The Global Entrepreneurship Congress (GEC 2016)

March 14th, 2016 marked the start of the Global Entrepreneurship Congress. The event took place in Medellin, Colombia, a city recently recognized for being the most innovative city in the world.

The Canadians at Global Entrepreneurship Congress - Amanda, Aksinia and Rebecca
The Canadians – Amanda, Aksinia and Rebecca

Attendees from 160 countries came together to discuss our (the world’s) entrepreneurial future and learn about entrepreneurship programs in other countries. For some of us, it was a reunion; for others, an event full of new connections.



Though I traveled to this event alone and not as part of any organization outside my own startup EntreLaunch, I was pleased to find out a few of my favorite Canadians would also be attending.  Aksinia and I met in Australia and Amanda is part of the amazing Futurpreneur organization that helps youth up to age 39 get started in business among many other activities. It was also a pleasure to reunite with a few of the delegates (Jordan and Grace) from the G20 Young Entrepreneurs Alliance Summit in Australia. But enough about that. Now onto the main event!

Held at the beautiful Plaza Major located in the centre of Medellin, the Global Entrepreneurship Congress (GEC) welcomed approximate 4000 attendees. The main room was absolutely packed with standing room only. Jerry Michalski of REX was one of the first speakers talked about the Future of Marketing and Design by Trust – one of my favorite subjects. I was blown away by his presentation which resonated so much with my own thoughts. Jerry’s break out session was immediately on my list as a must attend event.  The bottom line is that we want to trust brands, trust businesses. It is time to stop treating your clients as consumers, as nothing more than a sale. We want relationships.

For many old school marketers, this shift in thinking is huge. Now your product or service needs to tell a story. It has to do more than just work, it

International Group Global Entrepreneurship Congress 2016
Prof. Johannes Lindner (Vienna/Krems), Jerry Michalski (United States), Jordan Duffy (Australia), Rebecca Palmer (Canada)

has to make your life better. Businesses without a social mission or without a true understanding of how their product or service will help their client (or make the customer think their lives are being made better) will not be as successful as those that appeal to clients on a relational basis. Transactional businesses take note: now is the time to build relationships.


Check out Jerry’s slideshare from the event on entrepreneurship.


I also had the opportunity to attend part of the Ministerial meetings on entrepreneurship.  I was very pleased to hear that Estonia has developed a Startup Visa program to make it easier for entrepreneurs to enter the country and start ventures.  Several other countries are working on similar programs.

After lunch and some discussion on entrepreneurship in our various countries, our group headed straight for Jerry’s break out session hosted by Bancolombia. We even managed to find a few moments to speak to Jerry before the session started.

I attended a few other sessions that day but I must say that some of my favorite conversations happened in the hallways and at the after hour events where I had the opportunity to meet other delegates and get to know what they did in their own country. It seems many of us face the same issues and have the same concerns.  Red tape ties us down and often prevents innovation from occurring. Government programs, funding sources and information can be difficult to navigate. Cross-border (even inter-provincial borders) make it difficult to expand businesses and costs of transportation/travel affect us all. Our youth are not job ready and need more support. And, our youth are our future entrepreneurs and should be supported as they work to create their own scalable businesses.

The 1st official evening (Day 2 for head delegates and those who attended the gala) culminated with the International Finals of Get in the Ring – a boxing style pitch off for entrepreneurial contenders. The Future Agro Challenge also took part in this packed event. It was an interesting way to present a pitch. Personally I thought the contenders could have been a little more forceful with a stronger presence.  The products and services ranged from a Braille smartwatch to a STEM cell process that could revolutionize the health industry. All in all, a very exciting night!

Day 2 of the Global Entrepreneurship Congress and right off the bat I’m liking what I’m hearing from Bill Aulet of  MIT who is talking about the need for more entrepreneurs who possess not only the entrepreneurial spirit but also the skills to go with it (the slideshare is below). Bill also mentioned the need to kill the silos and break down the separation of types of entrepreneurs. In Ontario, it seems many of our educational institutions and other organizations maintain the need to segregate social entrepreneurs and regular entrepreneurs by running two programs in separate academic departments. It just doesn’t make sense! While traditionally social entrepreneurs were not-for-profit, that designation has fallen away as more and more businesses develop a hybrid model (my own included) where products and services are designed to create a sustainable business model with some or all profits being reinvested in to the business or related programs.  Further, many businesses are now choosing to incorporate social good into their business model including Tom’s Shoes and Thinx. Tom’s Shoes donates a pair of shoes to someone in need for every pair purchased while Thinkx provides sanitary supplies to under developed countries with the purchase of their menstrual underwear. Crepes and Waffles, a business started in Colombia, has their own social mission. The majority of employees, with the exception of security and a few male workers for late night when it is unsafe for the women to work, are single mothers or sole breadwinners. This business is not donating goods or services but is creating value and empowering women. I was particularly delighted when my Uber driver shared this story. Now back to the point: eliminate the silos.

