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Entrepreneurs Thrive in the Global Age

For more than a century, entrepreneurs in Europe and the United States have thrived, bringing innovation and change to the world. Now, looser government controls, fast Internet connections and better access to capital are helping entrepreneurs in the developing world and the former Soviet bloc bring their products and services to market.

The French word, entrepreneur, refers to someone who undertakes, who does something. Entrepreneurs often assume business risk in attempting to bring goods and services to the marketplace, whether within a small community or on a global scale.

Bill Gates is perhaps the world's most successful entrepreneur. He did not invent personal computers, but his operating system made them easy to use and brought computing to millions. He has become one of the world's richest men. The ease of use of personal computers, combined with the advent of the Internet, have made it possible for entrepreneurs to start business with very little capital, and extend their reach far beyond the traditional marketplace.

Thirteen years ago, San Francisco entrepreneur Craig Newmark created an online bulletin board for the brokerage firm where he worked.

Today, his Web site, called Craig's List, is a free alternative to the classified ads that have been a major source of earnings for newspapers -- an online marketplace where individuals can offer and exchange goods and services. Newmark says its reach is global. "Right now, we're in about 55 countries, 567 cities across the world."

Since the collapse of communism, entrepreneurs have taken off in places where they were once forbidden or restricted, like Russia.

Yana Yakovleva is the financial director of a Moscow company that manufactures silicone. 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," says Yakovleva.

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. You have to face tremendous amounts of bureaucracy from a lot of different entities, in order to get permits and to get financing," says Alvarez.

The Will to Succeed

Studies have found that entrepreneurs share common traits that motivate them to start new businesses. They are often motivated by more than financial gain and have overcome considerable adversity.

For 35 years, British entrepreneur Richard Branson has been building his Virgin brand into a global power house, a media conglomerate, passenger airline and mobile phone company. His company has also made him one of the world's richest men. Yet, as a child, Branson had dyslexia, a learning disability. He never attended university. But he was motivated to succeed.

"In school, I would look at some of these exams, and completely blank out on them," says Branson. "And, I actually left school at 15 to go out into the world and try to make an honest living."

As a teenager, Branson had two failed business ventures. But he has since started dozens of successful businesses.

In India, Sunil Mittal overcame adversity of a different sort. "I grew up in a very socialistic-rooted India," says Mittal. "We saw the evolution of the Soviet [economic] model coming into India in a very dramatic manner."

Mittal's first business was making bicycle parts. He says the end of central planning after 1992 allowed his Bharti Group to evolve into India's second largest corporation. "With 35 million dollars that I could access, we went on to build India's largest telecom company."

Today, his company, Bharti Airtel, has 30-thousand employees. It signs up 10-million new mobile phone subscribers every month.

Even on a small scale, entrepreneurs must overcome obstacles. In Iraqi Kurdistan, Suhela Kakil Raza, a mother of four, began making women's clothing a year ago. She had to find a store location that was not frequented by men, so her women clients, Sunni Muslims, would come in and buy. She now has four employees and wants to expand. She dreams of having a private factory and a school to teach girls about jobs.

In Islamabad, Pakistan, Ashar Hafeez opened his first Tandoori restaurant in 1993. "In every aspect of work, you have to work very hard. And it is hard. It's team work. You can't do it alone. You have to have a very good team with you," says Hafeez.

Small Investments, Big Rewards

In many developing countries, micro-financing has created possibilities for burgeoning entrepreneurs. The Grameen Bank in Bangladesh lends almost exclusively to women. And its small business loans are almost always paid back. Muhammad Yunus is the bank's founder and a hero in his country. Grameen was the first to lend on a grand scale to poor, aspiring entrepreneurs in the developing world, and Yunus and his bank won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006.

Melissa Carrier at the University of Maryland says Grameen's micro-financing has expanded the concept of entrepreneurship. "Certainly, Grameen Bank has given legitimacy to those kinds of micro-loans to local villagers. And, so the idea of entrepreneurship now is about doing for yourself," says Carrier. "It's about raising chickens, and having cows, and knitting scarves and being able to feed your family."

Donald Trump, the successful American property developer, says entrepreneurs must have passion, be tenacious, think big, absorb new information, take action, learn to negotiate and enjoy competition.

This story was first broadcast on the English news program, VOA News Now. For other Focus reports click here.