Beginning of the conference
The official name of this conference is the GW October Annual Entrepreneurship Conference, http://gwoctober.com/. It is hosted by the World Bank Group and the International Council for Small Business (ICSB) in D.C. The 2016 theme was “Promoting SMEs to drive growth.” I attended using Coleman travel funds. Registration wasn’t expensive, but man, the hotel rates in the Foggy Bottom area!
It really seemed like two different one-day conferences on adjacent days. Day one was last Thursday and consisted of short talks and discussion panels on public policy issues at the World Bank, a few blocks from the White House. There was also a long networking lunch. The speakers were a diverse group of federal government and NGO higher-ups from around the world. 150-200 folks attended, representing 16 countries. About a quarter of attendees where international students from GWU. Almost all the men wore dress coats and tie and the women dress suits. Sitting at my table most of the day were two Swedish academics, three Egyptian academics and NGO officers, and a U.S. SBA representative (born in Nigeria).
Day two was Friday and consisted of papers and workshops by mostly professors in the GWU business school. Attendance was small, maybe 30-40 people. There were three time blocks, each with four concurrent sessions to choose from. The evening ended with an ICSM dinner and awards ceremony (which I didn’t attend). So a very different flavor from day one.
This was my first overnight visit to D.C. since working a 5-week internship at the Smithsonian the summer before beginning college (many years ago!). We stayed at a small GWU dormitory not far from this conference’s two locations. So I enjoyed some nostalgia (also perhaps because I had a birthday the day before the flight up). I wasn’t able to visit the brand-new African American History and Culture museum, due to the high demand for the timed entry tickets, but did make time to visit the newish National Museum of the American Indian.
Here are some notes from some of the more interesting programs I attended, plus notes from networking lunches with U.S. Census officials and a GWU librarian friend.
At the World Bank:
World Bank from Pennsylvania Avenue
“The State of SME Policies and Support Programs”
Description: According to estimates, 600 million jobs will be needed in the next 15 years to absorb the growing global workforce, mainly in Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa. This panel will address the targets set by governments for SME policy development and help identify strategic priorities for improving business environments. The progress of SMEs is key towards narrowing the development gap.
- Anabel Gonzalez, Senior Director, Trade & Competitiveness, World Bank Group
- Maria Contreras-Sweet, Administrator of the US Small Business Administration
- Moderator: Luca Iandoli, President of International Council for Small Business (ICSB)
Contreras-Sweet opened the conference with an overview of the importance of SMEs to the world economy. She was an excellent speaker and also briefly related her life story. She entered the U.S. from Mexico as a five-year old girl in an extended migrant family. Her family (especially her grandmother) pushed her hard to do well in school, and she ended up founding a bank and a philanthropic organization before joining President Obama’s cabinet.
Contreras-Sweet described entrepreneurship as the “most powerful force for people to lift themselves out of poverty.” She has been promoting the creating of SBA-type agencies in other countries, with the support of the Kauffman Foundation. There will be a big international small business promotion conference in South Africa partially supported by the SBA.
Anabel Gonzalez, one of several World Bank officials on the program this day, spoke on how “promoting small businesses is essential to ending poverty & increasing shared prosperity.”
Luca Iandoli (a professor from Naples) moderated a discussion with those two speakers and also took questions from the audience and online listeners. He began by displaying a 2012 MIT Technology Review cover of moon-walker Buzz Armstrong lamenting: “You promised me Mars colonies; instead I got Facebook”. Iandoli noted that the IT revolution has not helped much with job creation and income growth, showing some stats on revenue-per-employee ratios for major IT companies compared to manufacturing companies like Ford Motor. He posed the question “So can SMEs benefit from innovation trends? Or will the income gap increase even more?” It was an interesting discussion that touched on the tax advantages enjoyed by multinational but unavailable for SMEs, the increasing digital divide especially when you compare richer countries to poorer countries, and other topics. The panel steered into ethical aspects of innovation and entrepreneurship (which reminded of Ilana Stonebraker’s recent post), and how the SBA has started to track the involvement of women, minorities, and veterans in SBA loans and other services. Women entrepreneurs proved to be a hot topic for the audience, and my SBA neighbor at our table discussed this over the coffee break.
