The corporate world is at the forefront of the tech-led transformation of the economy. The democratization of technology, whereby exponential cost reductions have allowed almost anyone to produce tech-based innovations, is disrupting core sectors of the economy.
Technology disruption is not confined anymore to the digital world. Data analytics, artificial intelligence, 3-D printing, robotics, sensorization, and an ever-evolving list of technology platforms have blurred the boundaries that once-protected physical ("brick and mortar") sectors, such as the hospitality, automobile, construction and manufacturing sectors.
Business as usual has not served companies in these sectors well. Traditional innovation models to create products and services do not match the pace and agility of competitive disruption from tech actors (e.g., large technology platforms with unbeatable access to data access and capital, such as Google or Amazon, and small and agile local startups). Thus, a new corporate innovation model, “Corporate Innovation 2.0,” is emerging.
The main characteristic of this new model is that it’s open by nature, as opposed to having a closed R&D process. Established companies tend to offer good structures for marketing, distribution, processes, scaling up products, etc., but, compared to start-ups, they often have a weakness in generating and rapidly applying creativity to develop new products and services.
Using open innovation techniques, corporations are trying to address this weakness by absorbing start-up innovation. We have seen three main types of mechanisms in this emerging model: corporate accelerators, competitions to generate new ideas, and co-creation with startups of new products and services.
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Babah Salekna El Moustapha, co-fondateur de la Société Mauritanienne pour l'Industrie de Charbon de Typha (SMICT) avec Mohamed et Moctar Abdallahi Kattar. Photo Crédit : Moussa Traoré, HADINA.
« Innovez pour le climat. Travaillez de manière durable. » Ce slogan a lancé l'appel à candidatures de la dernière initiative de soutien à l'entrepreneuriat du Groupe de la Banque mondiale en Mauritanie, le Marathon de l’Entrepreneur – un concours à l' échelle nationale qui permettra d'identifier et d' accompagner une nouvelle génération d'entrepreneurs. Cette compétition est une initiative du Groupe de la Banque mondiale, en partenariat avec le Ministère de l'Economie et des Finances, et avec Hadina RIMTIC qui agit comme véhicule central par lequel le soutien du bailleur et du secteur public peut être transféré aux aspirants entrepreneurs mauritaniens.
Annoncée en avril, la compétition accompagne 21 nouvelles ou jeunes entreprises, leur fournissant des services de formation, d'encadrement et d'autres services d'incubation pour les aider à élaborer un plan d'affaires final et, fondamentalement, à tester les hypothèses qui sous-tendent leurs idées d'entreprise.
Babah Salekna El Moustapha, co-founder of the project Mauritanian Society for the Typha Coal Industry (SMICT) with Mohamed and Moctar Abdallahi Kattar. Photo Credit: Moussa Traoré, HADINA.
“Innovate for the climate. Work sustainably.” This slogan launched the call for applications to World Bank Group’s latest entrepreneurship support initiative in Mauritania, the Entrepreneur’s Marathon — a country-wide competition to identify and accompany a new generation of entrepreneurs.
This competition is an initiative of the World Bank Group in partnership with the Ministry of the Economy and Finance and Mauritanian incubator Hadina RIMTIC (ICT in the Islamic Republic of Mauritania) acting as the central vehicle through which public and donor support can be channeled into Mauritania’s aspiring entrepreneurs.
The competition is accompanying 21 new or young start-ups and businesses, providing them with training, coaching and other incubation services that will help them develop a final business plan and provide evidence for the hypotheses underpinning their business idea.
A World Bank Group team set out to answer the questions: Who are Moroccan green entrepreneurs, and what is the entrepreneurial landscape they operate in? They found that:
Almost half of surveyed Moroccan green entrepreneur businesses are solo-run.
84 percent of surveyed entrepreneurs were self-funded at the early-stages.
54 percent of entrepreneurs identified a lack of access to market information as the biggest barrier to doing business in Morocco.
Those are just a few findings from their work on the first World Bank Group climate entrepreneurship ecosystem diagnostic in Morocco, a deep dive into the North African nation’s green start-up ecosystem.
The diagnostic, surveying more than 300 entrepreneurs and industry players, shines unprecedented insight into multiple facets of Morocco’s climate entrepreneurship ecosystem, and how different political, financial, and cultural forces play out to drive the sector.
In a highly visual format, a new report explores the top findings from the diagnostic, bolstering them with case studies, key facts, and graphics. The report uncovers interesting clues to Morocco’s strengths and challenges: Typical Moroccan green entrepreneurs are young, educated, and started their businesses because they wanted to be their own boss. These entrepreneurs work in diverse sectors — from green information technology to energy efficiency — and are creating and adapting technologies and solutions to solve some of Morocco’s greatest environmental challenges.
Helen Mwangi and her solar-powered water pump in Kenya © infoDev/World Bank
Managers of initiatives that support innovative entrepreneurs have a choice to spread their resources (and luck) among many opportunities or focus them on the most promising few. In developing countries, public and donor programs can learn a lot from how private investors pick and back innovative ventures.
