ups, such as Ushahidi, M-Pesa or Brck.

Tech start-up ecosystems present new opportunities for emerging economies. Local entrepreneurs develop new business solutions that address domestic demands. For instance, in Kenya, M-Kopa is addressing the demand for energy in off-grid locations, a major issue in the country's rural areas. Unicorns, those start-ups that raise more than $1 billion, are no longer a U.S./Europe-only phenomenon. Indian, Chinese and Indonesian start-ups, such as Lu.com, Flipkart or Go-Jek, have reached this valuation, and African Internet Group from Nigeria is poised to be the first African unicorn.

Start-up ecosystems also create new jobs. Data from New York City's ecosystem on employment generated in the tech start-up ecosystem shows that most of the jobs generated by tech start-ups are not in start-ups themselves, but in local traditional industries that either are influenced or disrupted by start-ups. Think about a bank or a retail company that has to react to a mobile app providing finance or retail business and that needs to hire new talent to develop a competing app. More than 40 percent of these new jobs do not require a college degree. These are jobs like building a website, a basic database, a web or mobile app.

Productivity for prosperity: 'In the long run, it is almost everything'

Christopher Colford's picture

Productivity isn't everything, but, in the long run, it is almost everything. A country’s ability to improve its standard of living over time depends almost entirely on its ability to raise its output per worker.”
Paul Krugman, Professor of Economics and International Affairs Emeritus at Princeton University and a columnist for The New York Times
 
Paul Krugman’s conclusion about the importance of productivity is widely shared among economists. Yet productivity growth across the world has been sluggish in recent decades, in both advanced and developing countries, and restarting it is a central priority for the global development agenda.

Taking stock of what we understand about the productivity slowdown, and mapping out potential areas of policy action, was the focus of a recent two-day conference at the World Bank, “Second-Generation Productivity Analysis and Policy.” The conference, co-sponsored by the European Central Bank and the Competitiveness Network, brought together global experts and development practitioners.

“Bringing the most current advice to our clients about accelerating growth” is a top priority, said Jan Walliser, the Vice President who leads the Bank Group's Equitable Growth, Finance and Institutions (EFI) practice group. “The last 15 years have brought about major advances in the measurement and understanding of productivity growth,” said EFI Chief Economist William F. Maloney. The conference agenda thus sought to “sketch the frontier on the issues that are most relevant” to jump-starting productivity growth in the Bank Group's client countries.



Productivity in Cambodia's apparel and garment industry has, in recent decades, enjoyed sustained growth. This photo shows an apparel factory at the Sihanoukville Special Economic Zone. Photo: Chhor Sokunthea / The World Bank.

Management Quality Matters: Measuring and Benchmarking the Quality of Firms' Management in Turkey

Ximena Del Carpio's picture


This is an edited excerpt from a chapter, “Quality of Firm Management in Turkey,” from the upcoming report, “Creating Good Jobs in Turkey.”

 
How well firms are managed, and whether their management quality (or lack thereof) affects firm performance, are questions that policymakers and researchers everywhere – especially in emerging economies – are very interested in answering.
 
This area of inquiry is important because much of the evidence shows that the quality of management techniques that are used to run a firm – how it manages its capital and human resources, and how it monitors inventory, among other important areas in the production process – affect firm productivity, adaptability to change, and potential for growth. These factors are especially important in competitive and challenging environments. 
 
Despite the potential effect of management practices on firm performance, it is a relatively understudied area in the economics literature. Survey-data limitations have made it difficult for economists to analyze the relationship between firm management practices and firm performance.
 
But that pattern is changing: The World Management Survey (WMS) team designed a new interview-based evaluation tool to quantify the quality of management practices in firms across countries and sectors, and across 18 basic practices in four categories: operations, target-setting, performance monitoring, and talent or human-resource management. (The WMS was started by researchers at the London School of Economics and Stanford University, and it has been conducting management surveys worldwide for more than 10 years.)
 
In the last decade, many countries interested in benchmarking their firms’ performance have participated in the surveys. Turkey joined this effort in 2014. The new data allows us to measure how Turkish firms perform across the four benchmark dimensions of management. and it allows us to measure how they compare with competing firms across the globe. The results help the private sector and the public sector offer suitable support to improve firm performance and productivity as a whole.
 
