To the main content

Latest news of the HEG-FR

Aileen Ionescu-Somers: ‘GEM is the only study worldwide that interviews entrepreneurs directly’

13 Feb 2023

The School of Management Fribourg (HEG-FR) has been leading the Swiss National Team of Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM) since 2009. Aileen Ionescu-Somers, Executive Director of GEM, explains why this study is unique and valuable, just a few weeks before the launch of the 2022/23 GEM Global Report, which will take place this year, and for the first time, in Switzerland.

Fribourg will host the launch of 2022/23 GEM Global Report on 16th February, 2023. Could you present GEM in a few words?

GEM is an entrepreneurship research organization which has existed for 24 years. It was launched by Babson College and London Business School with the objective of understanding two main areas of research and entrepreneurship. The first is the perceptions, motivations, attitudes and activities of the entrepreneurs themselves. It’s important to bear in mind that GEM is the first study worldwide that actually interviews entrepreneurs directly.

And the second area?

The GEM National Expert Survey looks at the overall national context within which entrepreneurs operate. We look at about twelve dimensions of entrepreneurship that are essential to the well-being and success of any entrepreneur trying to get a start-up off the ground, or indeed any entrepreneur that is trying to establish a business in a country, full stop. And from that second survey we create a ranking of countries in terms of the conduciveness of their context for successful entrepreneurship.

The underlying objectives of GEM are to support entrepreneurs and promote entrepreneurship.

Aileen Ionescu-Somers

Is interviewing entrepreneurs directly the key?

Indeed, that is GEM’s principle differentiation factor. It’s also probably the sophistication of the research because we look at so many different levels. We can really slice and dice the data in every which way and are able to inform policy making, leading to partnerships with the OECD and Global Innovation Index amongst others.

Why are you conducting this research?

The overall purpose is to influence policymaking because the underlying objectives are to support entrepreneurs and promote entrepreneurship. Also, GEM is a rich source of longitudinal hard data that is invaluable to academics studying and teaching entrepreneurship. So that is why the School of Management Fribourg is part of our initiative.

What type of companies does the GEM Report cover?

We are basically interested in all categories. We cover not only ‘growth entrepreneurship’, which would be high tech, fintech, and other quite sophisticated entrepreneurship, but we also integrate what we term ‘necessity entrepreneurship’ which is generally embarked upon by people who have to create a business because there’s simply no other option available.

What’s the impact of GEM?

It’s very difficult to measure the impact because there are so many factors that ultimately influence policymaking. But we have produced policy impact reports which give good examples of how policymaking has been impacted directly by GEM. The proof of the pudding is that we have some 70 teams that are part of GEM and consistent participation in the GEM annual research cycle and Global Report of between 50 and 60 countries.

Aileen Ionescu-Somers, GEM Executive Director

PhD Aileen Ionescu-Somers has lived in Switzerland for 35 years. Before joining GEM, she led research on sustainability at IMD Business School in Lausanne. Since 2019, she has worked as GEM Executive Director. Her role is primarily to develop a strategy for GEM and to implement it. She oversees the coordination, strategy, funding, partnerships, vision for the future, and the purpose of GEM.

One of my objectives was to increase the level and leveraging of data in the area of sustainability and women’s entrepreneurship.

Aileen Ionescu-Somers

This is the first time that the GEM will be held in Switzerland, the country you live in.

Yes, I have lived in Switzerland for 35 years and I’ve always worked in the area of innovation. I’m an expert in sustainability and business, which is an orientation of the School of Management Fribourg. Since I joined GEM, we’ve started collaborating more in the area of women’s entrepreneurship and sustainable development. So, one of my objectives in coming to GEM was definitely to increase the level and leveraging of data in the area of sustainability and women’s entrepreneurship. Moreover, GEM has not actually been hosted in Europe for a long time and Switzerland is an important hub for innovation.

And the School of Management Fribourg has the honour of hosting this meeting…

This is an opportunity for Fribourg to really shine. And by that, I mean to also showcase some of the great work that Fribourg is doing in the area of entrepreneurship. So, we will have representatives from the Swiss Confederation, from Innosuisse, from Seco, from all of the entities that are most relevant to the entrepreneurship ecosystem in Switzerland, who will be making keynotes, with some contributing to panel discussions at the event.

So, it’s an opportunity to have contact with the policymakers.

We would like to benchmark the results of the 2022/23 GEM Global Report against the results of the GEM Switzerland National Report, trigger conversations on the panel discussions with policymakers, and generate a vibrant discussion around the topic. What I think is very interesting when we are being hosted by one of our participant universities is this idea of profiling what they’re doing within their context. We can all benefit from that. It’s a good model for other countries to follow as well. I’m very excited about everybody coming to Fribourg.

Every country, Switzerland as well, has challenges.

Aileen Ionescu-Somers

What can the GEM expect from this meeting?

We will get really good insights on how promoting and deterring factors related to progress in entrepreneurship and highlighted by GEM research can be benchmarked across countries and continents; for example, between Switzerland and other quite different national contexts. This will be very compelling for our participants and is always interesting for the GEM Consortium, no matter how long they have participate in the research. Mostly people look towards Switzerland as being a model for innovation and expect a kind of Swiss perfection in a country where systems work. However, we can show that every country, even Switzerland, has a specific set of challenges that can be addressed by policymakers.

What are the biggest challenges for Switzerland?

For Switzerland, one of the major challenges is to diversify the support for entrepreneurship. Obviously, Switzerland is a known base for very sophisticated start-ups. However, especially now that we are emerging from the COVID-19 pandemic, there needs to be more diversity in the opportunities for young people to become entrepreneurs, and it needs to be more attractive for them to become entrepreneurs in a variety of sectors, not only in high tech, fintech or the highly sophisticated areas.

What I wish for the GEM more than anything else is more GEM National Teams and especially from developing and emerging economies.

Aileen Ionescu-Somers

What do you wish for GEM in the future?

What I wish for the GEM more than anything else is more GEM National Teams, especially from developing and emerging economies. Furthermore, I would really like to strengthen our global presence and increase the number of partnerships where we actually get access to resources. This would allow us not only to secure GEM’s future, but also to have some additional strategic activities and projects to outreach our data to as many entities as possible. Working with partners to leverage the data and add value to other organizations with similar objectives to GEM is a huge objective.