Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : July 30th 2015 Contents Julien, it s great to hear that you re
getting out there and meeting
people. Nothing beats real-life
experiences, and it s clear that
you ve met some fascinating
entrepreneurs during your travels.
Those sorts of encounters will affect your
decisions if you ever venture into entrepre-
neurship yourself one day.
While technological advancements have
helped to level the playing field, there is no
doubt that entrepreneurs working in emerging
markets do not have as many options as those
based in thriving startup hubs, especially when
it comes to finding investors.
Efforts like the one you were a part of seem
to offer the beginnings of a solution. An
increasing number of crowdfunding platforms
are trying to help entrepreneurs in even the
For example, San Francisco s Indiegogo,
which I ve invested in myself, has helped to
fund projects in many countries, from Panama
to Pakistan. Web sites specifically targeted at
emerging markets, such as the recently
launched Emerging Crowd, based in the UK,
are offering investors from developed countries
the chance to get involved.
It may take some time, but once the flow
of investment to emerging markets has
increased, it s possible that more companies
in these regions will be able to establish them-
selves and, eventually, flourish.
As they do, this may increase the likelihood
that these markets will attract talented people
to their cities, establish distribution networks
and make improvements in other areas that
are vital to the foundation of a strong startup
Needless to say, you won t find a more thriv-
ing startup ecosystem than Silicon Valley s.
There s obviously a lot that other regions can
learn from that community of entrepreneurs
and its achievements, but I would not advise
others to use it as a blueprint. It s better to
note the factors that allowed Silicon Valley to
flourish and apply them carefully.
I recently visited Detroit on Virgin Atlantic s
inaugural flight to that city. While I was there,
I saw a fine example of how a city can build
a business hub that reflects the community s
unique strengths. If Detroit s leadership had
tried to re-create Silicon Valley, it s unlikely
that it would have been a success. But the city
has a proud history of manufacturing, and
there were already the people and skills in
place to make the industry a big area of focus
As a result there s now a new wave of start-
ups in Motor City crafting everything from
innovative new household furniture to phone
cases made from recycled NHL hockey sticks.
Brands like Shinola, which has a strong focus
on quality manufacturing and produces watch-
es, leather goods, bicycles and other items,
have realised that every place has a story to
tell and that if you tell it well, that story will
resonate with customers.
Detroit has the potential to be one of the
world s great comeback cities; consumers want
to hear about that from the businesses that
operate there; they re not interested in some
Silicon Valley clone.
The history of the relationship between gov-
ernment and business is different in every
country, and so the task of persuading gov-
ernment to support startups has to be
approached a bit differently in every case.
It has been almost two years since we
launched Virgin StartUp, our not-for-profit
business that helps to match entrepreneurs
with mentors while facilitating low-interest
business loans. The entrepreneurs we ve fund-
ed are experiencing some great successes; suc-
cesses that wouldn t have been possible with-
out a shift in attitude from the British gov-
ernment, which provides the loans.
It wasn t always this way in Britain. At some
points over the past 50 years, the relationship
between government and business has been
a bit strained.
Changing people s minds about how to help
small-business owners involved years of hard
work, but eventually our team at Virgin was
able to put forward a case for the funding
scheme that couldn t be denied. With cuts
being made in the public sector, it made sense
for the government to back the country s entre-
preneurs, since the private sector can provide
many of the solutions to the problems we
Every time I speak at a conference or busi-
ness event outside of Britain, audience mem-
bers will ask me when we re bringing Virgin
StartUp to their country. It s clear that there s
great appetite for governments all over the
world to show more support for entrepreneurs;
let s hope that more of these governments see
the benefits in doing so.
Good luck on your next adventure, Julien!
With the questions you re asking, I wouldn t
be surprised if you end up working toward
solving some of these challenges.
How to build an innovation hub
Civic and business leaders around the world
look to Silicon Valley as an example of a thriving
innovation hub. What can we learn from its
• Learn, rather than imitate: An attempt to
duplicate Silicon Valley s startup ecosystem
exactly won t quite work anywhere else.
Instead, learn what has worked well and why.
• Build on the city s strengths: If people in
your region have special expertise in a particular
area, their talent should be at the center of
• Support new businesses: Entrepreneurs
launching startups face a difficult struggle, and
meaningful support in the form of mentoring
and loans can make a big difference.
JULY 30 • 2015 www.guardian.co.tt BUSINESS GUARDIAN
COMMENTARY | BG13
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From Panama to Pakistan
Spreading Silicon Valley's message
Q: As part of my work with Seedstars World, an international start-
up competition focused on finding the top entrepreneurs in emerg-
ing markets, I travelled to 35 countries in 10 months to meet entre-
preneurs and help them grow their businesses.
My colleagues and I talked to people at incredible startups, like one
in South Africa producing a cheap fire alarm for slum dwellers or an-
other in Dubai making a real-time translation system for the hear-
ing-impaired, or in Indonesia, a startup developing a smart fish feed-
er for aquaculture farmers.
Founders in these emerging markets always ask the same ques-
• How do they find funding?
• How can they bring Silicon Valley's innovative, entrepreneurial
mindset to their country?
• How can they persuade local governments to be more supportive
It would mean the world to entrepreneurs across the globe if you
could share some of your wisdom on these questions.
(Richard Branson is
the founder of the Vir-
gin Group and compa-
nies such as Virgin
Atlantic, Virgin America,
Virgin Mobile and Virgin
Active. He maintains a
branson/blog. You can
follow him on Twitter
branson. To learn more
about the Virgin Group:
(Questions from read-
ers will be answered in
future columns. Please
send them to Richard-
Please include your
name, country, e-mail
address and the name
of the website or pub-
lication where you read
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