On October 13-14, the World Bank Group and the International Council for Small Business (ICSB) at The George Washington University School of Business (GWSB), hosted the seventh GW October Annual Entrepreneurship Conference in Washington DC, USA.

The theme of the conference was ‘Promoting SMEs to Drive Growth,’ and distinguished participants in attendance included The Honorable Maria Contreras-Sweet (Administrator of the US Small Business Administration (SBA)), Ms. Anabel González (Senior Director, Trade & Competitiveness, World Bank Group), Dr. Luca Iandoli (President of the International Council for Small Business) and many more.

The focus of the opening plenary with Administrator Contreras-Sweet and Ms. González was The State of SME Policies and Support Programs. Administrator Contreras-Sweet started by welcoming all delegates to the conference on behalf of the United States and the Obama Administration, where she sits as the voice for small business. This conference brings merit to an important and timely discussion. With the advent of technology, we’ve seen new opportunities for entrepreneurs to participate in the global economy so it’s important that governments commit to creating policies and incentives that help small businesses navigate a borderless marketplace. Administrator Contreras-Sweet shared stories about her conversations with the Colombian Ambassador to the USA, the early failure of Walt Disney, SBA program’s Ban the Box and SBIC matching, as well as her experience with micro-entrepreneurs in Morocco and Colombia. She stressed the importance of passing trade agreements that speak to small business. Progress for the entrepreneur means keeping markets connected and for the first time there is an SME chapter in a global trade deal (TPP).

In closing, the Administrator reiterated her commitment to support the Global SME Day as proposed to the United Nations this past June at the ICSB 2016 World Conference.  SBA led a global meeting of ministerials in Milan and will partner with the Kauffman Foundation to host another in South Africa, demonstrating a commitment to meeting with counterparts in other countries to work together.

Ms. González addressed the conference next to share insights from her role as the Director of the World Bank Trade & Competitiveness Global Practice, which includes over 500 employees involved in trade, investment, competition and innovation activities. The most important ask from governments in developing countries is around SME support. Ms. González shared a story from the Middle East which shed light on the challenges for SMEs that go beyond policies and regulations. SMEs are the backbone of developing countries, accounting for the core of innovation and growth, but some challenges are deeply rooted in culture. Some countries lack sufficient opportunities to grow with market and institutional failures that contribute to low managerial levels, restricted access to markets, and post-entry barriers. In today’s world, governments are asking for integrated and evidence based solutions that target entrepreneurship, early stage development and high-growth enterprises. They also want to learn from SME support programs in the USA, Singapore and South Korea among others.

The World Bank Group has Invested over $17 billion to support SMEs. Ms. González’s team identified four key areas for SME development; (1) fostering high-growth, (2) integrating value chains, (3) strengthening women led SMEs, and (4) harnessing technology and digital platforms. Their work with developing nations typically starts with an SME growth and productivity action plan, with intervention proposed at various stages of the life cycle. The results of these innovative SME support models are mixed with some gaps on lessons learned, but looked forward to fruitful discussion and insights from upcoming reports during the event.

The day’s next panel discussion focused on the topic of SME Policy Design and Evaluation: Insights From Research on Entrepreneurship and Innovation. Winslow Sargeant (ICSB Vice President of Data and Policy and Former Chief Counsel for Advocacy at the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA)) and Mary Hallward-Driemeier (Senior Economic Advisor at the World Bank Group) discussed how research can contribute to the design of national policy interventions as well as enable assessment of progress toward objectives. Both presenters shared lessons learned from regulatory environments and impact evaluations in supporting SME action plans. An important challenge is look at interventions that address underlying causes and not just symptoms.

After lunch, the conference featured two more panel discussions, focusing on The Role of High Growth Firms in Job Creation and Equitable Growth and Serving the Bottom of the Pyramid: Social and Humane Entrepreneurship. Donna Kelley (Professor of Entrepreneurship at Babson College and Board Member of the Global Entrepreneurship Research Association (GERA)), Kristin Schreiber (Director of the COSME Programme and SME policy at the European Commission), Denis Medved (Lead Economist at the World Bank Group) and George Solomon (Professor at The George Washington University and Editor-in-Chief of Journal of Small Business Management (JSBM)) analyzed the key role played by SMEs in addressing important policy issues, such as reducing employment. Each presenter had some impressive statistics and findings to share from their respective organizations.

The day ended with a discussion about the growing support for social and humane entrepreneurship, rooted in the idea that sustainable business models must also aim to advance humanity and increase social inclusion. Ki-Chan Kim (Professor of Business Administration at The Catholic University of Korea and Immediate Past-President of the ICSB), Ahmed Shalaby (Managing Director of Tatweer Misr), Natalia Agapitova (Senior Program Officer at the World Bank Group) and Liesl A. Riddle (Associate Professor of International Business at The George Washington University (GWU)) provided the audience with real world examples of support for the bottom of the pyramid, including innovative research, community development projects, and innovative tools to bring inclusive and sustainable growth to the developing world.

The second day of the conference was hosted at The George Washington University School of Business (GWSB) and featured research presentations and workshops covering topics such as fostering entrepreneurship in rural areas and transition economies, developing entrepreneurial ecosystems, entrepreneurship and gender, supporting business incubators, accelerators and early stage funding, and social entrepreneurship.

Highlights presentations include:

  • Geographies of Entrepreneurial Ecosystems: Non-Farm Proprietorship Employment by U.S. Metropolitan Area
  • Establishing a Powerful Mentoring Program – MIT Venture Mentoring Service
  • Gender, Leadership and Venture Capital: Measuring women’s leadership in VC firm portfolios
  • Factors Affecting Gender Discrepancy in Entrepreneurial Activity
  • Korean Management Series: How Korea is Internally Revolutionizing How to Do Business
  • Social Entrepreneurship for SME Development: Insights from Three Decades of Third Sector Research

For more information, please visit http://www.gwoctober.com/program, which includes links to the conference program, conference abstracts, the online proceedings, gallery and more.

To view a live recording of the October 13 opening session, please visit https://live.worldbank.org/GW-October-Annual-Conference .