“SME Policy Design and Evaluation: Insights from Research on Entrepreneurship and Innovation”
Description: Despite significant advances in the measurement and analysis of entrepreneurial activity, cross-country comparisons remain notably difficult. This panel will address the intersection of data and policy, and discuss how research can contribute to the design of national policy interventions as well as enable assessment of progress toward objectives.
- Mary Hallward-Driemeier, Senior Economic Advisor, Trade & Competitiveness, World Bank Group
- Winslow Sargeant, ICSB Vice President of Data and Policy [and SBA official]
- Moderator: Ayman El Tarabishy, Associate Professor at George Washington University and Executive Director of ICSB
Ah, then we got into some data. Well, just a little. Mary Hallward-Driemeier discussed the data collection the World Bank is trying to collect to assist its efforts to promote SME growth. She listed six thematic areas as priorities for trade and competitiveness (see the picture). These themes may help loaning organizations define and measure the success of its loans to SMEs. She also encouraged support organizations to be “gender informed” and look where women can disproportionately benefit: transportation issues; having broader definitions of collateral; and encouraging specific industrial sectors.
Winslow Sargeant was an engineering professor and Kauffmann professor, but now works in the SBA Office of Advocacy. Given his engineering background, he enjoyed discussing U.S. patent history but then used statistics to show the importance of small business to the US economy. He made the important distinction between small companies and nonemployers. I liked that because we discuss those important distinctions – and the different Census datasets involved – in my 530 class. Sargeant noted that most online sales are made by large companies, not SMEs, continuing the concerns that the social media revolution has been overhyped in terms of benefits to SMEs. He expressed concerns that the number of patents issues in the U.S. is falling compared to some other countries (as a percentage I think – my notes aren’t clear, sorry) but that U.S. immigrants continue to have a disproportionate positive impact on entrepreneurship, job creation, and patent submissions
Networking lunch with Census folks
There were a dozen themed tables for lunch discussions. I considered sitting at the social entrepreneurship table but decided to talk shop with the Census folks. Bárbara Zamora-Appel (Program Analyst), Philip Thompson (Special Projects and Outreach Coordinator), and Andrew Hait (Survey Statistician and leader of the Census Business Builder project) were there. I think those three were happy to have a business librarian present, although a couple of NGO types stopped by to ask questions.
Barbara had interesting insights into the tradition of Census racial categories, comparing them to an even more complex array of categories (20 total) used in her native Guatemala. We wondered if the younger U.S. generations are rebelling from the standard U.S. demographic variables involving race and Hispanic/Latino status. (I mentioned recent discussions with students on Census terminology). Barbara noted that the OMB maintains racial/ethnicity and country of origin terminology used by the Census – I didn’t know that.
Philip recently attended a business educators’ conference in Atlanta and wondered if I had advice on how to reach college students and also faculty on the value of Census data for population and industry research. Too many students don’t know where most U.S. demographic and industry data come from, he lamented. We talked about the need for business faculty to set clear expectations for research in their classes, and for librarians to be involved in the research classes. (Mary Scanlon, Diane Campbell, and I hope to lead a workshop on the expectations part at USASBE next semester.)
Andrew discussed his efforts to link related business, industry, and demographic data through the Census Business Builder, allowing users to find useful data they might not have known to exist. Such linkages would vary by industrial sector and might also include relevant trade data trends. Andrew would like to add short, practical case studies of how an entrepreneur or SME owner successfully used the Business Builder. These stories would help demonstrate the value of the tool and show off the diversity of data that could be applied to a business idea. I promised I would get back to him on this, although maybe an email to BUSLIB would be a better strategy to collect examples…
My notes after lunch were more limited, so let’s jump ahead to Friday morning at GWU and wrap up this already long post. The Friday conference didn’t begin until 10:30, a late start IMO.
