The Global Entrepreneurship Congress (GEC 2016)

GEC Women

March 14th, 2016 marked the start of the Global Entrepreneurship Congress. The event took place in Medellin, Colombia, a city recently recognized for being the most innovative city in the world.

The Canadians at Global Entrepreneurship Congress - Amanda, Aksinia and Rebecca
The Canadians – Amanda, Aksinia and Rebecca

Attendees from 160 countries came together to discuss our (the world’s) entrepreneurial future and learn about entrepreneurship programs in other countries. For some of us, it was a reunion; for others, an event full of new connections.



Though I traveled to this event alone and not as part of any organization outside my own startup EntreLaunch, I was pleased to find out a few of my favorite Canadians would also be attending.  Aksinia and I met in Australia and Amanda is part of the amazing Futurpreneur organization that helps youth up to age 39 get started in business among many other activities. It was also a pleasure to reunite with a few of the delegates (Jordan and Grace) from the G20 Young Entrepreneurs Alliance Summit in Australia. But enough about that. Now onto the main event!

Held at the beautiful Plaza Major located in the centre of Medellin, the Global Entrepreneurship Congress (GEC) welcomed approximate 4000 attendees. The main room was absolutely packed with standing room only. Jerry Michalski of REX was one of the first speakers talked about the Future of Marketing and Design by Trust – one of my favorite subjects. I was blown away by his presentation which resonated so much with my own thoughts. Jerry’s break out session was immediately on my list as a must attend event.  The bottom line is that we want to trust brands, trust businesses. It is time to stop treating your clients as consumers, as nothing more than a sale. We want relationships.

For many old school marketers, this shift in thinking is huge. Now your product or service needs to tell a story. It has to do more than just work, it

International Group Global Entrepreneurship Congress 2016
Prof. Johannes Lindner (Vienna/Krems), Jerry Michalski (United States), Jordan Duffy (Australia), Rebecca Palmer (Canada)

has to make your life better. Businesses without a social mission or without a true understanding of how their product or service will help their client (or make the customer think their lives are being made better) will not be as successful as those that appeal to clients on a relational basis. Transactional businesses take note: now is the time to build relationships.


Check out Jerry’s slideshare from the event on entrepreneurship.


I also had the opportunity to attend part of the Ministerial meetings on entrepreneurship.  I was very pleased to hear that Estonia has developed a Startup Visa program to make it easier for entrepreneurs to enter the country and start ventures.  Several other countries are working on similar programs.

After lunch and some discussion on entrepreneurship in our various countries, our group headed straight for Jerry’s break out session hosted by Bancolombia. We even managed to find a few moments to speak to Jerry before the session started.

I attended a few other sessions that day but I must say that some of my favorite conversations happened in the hallways and at the after hour events where I had the opportunity to meet other delegates and get to know what they did in their own country. It seems many of us face the same issues and have the same concerns.  Red tape ties us down and often prevents innovation from occurring. Government programs, funding sources and information can be difficult to navigate. Cross-border (even inter-provincial borders) make it difficult to expand businesses and costs of transportation/travel affect us all. Our youth are not job ready and need more support. And, our youth are our future entrepreneurs and should be supported as they work to create their own scalable businesses.

The 1st official evening (Day 2 for head delegates and those who attended the gala) culminated with the International Finals of Get in the Ring – a boxing style pitch off for entrepreneurial contenders. The Future Agro Challenge also took part in this packed event. It was an interesting way to present a pitch. Personally I thought the contenders could have been a little more forceful with a stronger presence.  The products and services ranged from a Braille smartwatch to a STEM cell process that could revolutionize the health industry. All in all, a very exciting night!

Day 2 of the Global Entrepreneurship Congress and right off the bat I’m liking what I’m hearing from Bill Aulet of  MIT who is talking about the need for more entrepreneurs who possess not only the entrepreneurial spirit but also the skills to go with it (the slideshare is below). Bill also mentioned the need to kill the silos and break down the separation of types of entrepreneurs. In Ontario, it seems many of our educational institutions and other organizations maintain the need to segregate social entrepreneurs and regular entrepreneurs by running two programs in separate academic departments. It just doesn’t make sense! While traditionally social entrepreneurs were not-for-profit, that designation has fallen away as more and more businesses develop a hybrid model (my own included) where products and services are designed to create a sustainable business model with some or all profits being reinvested in to the business or related programs.  Further, many businesses are now choosing to incorporate social good into their business model including Tom’s Shoes and Thinx. Tom’s Shoes donates a pair of shoes to someone in need for every pair purchased while Thinkx provides sanitary supplies to under developed countries with the purchase of their menstrual underwear. Crepes and Waffles, a business started in Colombia, has their own social mission. The majority of employees, with the exception of security and a few male workers for late night when it is unsafe for the women to work, are single mothers or sole breadwinners. This business is not donating goods or services but is creating value and empowering women. I was particularly delighted when my Uber driver shared this story. Now back to the point: eliminate the silos.

Whether your business mission is to make profit, act solely as a non-profit or follow the triple bottom line of people, planet and profit, you need basic business skills. A social enterprise or non-profit will run a more sustainable business model by applying basic business skills.  Money is spent more wisely. Programs and services are run more smoothly. Execution of marketing and fundraising campaigns are built with knowledge of how to best approach your target market.  Therefore, social entrepreneurs need the same skills as “regular” business entrepreneurs. It just makes sense that these students would receive the same education and skills as their business school counterparts and vice versa. For all business stream entrepreneurs, let’s introduce them to innovation thinking, to ways to create good within their traditional business model.

Now Bill was talking more about silos in entrepreneurship between fields (space, developers, tech, agriculture, medical) but what resonated with me was the above. We both agree (Bill and I) that collaboration and learning between all groups is key to innovation and learning. The different fields inspire each other and often fill gaps or offer perspectives that may not be visible if one was to remain in their silo.
Bill Aulet GEC2016 keynote speech March 16 2016 Medellin Colombia from University of Strathclyde

In all, the Global Entrepreneurship Congress was a wonderful event in an amazing city. I met a lot of fantastic people I must follow up with and confirmed many of my own thoughts on the future of entrepreneurship are much in line with key thinkers in the industry.  As communities, it is time for us to support entrepreneurs, in particular youth, to build strong innovative businesses on a global level. It is a time for sharing and collaboration and, as per Peter Diamandis, a time for Abundance (my current favorite book by the way)!

Next year, the congress will be held in South Africa. I’m already packing my bags.

Until then, you will find me actively promoting collaboration and entrepreneurship in my local and international community.