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Entrepreneurs Bring Change to World

18 July 2008
Wood report - Download (MP3) audio clip
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Entrepreneur Overview report / Broadband - Download (WM) video clip
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Traditionally, entrepreneurs bring innovation and change to the world in their quest to find new ways to turn a profit.  Today, modern technology, looser government controls and better access to capital make it even easier for entrepreneurs to succeed.   VOA's economics correspondent Barry Wood looks at entrepreneurship worldwide, profiling business risk-takers in Africa, the Middle East, the Americas, Asia and Russia. (Part 1 of 5)

The original French word entrepreneur refers to someone who undertakes, who does something. Entrepreneurs assume business risk or bring a new product, service or idea to market.

Their innovations sometimes change the world. Henry Ford did not invent the automobile, but his assembly line revolutionized manufacturing and made cars affordable for the average worker.

Bill Gates (file photo)
Bill Gates (file photo)
Bill Gates is perhaps the world's best known entrepreneur. He did not invent personal computers, but his operating system made them easy to use and brought the new technology to millions.

Journalism professor Wendell Cochran of American University says the Internet, with its capacity to instantaneously convey information around the world, is an extraordinary platform for entrepreneurs.
"Google became a verb almost 24 hours after it became a thing," said Cochran.  "So, [the Internet] is incredibly entrepreneurial."
Thirteen years ago, San Francisco entrepreneur Craig Newmark created an online bulletin board for the brokerage firm where he worked. Today his Craig's List is a free alternative to the classified ads that have been a major source of earnings for newspapers.

Craig Newmark
Craig Newmark, of Craig's List
"Right now we're in about 55 countries, 567 cities across the world," explained Newmark. Some analysts say Craig's List is having the same effect on newspapers that Ford's car had on the horse and wagon.

Since the collapse of communism, entrepreneurs have taken off in places where they were once forbidden, including Russia.
Yana Yakovleva is the financial director of a Moscow company that manufactures silicone.   

Despite new freedoms, she says, government bureaucracy still makes it hard to be an entrepreneur. "A bureaucrat scores a point for each court case he initiates or for every company he closes, and this improves his job performance evaluation," she noted.

In Venezuela, currency exchange controls and a leadership hostile to free markets make it difficult to do business. Caracas food distributor Santiago Alvarez complains that government bureaucrats are unhelpful.

"Getting all the permits to start a business is a real challenge," explained Alvarez. "You have to face tremendous amounts of bureaucracy from a lot of different entities, in order to get permits and to get financing."

But, as always, entrepreneurs are highly motivated and frequently prevail against the odds.  They raise funds by borrowing from relatives, tapping into village cooperatives or, getting loans from a bank.   And they learn how to cope with onerous bureaucracy to bring their ideas to the marketplace. 

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