In the past decade, the EU has spent hundreds of millions in support of entrepreneurialism in Europe. The push reflects global trends. Increasingly, more and more people identify with the desire to own their own business. This coincides with decreasing industrial manufacturing and increasing atomization of work practices. What does this mean? We find ourselves in the Information Age. As technology becomes more advanced, so does our ability to pass our workload over to machines. This is a natural part of evolution. As we move towards more knowledge intensive industries, we must part ways with past. Had the industrial revolution not occurred, we would still be towing soil by hand. Yet, growth is also uncomfortable.
The next big honey pot
The development of niche companies reflects the growth of niche industries. As the global economy becomes more diversified, so does the need for services and products that fill the gaps. Somewhere intertwined between the fiber optics of the Internet, and artisan production of goods, is the next big honey pot. Small to medium size enterprises are the future. They will be the source of income and employment for a large chunk of the global population. Where does Slovakia fit in this story? For many decades, our country was not present on international markets, with limited experience with private enterprise. The emerging Slovak start-up ecosystem is being built from scratch.
Historical legacies and their imprint
In Slovakia, entrepreneurialism is still stigmatized. Historical legacies frame the entrepreneur as a parasite. Forever greedy, the speculative business owner takes, rather than gives to a vulnerable society. Over a quarter century later, the culture of the past still influences the dynamics of the present. The collective reluctance towards entrepreneurship comes with no surprise. After the coup of 1948, individual wealth was close to obliterated in our country. Family livelihoods that ran generations long were destroyed overnight. Self-sustaining small businesses were unjustly snatched and nationalized. Free thinking entrepreneurs were hunted down and persecuted. Despite past traumas, Slovakia builds on a long trade heritage.
Connecting to our deep past
Slovakia, located at the continental junction of where East meets West, and North meets South, has been at the crossroads world trade since the Iron Age. Both the Silk and Amber Roads passed through on this side of the Danube. Our enviable position right in the heartland of Europe is as lucrative today as it was in the past. A strategic hub that many countries would love to possess. Our geopolitical position is strengthened by the versatility of our culture. We have gone through 6 regime changes in less than 100 years. This predicts an innovative nation. Often, skeptical, we look at our past as distressing and negative. The time has come to see the glass as half full. To look at our transition as an achievement and a triumph.
Indicators of future success
Our ability to adapt and progress fits hand and glove with needs on an innovation industry. An entrepreneur is an innovator. An innovator is somebody who is constantly evolving and adapting to challenge and change. Slovakia has more than it’s fair share of entrepreneurs, however we need to see more of them successful on a global scale. There are familiar arguments rolled out whenever this concept is broached. One, being a lack of access to capital. Another, being a lack of international exposure. These arguments are shortsighted. With more than 300,000 Slovaks abroad. The diaspora can easily help to bridge Slovakia globally. They understand both local and global contexts. They have tacit experience in both mature and emerging economies. They can walk and talk in a away foreign investors understand. Never forgetting their roots, they remain loyal to their heartland, helping to leverage investment into our country.
Taking risk and being independent
Independent thinking and risk taking are the foundations of entrepreneurship. International migration evokes a similar profile. Leaving behind family and friends for the unknown, takes great courage. But, also risk. Once abroad, migrants are forced to rely on themselves. Coming into their strength as individuals. Entrepreneurs must learn how to become equally self-reliant. Recently, Slovakia passed a business strategy in support of the entrepreneurial sector. It ranks among the top quartile of global leading initiatives. However, heavily criticized from many corners, it proves there is still much to be done. One fact remains, true entrepreneurs cannot solely rely on governments. They cannot solely rely on corporations. They must learn to rely on themselves. Every entrepreneur from Steve Jobs, to Bill Gates, to Howard Shultz the owner of Starbucks, started their business with absolutely nothing. They believed in themselves, when no one else did.
Seeing is learning
This is not say that entrepreneurs shouldn’t continue to expect more of stake holders in the macro economy. However, they should learn how to maneuver with what is available to them right now. This is where they can show their true entrepreneurial style. Finding ways how to succeed, despite the odds. This is entrepreneurialism. International Slovaks come back with first-hand knowledge of how businesses can work. They have seen how small businesses can grow. They have seen how products and services do speak for themselves. They have seen local producers connect to global consumers with the click of a button. They understand that clean, efficient, and independent SMEs are the backbone of any advanced economy. Their ability to get the bigger picture, paired with their desire to be part of a bigger international community can assist the Slovak entrepreneurial community.
Global markets are at our doorstep
The Slovak brand and the entrepreneur brand are one and the same. However, our national success is not possible without an international presence. Slovakia must become a country that not only possesses entrepreneurs. But, one that seamlessly integrates them globally. Into global capital markets, with global business partners. Whilst maintaining its local identity, which is what makes it unique. There are resources at the global world that we have not tapped into. There is access to finance. There is access to partnerships. There is access to a growing consumer base. All of which Slovakia has not yet penetrated. We need to address the mismatch. We need to identify the disconnect. If that means finding ways to plug in the Slovak diaspora, let’s make it happen. Let’s stop blaming everybody else, and look for ways we can solve our own problems. It’s time for us to progress and enter the global spotlight. Slovak entrepreneurs lead the way.