Tech startups and business angels are not what comes to mind when thinking of the Czech Republic (CR). Instead, this small central European country is known for its beer, scenic bridges crossing the Vltava river, and existential writers. Not so easy to add “vibrant entrepreneurial hub” to the list as it celebrates the 100th anniversary of Czechoslovakia. Nevertheless, that's exactly what the CR policymakers intend to do.
CR has what it takes to be an entrepreneurial hub for Central Europe
A year ago, Farzana had no idea that an online business would so drastically change her life. She was drowning in debt with no way of repaying, worrying about her family’s financial future. Reaching for a lifeline, she joined GharPar, a women-founded, women-led social enterprise that connects beauticians with clients seeking at-home salon services through an Uber-like digital platform.
Founded in January 2016, INCUBONS provides access to co-working spaces and free services to social enterprises and start-ups including intensive technical assistance, mentoring and 24/7 coaching. The incubator has an extensive outreach program, including events, debates and concerts, as well as networking opportunities to connect their incubees (10 companies a year) to each other and to potential partners and investors. INCUBONS also provides pre-incubation counters where people can present their ideas and projects are diagnosed free-of-charge and then referred to affordable training courses.
What are the key pain points smallholder farmers face? Gaps across the agriculture value chain—lack of access to affordable financial products, limited knowledge of high-quality inputs, low usage of technology and market data, and poor market links. Social enterprises (SEs) in the agriculture sector are successfully closing these gaps, believing that the cost of their services or products will be recuperated by the benefits and income gains that smallholders will achieve.
For example, SEs implement innovative solutions through information and communications technology (ICT) platforms. Esoko’s text alerts on weather conditions and crop market prices saves smallholders in Ghana both time and money. Shamba Shape Up is a “makeover” style farming reality show that gives advice on improving farms and increasing yields to Kenyan farmers. Digital Green recruits local, established farmers to share their farming techniques—from pest-control to seed treatment—in over 3,500 videos for peer smallholders in Africa and India.
Eco-industrial parks (EIP) refers to putting in place serviced industrial infrastructure conducive to attracting new investments, especially in manufacturing, while at the same time promoting environmental sustainability.
The World Bank Group has helped strengthen the ecosystem for digital entrepreneurs and seed digital incubators in several countries around the world, including Kenya, Senegal, and South Africa, just to name a few. Start-ups in these “mLabs” have developed or improved more than 500 digital products or services, and some 100 early stage firms raised over $15 million in investments and grant funding. But is this the answer to scaling growth entrepreneurs on the continent?
It is easy enough to find data on flows of foreign direct investment (FDI). There are also plenty of anecdotes out there that purportedly encapsulate what businesses worldwide are thinking. It is far more difficult, however, to establish rigorous connections between global investment trends and individual investment decisions by international companies. In the World Bank Group’s newly published Global Investment Competitiveness Report 2017–2018, our team does just this, combining new survey data, rigorous econometric analysis, and extensive literature reviews to reveal what is going on behind the headline numbers.
Here are some of the key takeaways:
How a new green business facility in South Africa is connecting local companies to the global green economy
Traditional trade mission functions are becoming obsolete. Over hors d'oeuvres, business cards are exchanged, elevator pitches are delivered but, in most cases, entrepreneurs leave with empty promises to stay in touch and no useful contacts. This may sound a little cynical but the reality is that in an age of business models “ripe for disruption,” the ways to create viable business partnerships across borders have not changed for decades.
The global economy is stagnating, and uncertainty about its future is rising. These trends weigh heavily on countries that depend on the production and export of a small range of products, or that sell products in only a few overseas markets. Prices of the minerals and other basic commodities that dominate the exports of many poor countries have also declined sharply. All of this points up the need for diversification strategies that can deliver sustained, job intensive and inclusive growth.
The World Bank Group’s Trade & Competitiveness Global Practice (T&C), a joint practice of the World Bank and International Finance Corporation (IFC), is working with a growing roster of client countries eager to achieve greater economic diversification. This is a worthy goal regardless of economic conditions, but especially so now, as developing countries with sector-dependent economies face mounting pressures.
Chile is an example of a diversified economy, exporting more than 2,800 distinct products to more than 120 different countries. Zambia, a country similarly endowed with copper resources, exports just over 700 products — one-fourth of Chile’s export basket — and these go to just 80 countries. Other low-income countries have similarly limited diversified economies. The Lao People’s Democratic Republic and Malawi, for example, export around 550 and 310 products, respectively. Larger countries that export oil, such as Nigeria (780 products) and Kazakhstan (540 products), have failed to substantially expand the range of products they produce and export.
AJG Simoes, CA Hidalgo. The Economic Complexity Observatory: An Analytical Tool for Understanding the Dynamics of Economic Development. Workshops at the Twenty-Fifth AAAI Conference on Artificial Intelligence. (2011)
While the sluggish global economy is creating economic problems for traditional exports, other economic trends offer new routes and opportunities for poor countries to diversify. The trend toward the spatial splitting up of production across wide geographic areas, and the emergence and growth of regional and global value chains, offer new ways for developing countries to export tasks, services and other activities. Value chains offer developing countries a path out of the trap of having to specialize in whole industries, with all of the cost and risk that such a strategy entails.
It’s now been about a month since the Trade & Competitiveness Global Practice of the World Bank Group launched TCdata360, our new platform for open trade and competitiveness data from the Bank and external sources. The initial response has been overwhelmingly positive, and it has included a mixture of the anticipated and the unexpected.
Egypt has been the most popular country page during this period, the indicator on the number of days to start a business has been the second most visited page (though it seems to be ceding its spot to the page on venture capital availability) and we have been struck by the number of people that have searched for information on countries that have laws against sexual harassment in the work place (it’s steadily been one of the top 10 most visited pages on the site). Our data stories have attracted attention as well, especially in social media and there has been consistent interest in the API.
The question now is: Where should we take TCdata360 from here? How does a platform grow after the initial excitement around its release has dissipated? How can you or your organization contribute to the growth of the platform?
Here are a few of our ideas at the moment:
- More data – we have a growing inventory of new datasets.
- Better user experience – we are tweaking several things, while keeping what people like (which is most of the site).
- More analytics – we have experimented with Datascoper, a tool to uncover hidden patterns in data, but work remains to make these tools more usable and meaningful.
- Better engagement with our users – we want to show off your work on the site. Tell us about the insightful work you do using our data; we will share it with all our users. And we are all ears about your ideas for other ways to collaborate.
- Continue contributing to the open data community – we plan to offer data literacy and other support; stay tuned for greater emphasis on applied data; we are working to make this and other data truly useful in an applied sense to governments, the private sector, and others.
- Better linkages with the open source world – we built the site on open source and want to share our work with the community; we are constantly looking for tools that we can either integrate into the site or that we should be using. Tell us about them.