In the early days of infoDev’s Climate Technology Program, our thinking was very much about letting a hundred flowers bloom: supporting a large number of firms with the hope that a few would emerge as blockbusters. Firms were selected on the basis of objective metrics tied to the innovative nature of their ideas and their economic, social and climate-change impacts. For example, while infoDev’s partner the Kenya Climate Innovation Center has more than 130 companies in its portfolio, a $50 million venture-capital fund in California would have at most six. Inspired by private investors, we have since rethought our program objectives for these centers, as well as the way we select and support businesses. The Kenya center is going through a rationalization of the firms it supports.
Like many public programs, infoDev and its network of Climate Innovation Centers had good reasons to support large numbers of companies. The main reason is the need to spread the entrepreneurship risk through a diversified portfolio. A recent infoDev literature review found that up to a third of all new firms do not survive beyond two years, let alone grow. Out of those that survive, data from high-income countries suggest that fewer than 10 percent become high-growth firms. So casting a wide net increases the chances of hitting the jackpot. The opposite approach, picking winners, is seen as destined to fail and distort the market.
Sinah Legong and her team meet at Raeketsetsa, a program that encourages young women in South Africa to get involved in information and communications technologies. © Mutoni Karasanyi/World Bank
Olou Koucoi founded Focus Energy, a company that brings light, news and entertainment to people living off-grid in his country, Benin. Its spinoff program ElleAllume hopes to train more than 1,000 women to bring power to 100,000 Beninois homes this year. “At the end of the day, [inclusive hiring] is not a gender decision, it’s a business decision,” he says.
Over the past few months, I interviewed a number of incubator and accelerator programs to compile best practices for the World Bank Group’s Climate Technology Program. The research spanned 150 programs in 39 countries, ranging from relatively new to seasoned veterans of the clean tech incubation space. The consensus regarding gender diversity and inclusion was almost unanimous; all but one program echoed Koucoi’s sentiments – in principle.
In practice, however, encouraging more women into the clean energy sector and related programs has proved challenging. Below are some of the most popular explanations for the low levels of female representation:
“We can’t find them.”
Many clean energy incubation programs said they had difficulty recruiting due to a lack of women in the industry and strong women’s networks to tap into. While there is no shortage of women in clean energy (with industry-specific examples such as clean cookstoves serving as a good example) there are few women-led businesses. This lack of visible leadership translates into lower rates of participation.
“We would love to focus on bringing more women into the program, but we have limited resources.”
Incubation programs are often lean, with little time and few resources to expand on offerings and create targeted programs for women. Instead, to create quick wins and draw in additional funds, programs often take a “low-hanging fruit” approach, seeking out the most visible companies to recruit and invest in, which tend to have male co-founders.
“Does it really matter at the end of the day?”
Many programs are pro-gender-diversity in principle, but gender-agnostic in practice. This stems from a disconnect between the “gendered-lens” approach discussed when fundraising for incubation programs and the results frameworks which judge their success. Such factors as the number of companies exited are still weighed much more heavily than gender balance.
Below are some of the best ways I have found to create more gender-diverse and inclusive programs:
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Youth trained with The Next Economy methodology.
© Cesar Gbedema/Impact Hub Bamako
Last month, Impact Hub Bamako celebrated its first birthday. The first of its kind in Mali, Impact Hub Bamako is part of a global network of more than 15,000 members in more than 80 locations worldwide, from Bogota to Phnom Penh. Combining innovation lab services with incubator and accelerator programs and a center for social entrepreneurship, Impact Hub Bamako provides a unique ecosystem of resources, inspiration and collaboration opportunities for young, creative Malians working towards a common goal.
Co-founded by four young Malians — Fayelle Ouane, Kadidia Konaré, Mohamed Keita and Issam Chleuh — Impact Hub Bamako seeks to promote entrepreneurship and generate youth-driven solutions to Mali’s problems, as well as support women’s entrepreneurship and encourage social entrepreneurs to build a shared vision and work together for a collective impact.
“Establishing a community of young entrepreneurs was very important to us,” says Ouane, “so that everyone can build on and benefit from each other’s expertise and knowledge.” Indeed, Impact Hub Bamako hosts a diverse community of entrepreneurs, strategic advisors, architects, social workers, students, consultants, renewable energy specialists, and experts in agribusiness, ICT and corporate social responsibility.
By providing a shared space to work, as well as access to meeting rooms, events and that all-important internet connection, Impact Hub Bamako has given participants the opportunity to leverage each other’s expertise, as well as grow their professional networks not just nationally but globally, as Impact Hub boasts a multinational presence.
“This is our comparative advantage,” agrees Keita, now the hub’s director. “Our incubation/acceleration programs seek not only to promote the necessary conditions for job creation in our country, but also to professionalize our workforce and give them the tools to meet the demands of any employer.”
