Guest blogger Caity Campos is a specialist in our youth and workforce development unit. Here she reviews the recent Innovate Network Create (INC) Monterrey conference, a gathering of global entrepreneurs from a variety of disciplines.

Finally, a conference that wasn’t boring, cliché, or overly esoteric. The Innovate Network Create (INC) Monterrey, held in November was exciting, innovative, and inspiring. Lest you think I am being hyperbolic, let me share some conference highlights:

Entrepreneurship: A mindset, not a business model

The Entrepreneur Learning Initiative (ELI) defines an entrepreneur as a person who asks: “What problem do I want to solve in the world?” For ELI, an entrepreneur is someone who doesn’t follow, but designs his or her own combination of processes, relationships, and situations to optimize their individual talent to introduce a new idea.

Harvard Business School defines entrepreneurialism not as the act of owning a business but as a forward-thinking mentality, as a key workforce asset in the modern world. What often distinguishes successful entrepreneurs and employees is the ability to be process driven and to obsess over the problem they want to solve, rather than the solution.

What Does it Take: Emotional Intelligence 101

According to ELI, 87 percent of employees are not engaged in their day-to-day work; 24 percent are actively disengaged. However, Gary Schoeniger, founder and CEO of ELI, believes that people learn this behavior. So how do individuals, businesses, school systems, and countries unlearn this?

For entrepreneurs, the pathway involves more risk-taking and does not allow for disengagement. According to We Believers, entrepreneurship is about understanding your constraints and realizing that low budget marketing and prize competitions will only accelerate your startup to a certain extent. Instead, making a bold statement and introducing a new concept can sometimes speak for itself. For example, the founders of Saltwater Brewery, rather than creating just another craft beer, decided to make their six-pack rings edible for fish, garnering tons of publicity for the firm. It’s a case where innovation, problem solving, and a small budget is the ideal recipe.

For the founder of Next Gen Summit, Justin Lafazan, it is more important to commit to being an entrepreneur and then ask what problem you want to solve. Justin argues that leveraging one’s weakness can be a major asset. This idea is particularly relevant for underrepresented groups in fostering peer-to-peer learning and contributing to the development of a more inclusive entrepreneurial ecosystem.

One female entrepreneur started a sorority for other female entrepreneurs to not only connect them but to break the stereotype that “women’s worst enemies are other women” and create a space for collaboration. Rocio Ramirez of The Founding Moms Latin America led a session on decision-making for female entrepreneurs. She designed an interactive panel in which women had to explain how they empower themselves and clear their minds, because according to Rocio, you cannot be successful if you make decisions out of fear or anger.

This unique set of panelists brought energy, emotion, and excitement into the conference and gave the audience practical skills, tools, and knowledge to create their own entrepreneur trajectory.

IMG_1755.JPGPitch competition sponsored by the Global Accelerator Network.

Behind-the-Scenes Acceleration

If the entrepreneurial mindset is the skeleton, then mentoring is the backbone. SendGrid representative Tony Blank recognizes that anyone can be a mentor, and that any interaction can be a mentoring opportunity. Tony’s perspective exemplifies how this drive for problem solving reframes the workday of an entrepreneur and incentivizes the constant need for explicit learning.

An example of an accelerator based on intensive mentorship and hands-on feedback is Orion Startups in Chihuahua, Mexico. The majority of successful entrepreneurs have multiple mentors, such as a legal mentor, a financial advisor, and someone who can take into account your overall growth strategy. Orion has the depth of these types of connections and high-quality processes to refer entrepreneurs in the right direction.

The Global Accelerator Network, led by John Schnipkoweit, and some of its members, including myself as the DAI representative, led the “Accelerate over Coffee” session that provided real-time feedback to entrepreneurs. Here is a peek into our line of questioning and our assessment of the key takeaways for entrepreneurs:

What we asked: Who is the team? Why today? What feedback have you received from others? Tell me about your customers. How will you scale? Are you cheap or are you different?

According to TechStars representative Gus Alvarez, the two things investors want to know are: Why should we work together? How will your idea spur innovation?

Tips we provided:

  • Your pitch should be 13 slides maximum. Your first statement should be a one-line vision statement.

  • Tell us how you have a better understanding of “the problem” than your competitor. Define your market, market size, and identify your customers.

  • Explain your timeline with interim milestones and projected growth rates. Paint us a picture of the current state.

Why Should Development Practitioners Care?

As the development community, it is our role to embody these principles of entrepreneurialism and break down the barriers that thwart basic human potential. As practitioners, it’s not only our job to host shark tank-style competitions, but to work with the “losers” of these fierce contests to further develop their entrepreneurial spirit. With limited viable employment opportunities, a large percentage of the next generation of professionals will not have to earn their next job, but they will have to create it. Our job is to facilitate that mind shift.