The best places in the world to start a business

I hold it as a guiding principle that there is quite literally a world of opportunity out there… and this goes especially for business. Years ago, there were limited consumer markets available where entrepreneurs could sell their products and services. Today, the playing field has truly leveled.

Emerging Asian economies have a burgeoning middle class that numbers in excess of 1 billion people with discretionary spending power.  The Persian Gulf region is home to millions of tremendously wealthy individuals with a strong propensity to consume. Former communist states like Russia have developed significant wealth and consumptive behavior.

Moreover, groups of countries have formed large trading blocks to facilitate commerce in the region, opening up enormous markets to entrepreneurs.  The European Union and South America’s Mercosur are two such examples.

The Internet and global logistics solutions have brought all of these consumers together with entrepreneurs. Mainstream media in the west has routinely run stories about doom and gloom in the global economy, but as I put boots on the ground around the world, I can see with my own eyes that the economy is not dead.

I recently spent about 3-months in Asia, and I am penning this essay having just left Monaco, traveling across Southern France on my way to Spain.  There are clearly certain elements of economic slowdown around the world, but I can say with certainty that both businesses and consumers are still out in force.

Fundamentally, business is about offering a valuable product or service that solves a problem or meets the needs of customers. In the west, the economic slowdown has affected discretionary spending to a degree– consumers are spending less. More importantly, though, what they are spending their money on has changed.

Consumers will always have problems that need to be solved and these problems change over time. Years ago, western consumers were concerned with which expensive car to buy. Today, the problem has shifted to preservation of wealth. In the East, consumers used to be concerned with putting food on the table. Now they need to know which car to buy.

A good entrepreneur can adapt quickly to changing market conditions in order to meet the needs of customers. As long there are consumers, there will always been needs to fulfill, problems to solve.

As I travel, I see many places that are extraordinarily compelling for talented entrepreneurs because of a combination of business opportunities, tax advantage corporate structures, and low cost of doing business. I outline some below:

Singapore– As one of Asia’s financial capitals, Singapore has developed a reputation for stability and opportunity. As an English-speaking jurisdiction with a strong financial infrastructure, it seems as if Singapore was literally created for entrepreneurs.

By submitting a valid business plan to the government through an online, streamlined process, foreign entrepreneurs can acquire residency (and eventually citizenship) as well as a host of government incentives and funding guarantees.  It also makes a great base to take advantage of the growing Asian consumer market.

Panama– With a large English-speaking population and close proximity to the United States and South America, Panama is a great place to structure a business. Its corporate entities and zero-tax environment are very favorable for entrepreneurs, and with a spate of capital-intensive projects in the region, the country is ripe with opportunity.

Many foreign companies, for example, are profiting from the Panama Canal expansion project, as well as several highway infrastructure projects. Labor costs are incredibly low, and like Singapore, there are residency-through-investment programs that are great for entrepreneurs.

Cyprus– As a small English-speaking island nation in the European Union, Cyprus-based businesses have access to the nearly half-billion European consumers across the continent. Starting a company there is quite simple, and with a transparent 10% flat tax on income, it is easily one of Europe’s best business jurisdictions.

UAE– Dubai has received a lot of bad press lately, but frankly, it’s still a good place to do business. In the years to come, Abu Dhabi will be even better.  The two emirates are English speaking, have absolutely no tax whatsoever, and an incredible store of consumer wealth.

It is possible for foreigners to start a business in one of the many free zones with very little paperwork or hassle, and there is a vast pool of talented employees in the region. Fortunately for entrepreneurs, there are few cumbersome labor laws to deal with in the emirates, so hiring and firing employees is incredibly simple, based solely on contracts.

Malaysia– How do you spell cheap? Labor costs nothing in Malaysia, and as home to one of the region’s emerging offshore centers, entrepreneurs will find a low-cost, low-tax domicile with access to over one billion consumers in the region.

There are certainly other places that I would strongly consider as a great place to do business; these are only a few, and I rate them on the viability of their corporate structures, cost of doing business, and local opportunities available. I firmly believe, though, that opportunity is everywhere, even in places where the economy is failing.

In business, an entrepreneur just needs to be able to spot the opportunity, and the more one travels, the more opportunities become apparent. I do my best to discuss the opportunities that I see on the ground in this letter, and I welcome your feedback and ideas based on what you are seeing.