Inspirational advice for building a wildly successful business from the #GEC2017 speakers

10 quotes from great entrepreneurial minds on the launch of the big event


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Some of the key speakers at GEC2017.

Today one of the biggest entrepreneurship conferences kicks off for the very first time on the African continent. 

The Global Entrepreneurship Congress (GEC), which runs until the 16 March, boasts a list of impressive speakers such as Deputy President, Cyril Ramaphosa, GEN president, Jonathan Ortmans, Gauteng Premier, David Makhura as well as Discovery Group founder, Adrian Gore and a host of entrepreneurs, investors, thought leaders as well as policymakers from across the globe.

The annual gathering aims to help drive global economic growth, through fostering connections, sharing insights and identifying new ways of helping entrepreneurs from all across the globe grow and scale their businesses.

This year the theme of the congress is 'Digital Disruption' and hopes to provide a way to explore disruptive technologies in various industries in the African continent, and globally.

Many of the speakers represent what most entrepreneurs dream to achieve. 

With this in mind, what better way to get into the spirit of #GEC2017 than to glean a few pearls of wisdom from some of the notable speakers that you can use in your business.

Here are 10 quotes from 10 high-profile speakers to inspire and help you find your way around challenges such as dead-end strategies and market validation.

ON KNOWING YOUR MARKET

Understanding the fundamentals is critical - "You [need] to understand the cultural nuances of a market. The competitive landscape also needs to be carefully considered as what was a gap in one market may not be a gap in another market. Make sure you deliver something that is 10x better than what is currently available. Pay attention to execution and operations – rather underpromise and overdeliver. Make sure your product has utility and is relevant to a consumer." - Dominique Collett, Senior Investment Executive at Rand Merchant Investment Holdings (RMI), a financial services investment group.

Beginning with what the market wants - "Funding is borrowed money that will put you in debt even before you even open shop. Securing a market of clients for your business first, will essentially validate whether your product or service is needed by the market because you will see if the market will pay for your offering or not at your set price." Matsi Modise, Managing Director of SiMODiSA, an industry association who's mission is to accelerate entrepreneurship.

ON BUILDING PARTNERSHIPS

Leveraging on the power of a board - "When you start a business there are things that, not only have you never experienced, but you've never even considered. Many entrepreneurs think they don’t need a board — that it's a waste of time — but having a bunch of smart, experienced people giving you input is a gift from heaven. If I had not had a Laurie Dippenaar when I started, Discovery would be a very different company today," - Adrian Gore, founder and group CEO of Discovery, a financial services group that offers a range of products including medical aid, life insurance, credit cards and investments.

Networking in the digital world - "Once entrepreneurs have a business idea, networks are the most important tools they have for starting and growing their companies. That's always been the case. However, the way today's entrepreneurs network has evolved with the advent of technologies that put resources such as business plan competitions and startup communities at everyone's finger tips – literally. This is what we call the "democratisation of entrepreneurship". These online innovations are helping to define the next generation of networking." - Lesa Mitchell, Managing Director for Kansas City, Techstars, a mentorship-driven startup accelerator.

ON EMBRACING CHANGE

Being flexible is key to finding new opportunities - "In entrepreneurship as in fashion, sometimes the best ideas appear as alternatives, rather than the initial strategy. For example, when you have planned an outfit of black and white stripes, but you can’t find your black blazer so you pull out a yellow one, and it looks amazing. In the business world, sometimes the best solutions are in response to a need, and tapping into what consumers need can be more productive than what you originally planned to push in the market. This also offers a vital lesson in learning to roll with the punches. Entrepreneurs need to be flexible and adaptable to make the most of exciting possibilities when they arise – no matter how unexpected." - Perry Kamel, Senior Business Development Manager at Microsoft, one the world's leading multinational technology company.

ON DOING WHAT IT TAKES TO SUCCEED

Big success requires big commitment - "For one, growth-oriented entrepreneurs must have the aspiration to grow. You cannot expect that entrepreneurs will take the risk of expanding a company if they have no aspiration to do so. Expanding a company requires significant sacrifice, time and resources that many entrepreneurs cannot — or are not prepared to — invest. Indeed, "personal circumstances" is one of the most cited reasons for discontinuing a start-up project." - Ellen Olafsen, Global Product Specialist on Growth Entrepreneurship in the Trade and Competitiveness Global Practice, World Bank, the international financial institution that provides loans to developing countries for capital programs.

Challenges fuel opportunities - "As a guy whose focus is always on the fundamentals, I’ve never been big on transient circumstances which is how I see some of the challenges [currency fluctuations, terrorists, fuel scarcity]. In my book, Cracking the Success Code, I talk about how to set the unique challenges of the African environment into commercial context. Microsoft, IBM, Oracle and HP have been doing so in Nigeria and Africa for over a decade and are now being joined by Google, Facebook, Paypal and soon Amazon and others. When you add that context to the dynamically youthful population of the continent and our indomitable entrepreneurial spirit, you just know we’re going to come out okay in the long run." - Tomi Davies, President of the African Business Angels Network (ABAN), a pan African non-profit association founded to support the development of early stage investor networks across the continent.

Going the extra mile - "With persistence, passion and a clear vision you can achieve anything. Business isn't about knowing it all or having a stack of qualifications because you can learn by doing. I knew very little about wristwatches but I was eager to do whatever it takes to build a product, a brand and a business that I could feel proud to present to the world." - Amy de Castro founder of Bamboo Revolution, makers of wristwatches using natural materials including bamboo and leather.


See also: How SA entrepreneur, Amy de Castro's bamboo wristwatch startup went global


ON GROWING ENTREPRENEURSHIP

Breaking down cultural barriers to entrepreneurship - "The world needs more entrepreneurs. Despite all the fanfare around entrepreneurship and startups, cultural barriers remain. By celebrating the impact of entrepreneurs, we can reach new audiences and inspire the next generation of job creators. Moreover, as with any socialization process, interactions help define a community culture. As Brad Feld and Steve Blank note, some key cultural attributes of Silicon Valley are “pay it forward” and "embrace weirdness" (i.e. diversity), as well as the "failure equals experience" cultural meme." - Jonathan Ortmans, President of the Global Entrepreneurship Network, a year-round platform of programs and initiatives created by the communities that celebrate Global Entrepreneurship Week each November, aimed at creating one global entrepreneurial ecosystem.

Small businesses do matter - "If you are (running) a small business and ever thought that what you are doing in your garage does not matter, I am here to tell you that it does matter to this economy. I dream about a South Africa that lies ahead but that we must work for today." - Cyril Ramaphosa, Deputy President of South Africa.

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