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Start-up Nations: Innovative Entrepreneurship for Sustainable Development

Achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) will require the support of entrepreneurs, with start-ups having a key role to play. “Start-up Nations” and entrepreneurs came together this week at UNECE with the support of the Government of Israel to share their experiences in harnessing innovative entrepreneurship for sustainable development.

Ecologically sustainable and socially inclusive growth will require cultural change and new patterns of producing and consuming goods and services. It implies a transition towards a more intensive use of clean technologies, renewable energy, and the “sharing economy”. The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development recognizes the enormous opportunities which innovation and entrepreneurship can offer for achieving its goals.

While large, established companies account for significant spending and employment in research and development, truly path-breaking, disruptive innovation often comes from newly created start-up companies. Start-ups are unencumbered by legacy systems and have the flexibility and risk appetite needed to move into uncharted territory. The experience of setting up modern national innovation systems by successful “Start-up Nations” in the UNECE region reveals alternative routes in this direction.

Reflecting on Israel’s success as a “Start-up Nation”, Ms. Aviva Raz Shechter, Permanent Representative of Israel to the United Nations Office in Geneva, highlighted the importance of a country’s eco-system. “Over several decades, Israel has grown an eco-system that has proved very fruitful for entrepreneurship, including by women. Although replicating all aspects of the Israeli start-up eco-system in other countries may be challenging, we are willing to share our knowledge that led us to success”, she said.

The conference showcased many examples of start-up companies from different countries that are creating innovative solutions to specific sustainable development challenges. It also showcased national and international grassroots initiatives which nurture start-up eco-systems through start-up competitions, networking, match-making, mentoring and financing. And it showcased a large multinational company which is partnering with innovative start-ups to make its operations and products cleaner and more sustainable while at the same time driving profitability.

As policy makers and experts from leading “Start-up Nations” Estonia, Finland, Israel, Sweden, United Kingdom, and the United States made clear, start-up eco-systems need policy support. They need a stable regulatory environment, robust competition policy and a legal system that does not penalize risk taking. They also need a strong education system and support for research excellence at universities. And they need government financial support at the very early stages of company development, as well as co-financing schemes and tax benefits to assist in the emergence of private business angel and venture capital financing. To steer the innovative efforts of start-ups towards areas critical for sustainable development may require additional policy support through standard setting, awareness raising campaigns, or targeted tax breaks and subsidies for companies or customers.

At the same time, like the innovation process itself, designing effective policies to support innovative start-ups is a trial and error process in which each country has to find the solutions best adapted to its economic circumstances. In this spirit, Mr. Andrey Vasilyev, Deputy Executive Secretary of the UNECE, emphasized that the findings and conclusions of the conference will help inform UNECE’s work on policy advice and capacity building at the national level through its program of Innovation for Sustainable Development Reviews.

The International Conference “Start-up Nations: Innovative Entrepreneurship for Sustainable Development” was held in Geneva on 2 November 2016. It was hosted by the UNECE in cooperation with the Government of Israel.