Global heroes (a special report on entrepreneurship)

A special report on entrepreneurship
Global heroes
Despite the downturn, entrepreneurs are enjoying a renaissance the world over, says Adrian Wooldridge (interviewed here)

Mar 12th 2009

IN DECEMBER last year, three weeks after the terrorist attacks in Mumbai and in the midst of the worst global recession since the 1930s, 1,700 bright-eyed Indians gathered in a hotel in Bangalore for a conference on entrepreneurship. They mobbed business heroes such as Azim Premji, who transformed Wipro from a vegetable-oil company into a software giant, and Nandan Nilekani, one of the founders of Infosys, another software giant. They also engaged in a frenzy of networking. The conference was so popular that the organisers had to erect a huge tent to take the overflow. The aspiring entrepreneurs did not just want to strike it rich; they wanted to play their part in forging a new India. Speaker after speaker praised entrepreneurship as a powerful force for doing good as well as doing well.

Back in 1942 Joseph Schumpeter gave warning that the bureaucratisation of capitalism was killing the spirit of entrepreneurship. Instead of risking the turmoil of “creative destruction”, Keynesian economists, working hand in glove with big business and big government, claimed to be able to provide orderly prosperity. But perspectives have changed in the intervening decades, and Schumpeter’s entrepreneurs are once again roaming the globe.

Since the Reagan-Thatcher revolution of the 1980s, governments of almost every ideological stripe have embraced entrepreneurship. The European Union, the United Nations and the World Bank have also become evangelists. Indeed, the trend is now so well established that it has become the object of satire. Listen to me, says the leading character in one of the best novels of 2008, Aravind Adiga’s “The White Tiger”, and “you will know everything there is to know about how entrepreneurship

is born, nurtured, and developed in this, the glorious 21st century of man.”

This special report will argue that the entrepreneurial idea has gone mainstream, supported by political leaders on the left as well as on the right, championed by powerful pressure groups, reinforced by a growing infrastructure of universities and venture capitalists and embodied by wildly popular business heroes such as Oprah Winfrey, Richard Branson and India’s software kings. The report will also contend that entrepreneurialism needs to be rethought: in almost all instances it involves not creative destruction but creative creation.

The world’s greatest producer of entrepreneurs continues to be America. The lights may have gone out on Wall Street, but Silicon Valley continues to burn bright. High-flyers from around the world still flock to America’s universities and clamour to work for Google and Microsoft. And many of them then return home and spread the gospel.

The company that arranged the oversubscribed conference in Bangalore, The Indus Entrepreneurs (TiE), is an example of America’s pervasive influence abroad. TiE was founded in Silicon Valley in 1992 by a group of Indian transplants who wanted to promote entrepreneurship through mentoring, networking and education. Today the network has 12,000 members and operates in 53 cities in 12 countries, but it continues to be anchored in the Valley. Two of the leading lights at the meeting, Gururaj Deshpande and Suren Dutia, live, respectively, in Massachusetts and California.

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Global heroes (a special report on entrepreneurship)