In this analysis, we’ll share some of the early results from Tukey’s first quality-of-management survey, including how Turkey compares to other countries; we'll highlight the importance of measurement; and we'll try to motivate Turkish researchers and policymakers to use the results to help firms in Turkey.  
 
Average scores for firms in Turkey are low relative to the country’s development level (Figure 1). Firms in comparator countries like Mexico and Poland have higher absolute scores, and relatively higher scores for their development level. (The average scores combine sub-scores for each of the four categories: operations, targeting, monitoring and human resources.)

Figure 1: Per Capita Income and Average Management Score



Note: On this chart, Turkey's position is just above the position of Malaysia.
Source: World Management Survey and authors’ calculations.


Relatively poor performance in Turkey, and key comparator countries, is mostly driven by a large “left tail” of poorly managed firms – a factor that is not uncommon across developing countries (Figure 2). In particular, the fraction of firms performing below the lowest quartile of U.S. firms ranges between 55 percent and 70 percent in such countries as Turkey, Brazil, Poland, Chile, but also China and India. Although there is a large variation in management scores across firms, the distribution of scores in these countries, compared to the distribution in the United States, is either narrow or flat, bimodal and/or nonsymmetrical.

Figure 2: Smooth distribution of total management scores


Note: The vertical red dashed line represents the lowest quartile of the US distribution.
Source: World Management Survey and authors’ calculations.

Taking a tour of a ‘Competitive City’

Megha Mukim's picture

Do you want to take a walk through a competitive city? Since today, October 31, has been designated as World Cities Day by the United Nations, today is an especially good day to explore that idea. 

Have you ever noticed how mayors and city leaders experience life alongside their citizens? It forces them to be more focused on the local manifestations of their policy decisions. They connect with what their citizens see and experience on a day-to-day basis. Numbers are crucial, because policies need to be supported by evidence – but what if the numbers and experiences could be brought to life? What does a 5 percent annual GDP growth rate look like? For that matter, what does a “competitive city” look like?

Members of the Competitive Cities team at the World Bank Group traveled to Bucaramanga, Colombia to find out. Here, amid the city’s famously rugged topography – with no ports or railroads nearby, and almost 10 hours away from the nation’s capital, Bogota – economic development seemed to be a tough proposal. Bucaramanga, however, managed to reinvent itself and become a globally competitive city – with the fastest rates of GDP growth and job growth in Colombia, and one of the fastest growth rates in the Western Hemisphere. As part of the Competitive Cities for Jobs and Growth initiative, we had already looked at Bucaramanga’s success in numbers and had analyzed qualitatively how they managed to get things done. Now we wanted others to experience how it felt to walk through a secondary city that blossomed into a dynamic economic center.

Thanks to a donated helicopter, the use of hobbyist drone technology, a motorcycle and a hugely enthusiastic local chamber of commerce, the team captured images and videos of the places that were central to Bucaramanga’s growth story. Bucaramanga’s transformation began with the creation of a regional competitiveness commission, a public- private alliance spearheaded by the private sector. As you’ll see in the accompanying video, one single block within the city hosts the chamber, an industrial university, the enterprise center, the commerce association and important regional banks.



In Bucaramanga, Colombia, Erick Ramos Murillo (left) and Rómulo Cabeza (right) prepare to fly a 3-D camera rigged to a drone. 

Easy business exit is as important as easy business entry

Simon Bell's picture



How to identify and support fast-growing firms that can take off, create jobs, and yield significant value in a short period of time is one of our biggest dilemmas in nurturing private sector development in emerging markets. 
 
The Sustainable Development Goals (#8) include the need for decent jobs as an important developmental priority, and small and medium size enterprises (SMEs) are expected to create most jobs required to absorb the growing global workforce.
 
But many young firms will fail; by some accounts more than half of new firms won’t make it to their second birthday. 
 
However, despite the high rate of firm failure, research from the US and evidence from India, Morocco, Lebanon, Canada and Europe shows that it’s largely young firms that create the bulk of net new jobs (net jobs are jobs created minus jobs lost) and lasting employment opportunities.
 
