Opinion

Will Zuckerberg's internet expansion showcase the world's hidden entrepreneurs?

6 min read

15 April 2015

Mark Zuckerberg, co-founder of Facebook, has announced further plans for his Internet.org scheme in a Q&A hosted on his social-networking site last night. His initiative to connect two-thirds of the world without internet access will be rolled out into Europe.

The scheme’s ability to draw out some of the world’s, as yet, unrecognised entrepreneurs, has been highlighted as one of Internet.org’s biggest benefits. Zuckerberg said it was important to consider “how many brilliant entrepreneurs there are, who have great ideas and the will to change the world. They just lack basic tools to do so. If you go by the population, almost two-thirds of these entrepreneurs don’t have internet access today.”

The very premise of being able to link up with others across the globe has been of critical importance both to those who would have internet access, and those who are already connected.

“Once they get connected, we may have three times as many good ideas and amazing new services built that will benefit everyone around the world,” Zuckerberg claimed.

Although the Facebook mogul has been accused of being too simplistic in his comments, it’s reasonable to suggest that his focus on internet expansion could signal untapped potential across many spheres and sectors.

Though of exciting importance from Zuckerberg’s perspective, the opportunities opened up for entrepreneurs seem to be just one small cog in the wheel of his wide-ranging plan. He even mentioned that carrying out the Q&A on Facebook itself would be “valuable so more people can participate,” a fundamental aspect of the ethos Zuckerberg has been espousing.

Zuckerberg, whose personal wealth as of last month stands at $35.1bn, has made it a renewed crusade of his to expand the internet across the world. A partnership between Facebook and seven mobile phone companies including Samsung and Microsoft, resulted in Internet.org, a project to bring affordable internet access to everyone. The plan to achieve this incorporates increasing affordability, increasing efficiency and facilitating the development of new business models focusing on the provision of internet access. His announcement of Internet.org back in 2013, drew criticism – with questions over whether companies like Facebook and Google were taking unfair advantage of carriers’ mobile networks.

Zuckerberg, who has remained determined in this aim, reaffirmed at Mobile World Congress last month that “growing the internet is expensive work. The only way to accelerate that is to help operators grow their business.”

There are still queries as to the long-term success of the initiative. Zuckerberg’s response in one of last night’s questions suggested that Internet.org would only provide basic internet access.

He added: “Having some connectivity and ability to share is better than none”.

There would, of course, need to be much more support than merely providing internet access to ensure entrepreneurs are able to realise their ambitions.

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In the UK, we’ve seen schemes such as RBS’s Inspiring Enterprise initiative compile research reveal that much more can be done to help young people at every stage of their “entrepreneurial journey” – helping to instil the idea of entrepreneurialism as a viable prospect from an early age, developing this ability, as well as providing assistance in starting and scaling their own venture. There’s also work that can be done in raising awareness of alternative sectors away from the obvious, seemingly most exciting ones such as creative and technology.

Then there’s the matter of acting upon an idea and seeing it through. While Zuckerberg is correct in suggesting that the option of connecting to internet access will open up a realm of possibilities for those with impressive ideas on the horizon, after this point, there are still many obstacles to overcome.

RBS Enterprise Tracker research from Q4 2014 found that 82 per cent of people who would like to start their own business fail to make it to the planning stages, despite having a startup idea. Some 55 per cent of the UK adults surveyed said they were unaware of any business support in their area, and while 34 per cent of people would like to start their own business, only four per cent were actually in the process of doing so.

With 38m adults (76 per cent) in the UK accessing the internet every day last year, this reflects the multi-faceted approach needed to help those who want to start their own business. Internet connection may be the first step, but that in itself hasn’t provided sufficient guidance for pursuing entrepreneurialism in the UK. Thom Kenrick, head of community programmes at RBS said that there’s a continuing problem to be addressed: “This knowledge-gap is holding back a huge swathe of potential entrepreneurs from pursuing their start-up dreams.”

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