Are we heading into the next Golden Age for entrepreneurs?

There are heightened risks of failure that startup owners have to go through. This is where a support mechanism can work well.
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What a difference two-and-a-half years make in the age of space travel. When Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed on the moon on July 20, 1969, an estimated 652 million people watched the live broadcast of the Apollo 11 landing. When astronauts Gene Cernan and Harrison H. Schmitt landed on the moon on December 11, 1972, the New York Times front-page headline ran, ‘Apollo 17 Coverage Gets Little Viewer Response’.

Even though the mission broke several crewed spaceflight records, and the incredible colour footage relayed to the Earth was a considerable improvement on the grainy film offered by Apollo 11, viewers had clearly grown bored. As much as Moore’s Law acknowledges that the growth of microprocessors is exponential, technical progress is also a recognition that people quickly accustom to change, and grow restless if, what we might term the ‘end-user experience’, proves less than satisfying.

This endless impatience, this constant push for variation, is now an integral part of doing business in the 21st century. The world of multinational corporations still very much exists, but it has been enlivened, disrupted and energised by entrepreneurs, quickly iterated innovation and the power of Internet-borne communications. The global community of fast-moving interconnections and innovation is deeply embedded in the UAE economy. The UAE is ranked fourth globally in the Global Entrepreneurship Index, the result of efforts to improve the entrepreneurial ecosystem and raise competitive business performance to a truly global standing.

It is an interesting inflection point for the UAE to have achieved this success. As with other economies that have massively benefitted from mining and extractive industries, there is an acknowledgement that economic development cannot remain rooted in one type of income.

No sudden stop

There is significant merit in the argument made by Sultan Al Jaber, CEO of ADNOC, at the recent ADIPEC oil and gas forum. In the context of the recent COP26 UN climate talks, he made the point that the world could not “simply unplug” from hydrocarbons and the oil and gas industry needed to invest over $600 billion a year until 2030 just to meet expected demand.

One would not find a significantly different argument expressed by, for example, business leaders from other nations, nor by some leaders of other nations made rich by natural resources. For example, the prime ministers of Norway and Australia readily acknowledge the impracticality of executing a handbrake stop on the underpinning mechanisms that make their economies tick. Such is the realpolitik of the global economy.

There is a unifying sense that the move to carbon neutrality must be planned and executed sensibly across nations. This is especially true of those nations that derive their principal incomes from an abundance of natural resources. There is also a common view that these economies need to be better balanced.

A common entrepreneurial ideal

From the Confederation of Norwegian Enterprise, to Australia’s Social Enterprise Networks & Councils, to the UAE business support guidance, one can find strong, shared support for growing and supporting enterprise culture. In nearly every country, virtually all of the net new job creation is delivered by fast-growing entrepreneurial firms – not by large multinationals, who keep replacing people with machines and technology, and not by start-ups or ‘small businesses’ either where there is too much churn and too little growth.

It is important therefore that policymakers and others – including enterprise accelerators such as Dubai Silicon Oasis, Turn 8, and Dubai Knowledge Village free zone – put in place programmes to help entrepreneurs grow their businesses faster. These are the programmes that will likely fuel the UAE’s future.

Squaring the circle on earlier reflections of the moon landing from decades ago, it is interesting to consider that when, in 2025, Artemis programme astronauts put boots on the moon, the next step onto our distant satellite will be borne along by a flourishing global space enterprise community.

Support structures

In sum, the boldness of human endeavour has not disappeared, but the structures that support business, job creation and innovation have changed completely. A new cultural alchemy underpins this change. Successful entrepreneurs insistently ask why their idea will or won’t work, and they ask this question for a simple reason. They understand the odds.

They know most business plans never raise money. They know most new ventures fail. Most of all, they don’t want to end up starting and running what long-time venture capitalist Bill Egan would call a “lousy business”, one that consumes years of their energy and effort, only to go nowhere in the end.

Despite asking this crucial question every day, entrepreneurs’ passion remains undaunted. So committed are they to showing a reluctant world that their vision is feasible that they want to know why they might be wrong before bad things can happen. This continually questing culture has now embedded itself in the UAE and other nations. It is this restless ethos that will drive the global economy out of the pandemic and overcome any number of challenges in years ahead.

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