Build Things, Connect People, Take Risks!

Ent 3All around the world this week people are celebrating Entrepreneurship Week.  They are participating in activities that support and inspire the next generation of innovators, inventors, and business owners.  Young entrepreneurs are pitching ideas at ‘startup’ events; seasoned entrepreneurs are giving lectures and mentoring the next generation; and educators, students, and businesses are focusing on the importance of fostering entrepreneurship for economic development. These entrepreneurs build things, they connect people, and they take risks. Most importantly for BiH, entrepreneurs in all areas are creating jobs and helping grow the economy.  Right now, they are starting small businesses that fuel modern capitalist economies – not state-controlled enterprises.  Luckily, this country has some successful entrepreneurs who are ready to foster more.  Here’s why and how we plan to support them.

Ent 2Entrepreneurship is more than just the traditional definition of having an idea and starting a business. It is about an ‘entrepreneurial spirit’ of innovation, of problem-solving, and of exploring possibilities. It is about thinking creatively about the challenges we face and solving problems in ways we haven’t considered.   Respected American entrepreneur Peter Corbett was in BiH for the first time last month.  One of the things he told students and business leaders he met was instead of trying to come up with that one big idea, they need to start by identifying a problem, then focus on how to go about addressing it.  Having a solution and the courage to take a risk trying to achieve something is what makes a 21st-century entrepreneur.

It’s young Bosnians like Anela and Ilda that capture this spirit.  They are 11th grade students at the International High School of Tuzla, and global finalists at the Google Science Fair.  They are presenting their idea for the production of hydrogen storage material and biodiesel fuel from chicken feathers.  Chicken feathers!  It’s Emir Memisevic, a beekeeper and entrepreneur who is working to track the health and production of bee hives, and competed at the 6th Global Entrepreneurship Summit in Nairobi, Kenya attended by President Obama.

It’s technology and startup incubators that capture this spirit like INTERA in Mostar, ICBL in Banja Luka, and Hub 387 in Sarajevo that are fostering a sense of community for entrepreneurs and inspiring future innovators.  It’s “Networks” that is creating an entire eco-system for entrepreneurs by housing a training center, innovation lab, and startup companies.  Finally, it’s our Embassy Youth Council, which consists of some of the most diverse and talented youth from around BiH – who I am confident will lead the generation that advances the education and employment needs of BiH youth.

I would like to see this ‘entrepreneurial spirit’ fostered in all spheres- political, educational, cultural, and economic – in BiH.  But, what does that mean practically? It means if you’re a high school student frustrated by some issue at your school, you start a club or a newsletter with fellow students and raise awareness and propose solutions.  

It means if you’re a university student who wants to improve a class or get additional resources, you organize awareness of the issues, fundraise, or lobby faculty or the dean for change. It means if you’re a business that is frustrated with a tax issue or law, you form a coalition of businesses and lobby leaders.  And, it means if you’re a young parliamentarian struggling to have your voice heard on an initiative you want passed, you form a caucus or raise your issue through the media to build support.

The possibilities are endless, but the key is always the same.  Entrepreneurs take initiative and don’t wait for the next person, or the next leader, or the next generation to solve an issue.  It’s easy to be passive and complain on the sidelines, especially when faced with what seems to be an insurmountable problem, but that attitude only ensures that issues will remain unsolved.

As an Embassy we are committed to fostering this spirit of entrepreneurship. And to make sure we are doing our part, I will share with you a few things we are doing this year to assist:

First, we hosted a hack-a-thon on November 6-8 where young people from across Bosnia and Herzegovina developed some great mobile applications with a community impact.  Here’s what they came up with:mobile applications that make  your ride on public transportation more predictable, improve the way critical blood donations are collected, help alert you to rising water levels on river banks, and use gaming to get young people excited about engineering.

Second, BiH now has a “Startup Cup” which is a U.S. State Department-funded initiative to help launch new entrepreneurs; winners will be announced in a few weeks. 

Finally, here in BiH, we will officially launch our ‘Entrepreneur of the Month,’ a new initiative that will start in 2016 to recognize entrepreneurs throughout Bosnia and Herzegovina.

I have traveled all around BiH and met incredibly talented people who inspire me – all of us need to support their creativity and innovation.  You can’t afford to continue to let them get frustrated and leave the country, putting BiH talent at the service of other countries instead of your own.  As we celebrate in BiH Entrepreneurship Week, let’s foster this spirit of entrepreneurship. Let’s commit to being active instead of passive, to solving a problem rather than just identifying one, and to supporting possibilities rather than dismissing ideas.  Here’s to all the entrepreneurs in BiH whom I’ve met and whom I’ve yet to meet – the dreamers, designers, inventors, and innovators – and to all the aspiring ones out there who are thinking about how to address this country’s challenges, and who just need now to take that first step.

Written by Ambassador Maureen Cormack


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