Entrepreneurship is grossly misunderstood by wider society, and positioned on the margins of our economy. Nobody doubts the technical expertise or courage of a “successful” entrepreneur, however it is here and now that we must understand the significant and critical role entrepreneurs play in creating jobs for Australians.
As long as this misunderstanding remains we will never truly appreciate their contributions to the economy. Entrepreneurial small and medium enterprises (SMEs) are the main drivers of GDP growth and employment. SMEs account for 95 per cent of all businesses around the world, while Ernst & Young research produced for the G20 Young Entrepreneurs’ Alliance (YEA) shows that SMEs employ 69 per cent of Australians. Indeed, at the G20 YEA Summit held this past weekend in Sydney, the 400 delegates who attended from 34 different countries had created a total of 100,000 jobs.
Entrepreneurs do not just play a critical role in the global economy; they are integral to guaranteeing its future.
As Bruce Billson, the Federal Minister for Small Business told the B20 last week, “If we are serious about growing the economy we need to involve the small business sector more.”
In this regard, the government has made a number of positive recent moves. Minister Billson has strongly supported open trade policies, understanding that “Removing barriers to trade, including through bilateral and regional free trade agreements, supports economic growth.” The proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership is a real, practical consequence of the government’s commitment to free trade. The government could go further, supporting open borders not only for goods and services, but also for entrepreneurs and their employees. As the G20 YEA has just this week recommended to G20 leaders, creating multilateral start-up visas would greatly improve labour mobility, allowing entrepreneurs to conduct business internationally and hire overseas skilled labour.
The government’s stance on R&D commercialisation is another great sign of progress. In the last budget, $484 million was pledged towards the Entrepreneurs’ Infrastructure Programme. Describing the programme, Minister Billson said its intention was “Supporting research, innovation and collaboration, and then bringing insights, new knowledge and commercial support to market.”
This is a fantastic initiative. Australia’s investment in science and technology research must not be left on the shelves of universities and research centres. Rather, we should work to connect these R&D results to entrepreneurs who can market them as goods and services, generating employment opportunities and growth in the process.
Broader infrastructure investment is likewise recognised by both governments and entrepreneurs as being crucial to creating permanent increases in GDP. The state has pledged $125 billion for new public and private sector infrastructure programs. In and of itself, this is good news, but we must now ensure that government procurement processes are made both open to and fair for small businesses and entrepreneurs. Australia cannot afford to ignore the people who employ the bulk of its working population.
What has been left out of Minister Billson’s recent remarks but must not be left off this government’s agenda is the fostering of an entrepreneurial culture in this country. Entrepreneurship begins with a mind-set that prizes leadership, initiative and responsibility. It is a mind-set of empowerment. Creel Price’s “Club Kidpreneur” program cultivates entrepreneurial thinking by providing primary school kids with a unique and essential experiential educational program. Club Kidpreneur is an inspiring template for how the government could invest in entrepreneurship curriculum throughout all layers of the education system.
But successful entrepreneurs cannot, and will not, rely on government. It is our responsibility to innovate. It is our responsibility to disrupt the incumbents: the large, incumbent businesses that are shedding jobs faster than they are creating them. As education becomes more accessible, and as the cost of starting a business decreases in a digital age, there is no better time for entrepreneurs to thrive.
The environment in which entrepreneurs succeed is an ecosystem of capital investors, supportive education and regulation, and young people with ideas and the ambition to pursue them. We need successful entrepreneurs to pass on their expertise and experiences, to engage in public debates around law and culture, and to invest in fledgling start-ups. And we need government to increase labour mobility, commercialisation programs and infrastructure investments. It is together that we can construct this ecosystem that will better nurture the high-growth, job-creating enterprises that sit at the core of our economy.