In addition, even when a firm survives beyond the first two years of operation, there are no assurances it will become a fast-growing firm -- a gazelle. 
 
Although estimates vary widely, the share of gazelles -- fast-growing firms that generate a lot of value-added and jobs -- is thought to be only between 4% to 6% of all SMEs, and, possibly, even less in many emerging countries.
 
All this makes creating favorable conditions for entrepreneurship a priority. 
 
Easing business entry -- the time and cost involved in establishing a new enterprise -- is extremely important.  As the annual Doing Business report shows, many countries have made a lot of progress on this indicator over the past decade.  
 
But business exit is an equally critical piece of the puzzle.

How are future blue-collar skills being created?

Victor Mulas's picture



A technology bootcamp in Medellín, Colombia. © Corporación Ruta N Medellín/World Bank


The fourth industrial revolution is disrupting business models and transforming employment. It is estimated that 65 percent of children entering primary school today will, in the future, be working in new job types that do not exist today. These changes have been more noticeable in developed countries, with the 2008 financial crisis accelerating this transformation process. However, they are also affecting emerging economies that have traditionally relied on routine blue-collar jobs (e.g., textiles, manufacturing or business process outsourcing) for broad employment and economic development.

Start-ups are at the core of these disruptions in business models. In recent years, we have witnessed how completely new market categories have been created out of the blue, transforming entire sectors of the economy, including transportation, logistics, hospitality, and manufacturing. When start-ups disrupt a market, a new business category is created and new sources of growth and employment are generated.

When we think about start-ups and employment, the first thing that come to mind is the start-up founders, typically highly educated and motivated individuals. However, evidence from New York startup ecosystem, a testing ground of new jobs generated through technology after the financial crisis, suggests otherwise.

First, most of the jobs generated by the tech start-up ecosystem are not in start-ups but in the traditional industries that either are influenced or disrupted by start-up technologies (with over three times more employment generated in the non-tech traditional industry).

Second, more than 40 percent of these new jobs did not require bachelor’s degree skills or above. These are jobs like building a website, a basic database, a web or mobile app.

What are the skills needed to fill these categories — which we can call tech blue-collar skill jobs — and how people are being trained for them?

The silent ‘change agents’ in government

Syed Akhtar Mahmood's picture

Sometimes, the drive comes from the senior echelons of government – a reform-minded government leader, an important minister or an agency head. At times, there is pressure from donors. Often, the two combine: The initial idea comes from a donor, which a powerful person in government then takes up as an agenda.

Many reforms happen in this top-down way. But, often, there are questions about their sustainability. Commitment to reforms may not be widespread. Once donor pressure wears off, or once the bold reformer at the top moves on (or loses interest or energy), reform initiatives dissipate. Sometimes, the reforms happen on paper, but implementation remains deficient. Top-down reform initiatives often fail to take on board the front-line officials. Implementation thus suffers, especially when the attention of the top-down driver shifts elsewhere.

The 2015 World Development Report, Mind, Society and Behavior, thus points to the need to understand the motivations and behavioral characteristics of different players, such as politicians and government bureaucrats, and how these affect their decisions and actions. The WDR argues that such an understanding helps design policy interventions and reforms that stand a chance of success even in seemingly intractable situations.

This brings us to a third way of reform, less common but potentially more powerful – one that is driven by the middle tiers of bureaucracy. Reforms initiated in the trenches enjoy, almost by definition, the commitment of those responsible for implementation. Reforms may also be better designed, since the officials know exactly what is feasible and where there are pitfalls. A single bottom-up reform may not be very bold.  But one reform may lead to another, and the cumulative impact may make a big difference.

Donor programs usually don’t regard mid-level officials as key drivers of reforms. It is often assumed that such officials will oppose reforms and they should thus be bypassed or, at best, co-opted in some fashion. Such assumptions lead to many lost opportunities. Mid-level officials can often be good initiators of reform if they are properly inspired and engaged. The attitudes and perceptions of this important tier of the bureaucracy have an important bearing on the formulation of policies and regulations, as well as on their implementation. These attitudes are shaped by an awareness of business-related issues, or a lack of it.

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