By Max Kantelia, Co-Founder of Zilliqa
Entrepreneurship is a process, characterized by cycles of the reevaluation and renewal of ideas. Invigorated by the promise of innovation, entrepreneurs take it upon themselves to embrace the potential of the largely nascent and uncertain. Today, the modern entrepreneur straddles the peripheries of old and new, engaging with emerging technologies that have the potential to transform existing legacy systems and infrastructures on a global scale.
Indeed, the rise of fintech in recent years has brought innovations such as mobile payments, digital banking, blockchain, and cryptocurrencies to the forefront, ushering in a new age in the digital revolution. In 2018, global fintech investments skyrocketed to $112 billion dollars, a steep rise from the $51 billion dollars the year before.
With technologies that emphasize greater connectivity and the transcendence of physical borders, their appeal has largely reimagined the nature of entrepreneurship as we know it today. Whether it’s a mindset or a process to be mastered, the changing face of tech entrepreneurship is poised to carry critical ramifications for the wider global economy.
A shifting landscape
In its 2018 World Economic Outlook report, the International Monetary Fund asserted that globalization was responsible for the acceleration of cross-border innovation. The growing emphasis on international collaboration, as well as trade and the use of patents, has significantly impacted production and innovation, especially in emerging economies. Although progress does not take place at a uniform pace from continent to continent, the trend of embracing innovation has shaped the nature of entrepreneurship and fostered a mindset that is open to the unknown.
Despite a greater emphasis on internationalization, cultural differences continue to pepper the startup scene, with marked differences in several areas. In HSBC’s Essence of Enterprise, it was found that for those in the United States or Western Europe, entrepreneurship is a mindset, with over half of respondents seeing themselves as entrepreneurs before even launching their own ventures, while only 21% of Asia-based entrepreneurs felt similarly.
This is perhaps why some of the oldest entrepreneurship programs at higher education institutions are found in the West, with the University of Michigan offering its first entrepreneurship course in 1927 and the University of Southern California home to the United States’s oldest integrated entrepreneurship program. Whereas in the East, relationships play a more important role, emphasizing the generational transfer of ownership in family businesses. 85% of the most prominent businesses in Asia are family-owned, such as South Korea’s leading chaebol, Samsung Electronics, LG, and Hyundai.
Practical, not theoretical
Amid the rise of technologies that promote greater interconnectedness, incoming generations appear to be breaking the mold. Collaboration is key for these newcomers, specifically in the tech sector, who thrive within communities of like-minded self-starters and innovators. For them, building up networks are a priority, as they now have alternative funding mechanisms at their disposal, such as startup accelerator programs that provide a blend of mentorship and financial support.
Now, with more startups moving away from seed and series funding, the trend of entrepreneurs coming together to both collaborate and support fledgling projects is more necessary than ever.
Beyond shaping ways of working, collaboration has equally impacted the workplace environment. All over the globe, from Paris to Brooklyn to Buenos Aires, tech co-working spaces and startup campuses have propped up, home to startups and small businesses from a multitude of sectors, fostering an open culture that encourages networking, skills sharing, employment opportunities, and relationship-building.
First emerging in 2005, there are now over 14,000 co-working spaces worldwide, all of which are specifically designed to address the needs of numerous businesses in early stages of growth.
Much like the benefits reaped in the early years of technology transfer from West to East, a similar migration is taking place yet again, with young western entrepreneurs looking at tech havens such as Shenzhen and Singapore to jumpstart their careers. Silicon Valley accelerators have come to nurture a burgeoning community of foreign startups in China, with prominent names such as TechStars, Startup Grind, and InnoSpring, bridging the gap between San Francisco and cities such as Shanghai.
For younger generations, the appeal is in the experience––the practical, rather than the theoretical. While starting a business or joining an accelerator in a foreign country comes with the challenges of new cultural norms and perhaps even communication barriers, the education and insights derived are unparalleled to those gained in a lecture hall.
Collaboration in code
The glorified image of the “college drop-out tech entrepreneur” has risen in popularity in the past few years. First popularized by the success of Bill Gates and most recently by Mark Zuckerberg, the image of the “extremely young yet technically trained” and Ivy league educated self-starter has permeated the public consciousness as the paragon of a successful tech entrepreneur today.
Yet despite these notable success stories, the college drop-out billionaire is far from a common, with 94% of influential U.S. leaders having attended and graduated from university, 80% of whom were listed in Forbes’ Powerful People list. What that in mind, education certainly still has a place in fostering the necessary foundation of skills, mentorship, and collaborative skills that nourish future leaders.
In industries such as blockchain, this is especially the case, with 42% of the world’s top-ranking universities offering a blockchain course. Universities are now home to some of the industry’s most promising coders, business leaders, and innovators, training them to not only develop sophisticated protocols and smart contract languages but how to navigate an increasingly complex regulatory landscape and crowded market.
Coupled with the unknowns of a new digital asset class that has largely redefined concepts of wealth, power, and ownership to the masses, complexity is arguably added to the equation. Youth, in itself, is not a threat, having long been emblematic of tech disruption.
But in blockchain, more so than in other sectors, rising stars have clashed with the old guard, whether it be established institutions, conservative critics, or regulators. Born out of differing ideologies, blockchain represents a new world order: trust is to be put in code and not in human institutions.
With an underlying ideology at the helm, that thing to believe in, the future of tech entrepreneurship is not only about profit and big ideas, in the hopes of becoming the next Zuckerberg or Kalanick. Instead, we’ll seemingly bear witness to a new breed of innovators, characterized by deep technical aptitude and a guiding philosophy. Unlike their forebears, becoming part of a ruling class of conglomerates is not the end goal––instead, for these innovators, power is shared, embedded in code, open and accessible to all.
About the Author
Max Kantelia is Co-Founder at Zilliqa, a high-throughput blockchain platform built for secure, scalable applications across a variety of industries, ranging from financial services, digital advertising, and gaming. A serial entrepreneur with over 25 years’ experience of building technology product and services companies in Europe, the US, and Asia for the financial services industry, Max was selected by EY as one of Asia’s Top 100 FinTech contributors in 2016. Max is also CEO and Co-Founder at Anquan Capital, the company that launched Zilliqa and is a group of deep technology companies with operations in Singapore and London.