How important would you say entrepreneurship is to the growth of developing economies?
I think entrepreneurship is absolutely the most important thing to help countries grow. Entrepreneurs are solving problems. They’re creating value, creating wealth, and creating jobs.
There are entrepreneurs in every community, but they often don’t get to express that entrepreneurial spirit because of their political systems, poverty, or legal issues; there are so many things that shut them down. But over the last few decades we’ve seen that the world has opened up, and that entrepreneurs can be successful everywhere.
The fact is that more countries and their governments are allowing entrepreneurial activity to happen. There are still plenty of challenges, but the more these entrepreneurs succeed, the better the situation gets.
It’s also very different for somebody from the west – the “great white saviors” – to say “we’re going to come help you in your country.” Local entrepreneurs know their own communities and they know how to solve their unique problems. If the rest of us just support them or get out of their way, they can more efficiently solve their communities’ own problems and make great things happen.
I think these efforts – to educate people about entrepreneurship and create an environment where entrepreneurs can thrive – can be a powerful force for good in the world.
Do you think that there is any benefit to being an entrepreneur in the tech sector as opposed to any other sector?
No, I would say you want to look at opportunities, and opportunities often come from disruption and change. One of my friends, Georgetown alumnus David McCourt, says that he looks for opportunities when there is a huge shift in regulation, technology or consumer behavior. For example, when the Obamacare law passed, all of a sudden it became a completely different environment for many healthcare companies. For example, there are many companies today working on electronic medical records – an opportunity made possible when the Affordable Care Act stimulated the adoption of EMRs.
When you see two of these changes (regulation, technology, consumer behavior) happening at the same time – like when Uber became popular due to a combination of the new GPS technology on cell phones and a major shift in consumer behavior – companies can be very successful. Before that time, cell phones didn’t have the capacity to locate and connect drivers and passengers, or to facilitate cashless payments. And it used to be crazy to imagine someone getting into a stranger’s car, but, of course, consumer behavior changed to where people felt comfortable doing that.
There are changes and opportunities in all kinds of industries, and I think technology is often an enabler, but not necessarily the core piece. It’s likely that an entrepreneur may start a business that uses new technology, but entrepreneurs don’t necessarily have to invent a new technology. Many entrepreneurs today have become successful because they have studied how technology can be more creatively used. On that note, technology is often scalable: Once you write code, then you can send it to a billion people – that is far more scalable than physical goods.
There are entrepreneurial opportunities in all spaces, though. If you’re trying to give advice to a particular person, they should work on what they know. If they’re a techie, then great, they’ll work on some new tech stuff.
Another important aspect of being a good entrepreneur is empathy for your consumer. You need to understand what the problem is. If you live in a world where agriculture is what you’re dealing with everyday, maybe you should try to solve problems in that sector. Maybe you can find a way for technology to help solve those problems. But it doesn’t necessarily have to be centered around a new technology.
Professor Reid’s comments about the importance of entrepreneurship to developing economies underline the importance of the work we do here at PalTechUS. We believe that the rise of easy access to technology has created a unique opportunity that Palestine and its entrepreneurs can take advantage of to ensure a better, more prosperous future for all Palestinians. Our mission is to support these entrepreneurs by connecting them with experts, ultimately providing them with a supportive network with which they can help their communities and create jobs for the people of Palestine.