“College and Community Partnerships: The Development of an Entrepreneurial Program to Support Economic Development”
Kathleen Burke (Professor of Economics) of SUNY Cortland lamented the loss of many small business in upstate and rural New York. Many of the 64 SUNY campuses provide the main economic activity in their small towns, including Cortland. Most of the businesses in this county are within a 4-mile radius of the Cortland downtown. Her campus became the main driving force for economic development through a new cross-campus entrepreneurship curriculum and an Appalachian Regional Commission grant. The students partnered with entrepreneurs and existing small businesses to help develop business plans and marketing plans. The grant also helped fund an innovation business center. Like the Coleman Fellow campuses, SUNY Cortland now has an entrepreneur in residence to work with the faculty to better support the students’ work and learning.
Their ENT 1 course (the first course in the sequence) covers primary and secondary research as well as business models, business plans, and making pitches. Students from all over campus are taking the class. The next class (still in development), ENT 2, will be an independent study with faculty and community mentors – that’s a different approach I think. The goal is for those advanced students to participate in regional competitions. Long Island Bagel is one downtown retail success established by students.
Next steps include classes on social entrepreneurship and social innovation. They are also creating a “Community Innovation Lab” that will support local nonprofits.
The concluding discussion focused on how to increase student participation across campus, how to increasing engagement with the community, and what other types of courses are offered. The Coleman Fellow director from Colorado Mesa University was in attendance too, so there was some discussion of best practices discussed at the annual Coleman summits.
“Geographies of Entrepreneurial Ecosystems: Non-Farm Proprietorship Employment by U.S. Metropolitan Area”
My buddy Keith Debbage (Professor of Economic Geography) presented on his new research on geographic aspects of entrepreneurship. (He is also researching innovation quarters.) These are new areas of interest for him, resulting in part from his involvement in the Coleman Fellows program beginning two years ago. My notes on Keith’s talk aren’t too detailed, partially due me taking some pictures of Keith’s talk and posting them to social media for the Coleman program and the UNCG Geography department. So if you ever read this, Keith, please forgive me for the brevity and any misinformation.
Keith’s framing question for the research: “Is self-employment in any geography primarily the entrepreneurship of opportunity or the entrepreneurship of last resort?”
…And already we have to deal with the issue of how to define and measure entrepreneurship. Many of you business librarians have wrestled with this question before in your research workshops and consultations. Keith decided to use BEA data on non-farm proprietorship (NFP), so he defined entrepreneurship as self-employment (also the Coleman Foundation’s definition). He also used American Community Survey and BLS data for his research.
He studied MSA’s, not cities, to take into consideration commuting silos that limit spill-over effects. (Keith pointed to me as an example of the value of using MSA data, since I commute from downtown Winston-Salem to downtown Greensboro for work.)
Jumping ahead to what factors seem very important for self-employment growth:
- Access to capital, such as bank loans and/or using ones house as collateral (high home values are disproportionate)
- Median age (rates of self-employment go up with age)
- Hispanic status (also higher rate of self-employment)
For example, notice in the picture how well Florida is performing.
Conclusions: NFP is an increasing important part of economy. Entrepreneurship of last resort AND of opportunity are important (capital is used more often in the latter case). So public policy needs to do better job of recognizing these two divergent entrepreneurship trends.
Finally talking to another librarian
I skipped the Friday conference lunch to have lunch with my friend Ann Goebel Brown, the Instruction Reference Librarian at GWU. Her library is right across the street from the business school. Ann has been very involved in RUSA and so besides catching up on family and personal life, we had an interesting discussion on the future of “reference services” (she is presenting at ACRL next spring on “Reference: The New Dirty Word?” – great title!) and how RUSA might be changing how it is organized to better reflect the nature of 21st century public services (with possible implications for BRASS).