According to the competitiveness index produced by the World Economic Forum (WEF), “innovation-driven economies” is the third and highest stage of development. Many Latin American countries are now poised to make the transition to this stage. Most of the remaining countries are only a step or two behind.
But how does an economy become innovative-driven? One way is by promoting innovation-driven entrepreneurship. That’s the focus of a panel I will be participating in this week at WEF on Latin America in Panama City. Entitled “Innovating for Competitiveness,” the session will explore what steps the region can take to promote not just entrepreneurship but the innovative new businesses that propel an economy into that sought-after “stage three.”
To be sure, there are some relatively straightforward steps a country can undertake to make it easier to do business and encourage entrepreneurship: streamline regulation, reform labor laws, improve communications, and technology infrastructure. But to drive innovation—that’s a more complex mix of talent, profit, and public policy; talent to conceive and develop new and innovative products and services; profit to invest in talent and to get new ideas from design to implementation; and public policy to find ways to stimulate all of the above.
The panel will take on this multifaceted topic, representing a range of views. From the public policy world there will be Diego Molano Vega, the Minister of Information Technologies and Communications of Colombia. Nicolás Shea Carey will bring a view from the ground as the founder of Start-Up Chile, a program that encourages innovative entrepreneurs to locate in Chile. From research and strategy firm Frost & Sullivan, David Frigstad will offer insights on emerging markets and technology. Moderator Alfredo Capote from Citibank in Mexico, will bring the perspective of the expanding multinational.
Whatever the viewpoint, however, the unifying principle here seems to be clear: innovation is critical for the region’s economies to move forward. As the WEF competitiveness index states, “less-advanced countries can still improve their productivity by adopting existing technologies or making incremental improvements…” For most countries in Latin America, this isn’t enough anymore. To keep growth trajectories strong, technology and other disruptive factors must spur more than just greater efficiencies in these economies; they must spur innovative approaches. And when that innovation is paired with entrepreneurship, it can be a truly powerful engine of growth.
Gary Coleman is Managing Director, Global Industries, of Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu Limited. He will be heading the Deloitte delegation to the World Economic Forum in Latin America, where he will participate in the panel, “Innovating for Competitiveness” on 2 April. Follow him on Twitter @gcoleman_gary.