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TRAVEL LOG: What I learned this year at the Global Entrepreneurship Congress

Guest Contributor: Cameron Cushman

Last week I traveled to Istanbul, Turkey, to represent the United States at the 10th Annual Global Entrepreneurship Congress (GEC), a gathering of about 2,000 entrepreneurs and entrepreneurial community builders from 170 countries. I joined six other U.S. representatives of their local 1 Million Cups chapters to encourage the launch of this weekly educational program in other countries. Startup Huddle, as it is called internationally, launched in 2017 and is operating in a handful of cities including London, Amman and Moscow.

Our mission was simple – share the “secret sauce” of what has made 1 Million Cups so successful in 170+ U.S. cities – and encourage others to open and run chapters in their countries. In several different venues, we told the audience how 1 Million Cups started, how 1 Million Cups works and why it can be transformative in communities, not just in the U.S., but around the world.

Startup Huddle first launched at last year’s Global Entrepreneurship Congress in Johannesburg, South Africa. One country in particular, Russia, took the idea and ran with it. Ekaterina Vainberg from the Center for Entrepreneurship in Russia, took on the challenge of launching Startup Huddle in her country and helped launch chapters in 9 Russian cities last year (Moscow, Tomsk, Tumen, Kirov, Voronezh, Rostov-on-Don, Krasnodar, Vladimir, Nizhny Novgorod). Though still early, she could point to many successes that came after local startups presented at Startup Huddle.

Following our presentations, our group had great conversations with people from around the world who were interested in taking the Startup Huddle back to their countries. I spoke with Salah Amleh, the Director of an organization called Growth in Ramallah, Palestine. He told me how difficult it was for entrepreneurs to operate in his country and thought that a program like Startup Huddle could be transformative for his city. I also met “Big Al” Connolly from Entrepreneursville in Perth, Australia. He was interested in starting chapters not just in his home city, but throughout western Australia.

Entrepreneurship is a universal language that can cut across cultural, ethnic and political barriers.

During my experience at the GEC, several things struck me. First, entrepreneurship is no longer an American phenomenon. Neither is entrepreneurial community building. There are people working to build and develop their economies through new venture creation just like we are in the Fort Worth and Dallas area.

Second, entrepreneurship is a universal language that can cut across cultural, ethnic and political barriers. Though almost all of the conversations at the conference were in English (though a few were translated from Turkish), it was amazing to hear common “entrepreneur-speak” coming from different so many different accents. I was encouraged to hear entrepreneurs talking about solving problems that I wasn’t familiar with or problems that don’t exist in our country. It was clear to me that entrepreneurs are the driving force that can solve many of the world’s most intractable problems.

Finally, it was clear to me that entrepreneurs remain hidden in countries all around the world. One of the main tenets behind 1 Million Cups is that if you don’t know who the entrepreneurs are in your city, then you don’t know how to help them. One of the reasons Startup Huddle seems to be getting so much early traction is because it brings entrepreneurs out of the woodwork and allows them to tell their stories like few other events do. If entrepreneurial community builders in other countries can bring their startup companies more into the public consciousness, then they can increase the success rates of those startups and help them grow faster. Economic growth through entrepreneurship can greatly accelerate the development of just about any country in the world.

I loved seeing the entrepreneurial spirit alive and well in the rest of the world. And, it made me think that many of us are thinking too small when it comes to looking for potential customers and growth markets. It’s a big world out there!

Cameron Cushman currently serves as Director of Innovation Ecosystems at the University of North Texas Health Science Center. Connect with him here.

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