The global marketplace has gotten a lot more crowded in the digital age.
Fifty years ago, small businesses were able to access international markets indirectly as part of the supply chains of large multinational companies, but direct engagement was often limited to those firms with the resources and stomach for dealing with hassles like currency conversions and difficult customs issues.
The great promise of the Internet is that small businesses, startups, and innovators of all kinds can tap into global markets directly. Technology is beginning to democratize access to the global marketplace, facilitating the formation of global networks and platforms that improve trust, reliability and the delivery of products and services around the world.
Kavita Shukla and Swaroop Samant, pictured below, founded Fenugreen, a small, but growing, company based in Maryland, to provide a low-cost solution known as Freshpaper that keeps produce fresh for up to four times longer. They are able to run a global startup that markets and sells internationally, thanks to a suite of services provided by the likes of BigCommerce.com, Google, Intuit, Microsoft and UPS.
More broadly, eBay has produced several remarkable studies that outline the extraordinarily high participation of its commercial sellers in foreign markets.
This is an increasingly international phenomenon. At SXSW Interactive this year, companies and incubators from Brazil to Germany to Rwanda showed up to tout their global startups. Government-backed programs like Startup Chile are working actively to lure bright entrepreneurs and create globally-minded communities in their backyards.
Digital technologies have also altered how large companies conduct business globally, encouraging them to seek out collaborations with smaller, innovative players. See the collaboration between General Electric and Quirky, programs like Connect + Develop – a crowdsourcing platform developed by Procter & Gamble to identify partnerships with global innovators, and the growth of globally-minded venture capital arms of major multinationals as examples.
Development organizations are also increasingly leveraging technology to extend their global reach. At the World Trade Organization’s public forum in October, Alex Counts, President of the Grameen Foundation, highlighted how his organization uses mobile technology to deliver accurate pricing, weather, and crop treatment information to farmers in some of the most remote places in the world. Down the hall, representatives from the Sesame Workshop described their work with the mHealth Alliance to improve education and public health in India.
Technology is critical to enabling greater participation in the global marketplace, but so are the right public policy foundations. Discussions about preserving an open global Internet and a non-discriminatory framework for international trade can get weedy pretty quickly, but both are necessary to ensure that the global marketplace becomes more inclusive, not less.
Policymakers can take positive steps to improve access further for small businesses, like a recent agreement to simplify customs procedures that will make it easier for everyone to access, understand, and comply with the trade rules each country sets.
They can also do the opposite, as Brazil’s Congress demonstrated last year when lawmakers proposed to require companies to host digital data of Brazilian citizens within the country, which would have fragmented the open global Internet and invited other countries to follow suit.
As weedy as they may be, the rules that govern the global economy increasingly matter to a wide variety of stakeholders. The goal of the Global Innovation Forum @ NFTC is to make sure that business, startup, university, and development communities are connected and exploring how to improve the ability of innovators of all sizes and locations to participate effectively in the global marketplace.
Join the Global Innovation Forum along with Tech Cocktail, LivingSocial, eBay and Intuit on May 1 from 5:00-8:00pm in Washington, DC for a conversation about global startups.