Whether your business mission is to make profit, act solely as a non-profit or follow the triple bottom line of people, planet and profit, you need basic business skills. A social enterprise or non-profit will run a more sustainable business model by applying basic business skills.  Money is spent more wisely. Programs and services are run more smoothly. Execution of marketing and fundraising campaigns are built with knowledge of how to best approach your target market.  Therefore, social entrepreneurs need the same skills as “regular” business entrepreneurs. It just makes sense that these students would receive the same education and skills as their business school counterparts and vice versa. For all business stream entrepreneurs, let’s introduce them to innovation thinking, to ways to create good within their traditional business model.

Now Bill was talking more about silos in entrepreneurship between fields (space, developers, tech, agriculture, medical) but what resonated with me was the above. We both agree (Bill and I) that collaboration and learning between all groups is key to innovation and learning. The different fields inspire each other and often fill gaps or offer perspectives that may not be visible if one was to remain in their silo.
Bill Aulet GEC2016 keynote speech March 16 2016 Medellin Colombia from University of Strathclyde

In all, the Global Entrepreneurship Congress was a wonderful event in an amazing city. I met a lot of fantastic people I must follow up with and confirmed many of my own thoughts on the future of entrepreneurship are much in line with key thinkers in the industry.  As communities, it is time for us to support entrepreneurs, in particular youth, to build strong innovative businesses on a global level. It is a time for sharing and collaboration and, as per Peter Diamandis, a time for Abundance (my current favorite book by the way)!

Next year, the congress will be held in South Africa. I’m already packing my bags.

Until then, you will find me actively promoting collaboration and entrepreneurship in my local and international community.


My First Solo Trip – Medellín: The City of Eternal Spring

As someone who has been a parent for over 2 decades, I realized I had few chances to travel and explore on my own outside North America. I also needed ME time – time to reconnect with myself, remember my own identity and take some time to ponder the future and where I wanted to be in the next year.  This March, despite some concern from friends, I set out for Medellín Colombia (pronounced Med eh dine or med eh jin) on my first solo journey to a non-English speaking City in Latin America. How did I choose Colombia as my destination? Well after weeks of looking at G Adventures tours in Costa Rica, Peru and other destinations, I came across a post from one of the G20 Young Entrepreneur Alliance summit delegates mentioned the Global Entrepreneurship Congress (#GECMedellin). If you know me, you know I love events, in particular entrepreneurial events! With the cost of my flight and AirBNB (the first picture below – which does not do the apartment justice!) being relatively the same as a 4 star resort somewhere warm, my destination was set!

For decades, Colombia was known as a dangerous place to go – kidnapping, drug cartels, conflict and so much more made Medellín a place where few travelers ventured willingly. However, in the last few decades Medellín , Colombia has transformed into an amazing city located in the valley of the Andes mountains.  In 2013, Medellín was named the Innovative City of the Year. The first few days in Colombia were spent attending the summit, meeting former acquaintances from Australia and making new friends.  Along the way I also managed to meet up with a few awesome people through mutual acquaintances.  It is a wonderful feeling to travel to a foreign destination with plans to meet new people before you even arrive.
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The new Metro system and Cable Cars have allowed Medellín and the surrounding Barrios to flourish. You would be hard-pressed to find a cleaner transit system anywhere in the world – the Medellín people are very proud of it. The innovative cable car system allows movement up the mountains into the barrios allowing people living in the poorest areas transportation into the metropolitan area as well as up and down the mountain side. And, the views from the cable cars – breathtaking!
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IMG_20160316_121129 IMG_20160316_121136 IMG_20160316_121140  IMG_20160316_121200 The barrios (pictures to the side and below) consist of numerous buildings in various states of repair. Some buildings have little or no roof. Many are put together using whatever materials are available. Garbage, sewage and other sanitation issues are visibly troubled with garbage forming the earth below building, tossed in piles on the streets and even worse, being discarded in the river below.

