Op-ed Realizing the Power of Entrepreneurship

Today marks the start of the 8th annual Global Entrepreneurship Week.  For the next seven days, we at the U.S. Embassy – together with citizens of Morocco and 160 countries around the world – will celebrate not only the concept of entrepreneurship, but its practitioners: the innovators and job creators who bring ideas to life, drive economic growth and improve human welfare.  This celebration is justifiably global because entrepreneurship is an indispensable building block for a peaceful, prosperous, and stable world.  Entrepreneurship creates opportunity, inspires creativity, and serves as a positive agent of change both within and between societies.  As President Obama said, “We believe entrepreneurs can create jobs that fortify relationships between countries, build global markets, and help fulfill the dreams of all who desire the freedom to make of their lives what they will.”   Similarly, His Majesty the King, Mohammed VI, has emphasized job creation and economic prosperity as pillars for a strong, stable Morocco.

During my time here as U.S. Ambassador, I have determined that Morocco’s entrepreneurial potential is limitless – a powerful force that given the right conditions can be one of this country’s greatest assets.  This point was underscored a year ago when Morocco was the center of the entrepreneurial universe as it hosted the highly successful Global Entrepreneurship Summit (GES).  The GES attracted international business leaders and policy makers as well as entrepreneurs from dozens of countries.  Over 6,000 people attended to explore ideas to expand the reach and impact of entrepreneurship.  The GES highlighted how the partnership between the United States and Morocco can positively impact not only Morocco’s entrepreneurial ecosystem but also those of countries around the world.

Vice President Joseph Biden, at the GES, reminded us that “Fostering entrepreneurship is not just about crafting the right economic policy, or developing the best educated curricula.  It’s about creating an entire climate in which innovation and ideas flourish.”  Building on the success of the GES, the U.S. Mission in Morocco has intensified our engagement with the government and local entrepreneurs over the past year to help strengthen Morocco’s entrepreneurial ecosystem.  We are partnering with organizations like Endeavor, CEED, and INJAZ that are focused on developing the entrepreneurial spirit in Morocco.  We are funding NGOs and organizations such as Start Up Your Life that promote and invest in entrepreneurship in Morocco.  And, on a personal level, I have met and shared ideas with young entrepreneurs all over Morocco.  In sharing my business experiences, I have learned about their dreams and aspirations.  Though everyone has a unique story, they have much in common when discussing the opportunities they see and the challenges they face operating within the Moroccan entrepreneurship ecosystem.

On the financial front, young entrepreneurs tell me that they often find it difficult to secure funding for their businesses, especially in the early stages as they are moving from the concept phase to the product development and marketing phases.  Outside of Morocco, angel investors and venture capitalists are common sources of funding for businesses in their early stages of development, but these resources remain scarce in Morocco.  Entrepreneurs also cite limited access to bank loans as a constraint to business growth, noting that risk-adverse banks prefer to fund companies with established track records and shy away from startups.  These entrepreneurs make good points, but banks have told me that in seeking a more responsive financial system, entrepreneurs also must do their part.  Entrepreneurs must be willing to provide all the information banks or any other potential capital providers require to qualify for a loan or potential investment, including a strong business plan and accurate financial statements.

By definition and character, entrepreneurs are problem solvers.  When they discuss the challenges they face, they also identify potential solutions.  Faced with limited availability of seed funding in Morocco, entrepreneurs have sought financial support from angel investors, venture capitalists, and crowdfunding platforms abroad.  Crowdfunding, a recent financing innovation that is extremely popular in the United States, is an online mechanism that facilitates the pooling of small amounts of capital from a large number of investors to start a business venture.  Crowdfunding has the potential to help Moroccan entrepreneurs in the start-up phase, especially those looking to test a concept or develop a prototype.  This mechanism is not currently permitted by Moroccan law and as a result, Moroccan entrepreneurs have turned to other countries such as France and the United States to access crowdfunding networks.  Opening up the Moroccan financial sector to crowdfunding could help address the financial constraints facing entrepreneurs while increasing the dynamism of the entrepreneurial ecosystem.

Moroccan entrepreneurs face challenges in the social arena as well.  They operate in an environment that tends to stigmatize failure, yet the inherent risk of failure is essential to entrepreneurship.  One of the world’s greatest innovators, Thomas Edison, described his creative process this way:  “I have not failed.  I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”  It is only by embracing this mindset that entrepreneurs will flourish.  As Vice President Biden so eloquently stated at the GES in Marrakech a year ago, entrepreneurs must learn how to “fail forward.”  A vibrant entrepreneurship ecosystem must provide not only the financial resources, but also the social support its entrepreneurs need to fail until they succeed.  Colonel Harland Sanders, famous for Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC), was fired from several jobs and started several unsuccessful companies.  But he persevered to find success with KFC – one of the largest franchises in Morocco and around the world.  Persevering despite repeated rejection and failure is what being an entrepreneur is all about.  A thriving entrepreneurship environment requires that failure is not negatively perceived but rather welcomed as part of the creative process; we should encourage entrepreneurs to pursue their dreams without fearing failure.

Active mentoring is also critical to cultivating successful entrepreneurs.  In addition to giving technical advice, mentors can offer emotional support by encouraging entrepreneurs to persist in the face of adversity.  A mentor can share experiences that help entrepreneurs avoid critical mistakes.  In partnership with INJAZ Morocco, the U.S. Embassy is helping establish networks of mentors to support budding entrepreneurs.  We are also in the process of creating a mentoring network in which alumni from various U.S. Embassy programs will be trained as mentors and partnered with young aspiring entrepreneurs.  These are both great initiatives and I hope they inspire others to step up to help meet Morocco’s huge need for mentors.  I encourage Moroccans with strong business and professional backgrounds to reach out formally or informally to students, budding entrepreneurs, and struggling businesspeople to share both their successes and failures.

Morocco’s entrepreneurship ecosystem has made great strides and has a bright future. However, as in all countries, the ecosystem’s development is an evolutionary process.  To ensure talented Moroccan entrepreneurs are able to flourish, we need to continuously evaluate the ecosystem, addressing new and emerging regulatory constraints and financial challenges, while providing a nurturing environment in which entrepreneurs can prosper.  Given the momentum and abundant talent in Morocco, I am confident there is no obstacle that its entrepreneurs, government, and business leaders cannot overcome.  I look forward to seeing the creative ways in which Moroccans come together to open up opportunities for the country’s talented and ambitious entrepreneurs.  And I and my team at the U.S. Embassy and the U.S. Consulate stand ready to be your partners to make entrepreneurship in Morocco not only a core value, but a way of life.