For the second year, the GEC featured a Ministerial session, organized in collaboration with the U.S. Small Business Administration. Officials from 13 countries from Europe, Central America, South America and the Asia-Pacific region, spent a full day exchanging knowledge on emerging government practices with a focus on supporting startups through the growth cycle. This year’s dialogue was focused on four key pillars: creating jobs, building international collaboration, facilitating trade and promoting gender equity.
SBA Administrator Maria Contreras-Sweet led the Ministerial (see her opening remarks here) which was opened by Cecilia Correa Alvarez, Minister of Industry, Trade and Tourism of Colombia, who began the meeting saying that peace will generate opportunities for young people, entrepreneurs and SMEs -- and how the government of President Juan Manuel Santos had been strengthened with the creation of Innpulsa and increased activities undertaken by SENA.
The current challenges of SMEs in each of the participating countries was the subject of the first working session. In her speech, the representative of OECD mentioned some of the challenges and difficulties of SMEs globally, including the slowdown and reduction in the creation of new companies, the largest output gap between large and small companies, and concluding that better policies must be implemented to help SMEs -- as they are clusters of innovation for the future. Another intervention of note was the representative of Poland, who brought up an interesting discussion that is taking place in her country as the government stopped supporting large enterprises towards promoting SMEs and designed new programs that large companies cooperate with small. Overall, the financial gap between SMEs and large companies over-reliance on banks and loans and difficulties in accessing funding were identified as major challenges.
Meanwhile the representative of Colombia said that in the country the greatest barrier to accessing finance is informality, which is in his words is a "poverty trap" because if entrepreneurs cannot access credit, they cannot grow in this regard, the importance of second-tier banks mentioned as the first-tier banks are not interested in freely lending to entrepreneurs.
The theme of the second session was innovation policies; issues such as the digital society, electronic residences, financial inclusion, incentives, and the need for access to SMEs today were discussed in terms of their loans, and the search for other forms of financing through the creation of value chains.
The third session focused on women entrepreneurs, and how many venture capitalists are now watching female entrepreneurs and their ventures. The session also included a discussion on female entrepreneurs in the United States as models for others, and how to support women in starting and scaling their businesses and ideas.
The fourth session addressed the issue of internationalization of SMEs: how to benefit from regional integration agreements, alliances, and how to create value chains at a regional and global level. Among the ministers there was consensus on the value of the enterprise as a positive force to lift people out of poverty.
Finally, it was concluded that SMEs and SME policies are a critical aspect for development. They should create public policies, tools and methodologies to foster a good entrepreneurial ecosystem to identify gaps to make better decisions. The commitment to include a chapter of SMEs in trade agreements and interest to continue and increase exports among countries was made clear.