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It is heartbreaking to see the conditions of some homes and the filth that surrounds some of the areas. While most houses appeared well-kept for their location, sanitation is an obvious issue that likely affects economy and health.  With all the resources we have in our world, how can we help communities like these resolve issues?

Our taxi driver advised us that the government is in the process of building apartments to move some of the residents in houses built on garbage or other unsafe building (landslide fears) to safer accommodations. (more below) IMG_20160316_141303 IMG_20160316_141540 IMG_20160316_141616 IMG_20160316_141622 IMG_20160316_141712 IMG_20160316_141802 IMG_20160316_141856 IMG_20160316_141906

Medellín itself appears to have a good organics and recycling program based on buckets located in public areas and in my own accommodations. I hope that something similar can be expanded to the barrios to allow the area to be cleaned up. You can see (and smell!) the garbage floating in the contaminated river. Of course putting programs in place also depends on the citizens in the barrios being willing to make the change to handle waste and sanitation in a better manner.

From the cable car, we were also able to view beautiful graffiti drawings on the sides and roofs of many buildings.












Later in the week, I ventured outside the  village to Guatapé, a lovely and picturesque community located about 1.5 hours from Medellín. The journey took us through farming communities – no big mechanical farming equipment here – farming on the hillside is done the old-fashioned way with manual equipment, animals and very hard work on uneven hillsides.

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Near to Guatapé, we visited the mock village in honour of the village buried by water upon creation of the hydro dam. You can still see the church spire  in the distance of the picture below. The villages flooded during creation of the dam were moved to higher grounds nearby. I would think it would be quite amazing to scuba dive around the underwater buildings. Next stop was Peñol Rock (La piedra del Peñol), a rock formation born 70 million years ago and only 2/3 above ground.  A staircase of between 650 – 750 stairs has been built into the rock. After paragliding and walking Arvi Park, I made the decision to stop about 2/3rds of the way up at the observation point shown below.  The journey down consisted of a much narrower staircase inside the crack of the rock. As you can see below, the views are stupendous!

As we entered Guatapé, the colours of this pretty vacation village on the shores of the man-made lake catch your attention! Vividly painted with flowers and other adornments, this village is picture-perfect! A quick meal at La Fogato filled our bellies with local cuisine to fuel the rest of the journey. I loved the sculptures of the surfer and in a nearby village, the Phoenix. A few more stops along the way top take pictures and visit a waterfall before returning to Medellín rounded out my week of tourism.

But, as some of you know, I also jumped off a cliff to go paragliding, explored the local neighbourhood and visited many parts of the city to ensure I truly experienced adventure on my trip.

I only felt one moment of fear my entire journey and that was St. Patrick’s day when my Uber was pulled over in a ride style check. My driver had to exit the vehicle and do a blow test (possibly due to my bar wear – a sparkly green hat sponsored by non-Irish company Heineken and a huge St. Patrick’s day necklace). Being left alone in a vehicle and not knowing whether this was a normal scenario, I was a little bit afraid. Seconds later my driver returned and all was well. In all, I felt safer using Uber all week than I felt in taxis, particularly when returning from another part of the city to my airBNB late at night alone.

The people of Colombia were warm and welcoming. My lack of Spanish was only a small impediment and caused a little bit of laughter as I tried to explain what I was trying to say. I still managed to go grocery shopping alone, buy shoes (including telling size), order food and find directions. Everyone was helpful.

The sidewalks of Colombia felt very safe. I noticed no outbursts, incorrigible behavour, fighting, swearing or yelling anywhere during my visit – something that I experience regularly in my own communities. The traffic and streets were a little crazy – the first few days I thought the drivers were all loco as they swerved in and out of traffic at rapid speeds. Lanes and traffic signals seemed to be suggestions. By the end of the week, it all seemed normal.  Note to travelers – cars DO NOT STOP for pedestrians so be prepared to dodge traffic crossing the street. By the end of the week, I was a pro and crossing like a Colombian.

At the beginning of this post, I also mentioned this trip was a bit of a journey of self-discovery. I needed to refind myself. The truth is I stayed pretty busy my entire week away, perhaps too buy to really reflect on what I wanted from life. After a week of being at home, I have thought hard. I know I want to continue to travel to new areas, learn from others and explore.  I am passionate about entrepreneurship and want to further the action I’m taking in the field, perhaps even finding work with an international organization like GEN. My passion and my purpose needs to match my career as when it does not, I feel out of alignment, I feel lost. I need to help others build their businesses and help put framework in place to help others, particularly those with a passion to improve the lives of others through social entrepreneurship.

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