This article is reprinted from the tech blog, Internet Revolution. Author Rob Salkowitz is a writer and consultant focused on the social implications of new technology. Most recently, he wrote a book on youth and ICT-based entrepreneurship in emerging economies, entitled Young World Rising: How Youth, Technology, and Entrepreneurship Are Changing the World From the Bottom Up. He attended this month’s Endeavor Summit and writes about his tech takeaways here.
Over the last few years, it’s become routine to note that Silicon Valley is more a state of mind than a geographic location. That is, the means, motive, and opportunity for tech innovation that converged around the Bay Area have now diffused to the edges of the globe, where ambitious young entrepreneurs are carrying the ball forward in ingenious and interesting ways.
It’s one thing to propound the theory. It’s another to come face to face with the entrepreneurial brainpower that’s rapidly scaling up world-class tech businesses in locations as diverse as Chile, South Africa, Egypt, Brazil, and Lebanon.
Last week, I attended the Endeavor Global Entrepreneurship Summit in San Francisco, the annual conclave where Endeavor, a New York-based NGO focused on economic development through business and innovation, recognizes entrepreneurs from around the world who have survived their rigorous certification processes.
Endeavor focuses on companies that have made it past the startup phase but need an extra push to become big-impact players in their national economies. Its goal is to turbo-charge businesses and industries that can create economic prosperity and better quality of life in countries throughout Latin America, South Asia, and the Middle East — in the expectation that economic development can then lead to needed social and political advances.
Endeavor recognizes entrepreneurs of all kinds, not just technology. However, the rapid spread of technology to developing countries over the past decade has lowered barriers to entry and created the same kind of “digital native” generation we’ve seen emerge here. That combination of technology and demographics has helped propel businesses like these, which stand out among the crowd here in San Francisco:
*Betazeta (Chile) is a network of 13 virtual communities serving the southern cone of South America, featuring blogs and information sites organized around sports, travel, lifestyle, and recreation. Since its founding in 2008, Betazeta has grown to become the second-largest independent network community in Latin America — the hottest region in the world, with a projected 25 percent market growth by 2012.
*Eastline Marketing (Lebanon) is the first digital marketing agency serving the region, and is on track to increase its revenues 5x from 2009, to US$266 million by 2016. As people may have noticed in the past few months, social media are pretty popular in the Middle East. More than 30 million are estimated to be on various services, including 15 million on Facebook.
*Movile/nTime (Brazil), founded by a trio of videogamers in Brazil, has developed the first desktop and wireless games in the Brazilian market. Today the company provides entertainment content, m-payments for virtual goods, marketing services, and application distribution through the Zeewe app store to more than 100 million active users worldwide.
*TA Telecom (Egypt) has been providing connectivity to Egypt’s mobile market since 2000, and has ridden a 1000 percent surge in demand since those early days to become one of the Middle East’s largest platforms for time- and location-specific content. The company is expanding its SMS-based information services to cater to consumers, industries, advertisers, and entities serving social, political, and religious communities.
*Yola (South Africa) is an online platform that allows people without programming skills to easily develop Websites through a simple drag-and-drop system. Yola currently has more than 3 million users worldwide, and last December the company signed a distribution deal with Hewlett-Packard to pre-install Yola on all HP computers — approximately 60 million per year. Yola also signed a recent deal with AOL and was selected by Google to serve as the default Web host for its new “Get Your Business Online” initiative.
Each of these companies represents more than a success for the individual entrepreneur. In many cases, these businesses have helped create indigenous Internet economies in their countries, driving demand for skills and serving as role models for a whole emerging ecosystem of talent and innovation.
Many of these countries may need more help than a few tech startups can offer. However, any dynamic that increases demand for skilled workers, literate consumers, and engaged citizens is a force for positive change.