A market in Ramallah, West Bank. © Arne Hoel/The World Bank
Snapchat made its historic initial public offering this month with a market valuation of $33 billion, which qualifies it as a decacorn (a firm valued at least $10 billion, compared to a unicorn, which is valued at a mere $1 billion). Snapchat, once the bane of parents as a teenage distraction, overtook Alibaba’s record of raising $22 billion in 2014 and has spawned two 26-year-old multi-billionaires.
It is tempting to be dazzled by the likes of Snapchat, Uber, Facebook and Airbnb and to conclude that the start-up scene is dynamic and thriving. However, the reality is rather different, and perhaps even somewhat grim: U.S. Census data released in 2016 show that new business creation is near a 40-year low. According to a number of researchers, the rate of business start-ups and the pace of employment dynamism in the U.S. economy have fallen over the past decades.
A critical factor in accounting for the decline in business dynamics is a lower rate of business start-ups and the related decreasing role of dynamic young firms in the economy. For example, the share of U.S. employment accounted for by young firms has declined by almost 30 percent over the past 30 years. This statistic has significant implications given that the churning effect of new firms is an important means of reallocating capital and labor from low-productivity to high-productivity activities, which in turn is required for long-term productivity-led growth.
If this were not worryisome enough, the data also shows that since around the year 2000, there are far fewer high-growth young firms being created in the United States. Most start-ups fail, but a very small percentage (between 1 percent and 5 percent, based primarily on data from OECD countries) are innovative and dynamic, grow rapidly and create the most jobs and value, thus making a disproportionate contribution to overall productivity growth.
The likelihood of a start-up in the United States becoming a high-growth firm is now lower than before the year 2000, which is counterfactual in the age of digital disruption. No one is quite certain of the economic, social, and demographic factors behind these trends of declining start-up activity and the dearth of high-growth firms in the United States, but there are a number of theories, including the effects of the Great Recession, generational cultural changes and changing risk appetite of young people, a burdensome regulatory environment, and the increasing importance of large, innovative firms that have adapted many of the appealing features of startups.
A World Bank Group team is exploring the topic of high-growth entrepreneurship in developing countries to examine whether there are similar patterns and trends as in the United States and OECD countries. This study looks at the prevalence and characteristics of high-growth firms in various economies, the attributes of the firm and the entrepreneur, the business environment, and other factors such as the role of foreign direct investment and spillovers/linkages and agglomeration effects. The focus of the study will be also to assess the policy instruments being deployed and how effective are these in providing targeted support to high growth firms.
The Global Entrepreneurship Congress (GEC) this week in Johannesburg, South Africa provides an excellent opportunity to exchange ideas and deepen insights on the challenges of identifying and nurturing high-growth firms. This year’s GEC theme is “Digital Disruption.” More than 4,000 disruptors — entrepreneurs, investors, policymakers and ecosystem builders from more than 160 countries — are coming together to exchange market-specific insights on how to identify and nurture the most innovative high-growth entrepreneurs from across the world to create high-quality jobs, drive productivity-led sustainable growth and find solutions to global challenges.
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.
The economy is in a restructuring process. Technology-led transformations are no longer limited to technology-related sectors and are beginning to affect structural sectors, including manufacturing, retailing, transportation and construction. Disruptions of business models are surging from a fragmented network of entrepreneurs and innovators. Cognitive skills are increasingly being replaced by technology-led productivity, affecting labor supply in both developing and developed countries. In turn, creativity and social skills are becoming more important and more valuable than ever before. This process has been called the Fourth Industrial Revolution.
Countries that are less prepared to adapt to these structural changes will suffer in their competitiveness. As much as 80 percent of the productivity gap between developed and emerging economies can be explained by the lag in transitioning to technology-led changes from previous economic restructuring processes (for example, the 18th- and 20th-century industrial revolutions). Automation is reducing the cost of traditional labor-intense industries (reducing costs relative to labor by 40 percent to 50 percent since 1990), shifting the cost structures that benefited emerging economies. Trade is shifting increasingly to digital goods and services. Knowledge-intensive flows of trade are already growing about 30 percent faster than capital- and labor-intensive trade flows. Jobs are also being affected, with routine cognitive functions being affected the most, while providers of intellectual and physical capital benefitting disproportionately.
There are also opportunities stemming from this widespread diffusion of technology and transformational changes. Entrepreneurship and innovation is becoming affordable and de-localized. The innovation model of large capital-intense laboratories (e.g., Bell Labs) is not the most effective one anymore. Instead, open innovation (the process whereby large firms co-create innovation with entrepreneurs and other actors, instead of having an internal process) and innovation emerging from startups are increasing. Tech startup ecosystems have emerged in cities worldwide, in both emerging and developed economies, disrupting traditional business and creating new industries. This results in local innovation and business models that can be appropriated by the domestic economies. These ecosystems also generate new sources of jobs emerging from the structural changes produced by technology.