Dec 282015
 

Being an entrepreneur has become fashionable in western countries, but according to the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor it’s not the developed nations which are the most enterprising.

UK purchasing platform Approved Index took the GEM’s 2014 report and looked at which countries have the most entrepreneurs, defined as being “the percentage of an adult population who own (or co-own) a new business and has paid salaries or wages for at least 3 months.”

Surprisingly Uganda came out on top with 28.1% of the population meeting the GEM’s criteria for being entrepreneurs with Thailand and Brazil in second and third place. Of the developed nations, Australians were the most entrepreneurial at position number 26.

This raises the questions of what is the definition of an entrepreneurs and what drives people to become one?

What drives entrepreneurs?

Part of the answer to the second question is necessity. In Nigeria, a part time business is known as the “5 to 9 job” and, as the BBC reports, those evening enterprises are the way most Nigerians see as being a pathway to the middle classes which wouldn’t be possible for most wage earners.

That becoming an entrepreneur is often a result of necessity is borne out by Uganda’s profile in the GEM report where the authors note are scathing about the government’s support of business.

The biggest enabler of entrepreneurship in Uganda is its internal market dynamics. The most significant constraints are the unsupportive government policies, in terms of bureaucracy and taxes, and a lack of financing.

Indeed, the GEM itself noted in its 2014 report on global entrepreneurship that “there tends to be more entrepreneurial activity in less competitive economies” and Uganda ranked 122nd of 144 economies in the World Economic Forum’s 2014/15 Global Competitiveness Index.

Comparing the indexes

Looking at the Countries listed in the GEM’s top ten and listing the countries by the World Economic Forums competitiveness index ranking and the World Bank’s ease of doing business index starkly illustrates the correlation between business strangling bureaucracy and people setting up their enterprises outside the regulatory strictures.

GEM rank

Country

WEF rank

World Bank rank 

1

Uganda

122

122

2

Thailand

31

49

3

Brazil

57

116

4

Cameroon

116

172

5

Vietnam

68

90

6

Angola

140

181

7

Jamaica

86

64

8

Botswana

74

72

9

Chile

33

48

10

Philippines

52

103

 

Of the top ten countries by their entrepreneur ranking, only Chile and Thailand make the top 50 of either the World Bank’s Ease of Business index or the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Index. To summarise, the urge to be entrepreneurial is a reaction to a poor business climate.

Defining entrepreneurs

What we could be seeing is a poor definition of an entrepreneur although it’s hard to draw the line between a Ugandan housewife who sets up a market food store and an Australian family that buys a fast food franchise. Is one more entrepreneurial because they have more access to capital?

Perhaps the Silicon Valley definition of an entrepreneur – the founder of a technology startup – is a more appropriate however that excludes vast tracts of western economies and almost all the developing world.

On many levels the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor’s definition is probably the fairest as it indicates how many people are starting their own ventures regardless of their capital position or the nature of their business.

If the GEM’s definition is fair then the leader board indicates that maybe having a nation of entrepreneurs is actually the symptom of a constrained business community rather than that of a vibrant economy.

Maybe political and business leaders need to be careful what they wish for when they call for a more entrepreneurial nation.

  One Response to “An entrepreneurial paradox”

  1. Very interesting post Paul.

    Entrepreneurship and innovation are two different things. Most new businesses are not innovative in any productivity-changing sense*. The assumption is that most innovation happens in small businesses but it’s not clear if this is actually true**. However the broad brush narrative of Silicon Valley – esp. over the last 20 years – has been to link the two together.

    We can encourage more people to start small businesses (and help them survive – 50% of businesses founded in 2010 were not operating in 2014). But that won’t necessarily make us more innovative as a nation – nor offer a major driver for economic growth.

    *The biggest number of businesses in Australia – and the largest number created in 2014 – are in the construction industry.

    **Some very crude data here:

    http://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/abs@.nsf/Latestproducts/8166.0Main%20Features82013-14?opendocument&tabname=Summary&prodno=8166.0&issue=2013-14&num=&view=

    http://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/abs@.nsf/Latestproducts/8166.0Main%20Features92013-14?opendocument&tabname=Summary&prodno=8166.0&issue=2013-14&num=&view=

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