‘We Believe in the Power of Entrepreneurship’ – Why the President is Bringing the World’s Entrepreneurs to Silicon Valley

A map of the all of the location of the Global Entrepreneurship Summits, including the 7th Summit slated for June 22-24 Silicon Valley, California. (Graphic by blogs.state.gov)
A map of the all of the location of the Global Entrepreneurship Summits, including the 7th Summit slated for June 22-24 Silicon Valley, California. (Graphic by blogs.state.gov)

“We believe in the power of entrepreneurship — the basic notion that if you’ve got an idea and if you really work hard and you’re able to pick yourself up if you stumble a couple of times, you can eventually turn that idea into a reality. And this matters to us because encouraging the spirit of entrepreneurship can help us to tackle some of the greatest challenges that we face around the world.” — President Obama, May 11, 2015

Entrepreneurs form the bedrock of not only the American economy, but the global economy at large. Their collaborative work shapes almost every facet of our lives and culture  —  from tech and other commercial entrepreneurs making new products and services; to local community leaders working with teams innovating solutions for community challenges such as transportation, education, equity, and economic inclusion; to scientists and engineers working on “lab to market” efforts; to students increasingly engaging in entrepreneurship competitions as part of 21st century learning. Every business, large or small, starts as a kernel of an idea  —  but these kernels can ultimately change the ways in which we work, travel, transact, communicate, learn, and share.

President Obama speaks at the first-ever White House Demo Day, August 4, 2015. (Photo by White House)
President Obama speaks at the first-ever White House Demo Day, August 4, 2015. (Photo by White House)

Our country’s deep relationship with entrepreneurship, technology, and innovation is what led President Obama to travel this week to Austin, Texas for South by Southwest  —  an annual gathering of makers, coders, artists, and other innovators  —  to ask Americans “from all walks of life, working inside or outside of government, to help us make this democracy even stronger” by innovating through participation, civic engagement, creative collaborations, and innovative entrepreneurship. This includes innovation that impacts how we interact with our government and with each other, as well as innovation that helps us respond to complex global issues, like global health or environmental quality. It also includes innovation that supports economic inclusion of our young learners  —  like CS for All, or making more widely available preschool, apprenticeships, and community college — as well as innovation helping those looking to enter and succeed in the workforce including TechHire, Makers, Advanced Manufacturing, Equal Pay, and Family Leave.

Many of us are familiar with and inspired by the stories of famous entrepreneurs like Clara Barton, Mark Zuckerberg, George Washington Carver, Dolores Huerta, and Steve Jobs. Their stories in so many ways demonstrate the best of America  —  a country that promises its citizens the opportunity to dream big and to make change in the world that is real and impactful. There are many other such stories which are just as inspiring and impactful but not as well known. Nevertheless, these entrepreneurs and their teams are having real impact on communities across the globe.

Imagine a gathering full of innovators from across the United States and around the world who are engaged in transforming society in positive ways  —  some focused on their local communities, and some on a global scale  —  impacting the commercial, social, and civic sectors. Some who are just getting started, and others who found their creative confidence long ago and are “serial entrepreneurs,” having built several companies or social enterprises already. Imagine these voices collectively coming together to share their ideas and experiences with each other.

This simple idea inspired President Obama to launch the Global Entrepreneurship Summit (GES), first announced in his speech at Cairo University in 2009. Recognizing that challenges in the Middle East and around the world could only be resolved if people have the opportunity to change their lives for the better, the President set out to connect the energy he saw in entrepreneurs throughout the United States with those throughout the world. Every year since that initial summit, GES has brought entrepreneurs from across the globe together through summits in Turkey, the United Arab Emirates, Malaysia, Morocco, and Kenya. Each summit has allowed entrepreneurs to inspire and collaborate with one another on the most pressing challenges of our generation.

In the last year of his Presidency, President Obama is bringing GES 2016 to the heart of American innovation  —  Silicon Valley. From June 22–24, hundreds of the world’s up and coming entrepreneurs and committed investors will come together at Stanford University in California. We want you to get involved.

The U.S. Department of State has already collected international applications for entrepreneurs and is reviewing them thoroughly, but it’s not too late for U.S.-based entrepreneurs to apply! One hundred entrepreneurs attending GES 2016 will be from across the United States  —  ideally from every state and territory in the Nation. The State Department is looking for founders and their teams representing the Nation’s full range of entrepreneurial talent  —  inclusive of different industries, hometowns, and walks of life. If you are an entrepreneur based in the U.S. and  feel you could contribute to and gain from experiencing GES 2016, or know someone who could, please visit the State Department’s application here. The deadline to submit an application is Friday, March 25, at 5PM EDT. In addition to entrepreneurs, investors are also welcome to apply to attend GES. The application is available here for both domestic and international investors and has a deadline of March 18, 2016.

GES 2016 is also about reaffirming the President’s call to action for inclusive entrepreneurship. Although America’s entrepreneurial economy is the envy of the world, we need to do more to ensure we are tapping our full entrepreneurial potential  —  drawing on talented Americans from all backgrounds and locations.

More venture capital money flows through Silicon Valley, the site of GES 2016, than through any other area in the world, yet just three percent of America’s venture capital-backed startups are led by women. What’s more, only around one percent of these startups are led by African-Americans, and only about four percent of U.S.-based venture capital investors are women. And capital for innovative startups is predominantly available in just a few places, making high-growth business creation far more challenging outside of a handful of metro hubs.

To advance inclusive entrepreneurship, the President hosted the first ever White House Demo Day in August 2015, welcoming startup founders from diverse walks of life and from across the country to showcase their innovations at the White House. And we’ll do even more to support women entrepreneurs when the White House hosts the United State of Women summit on May 23.

This June, the eyes of the entrepreneurship world will be on Silicon Valley. We, as a Nation, must challenge every CEO, every company, and every investor to think about what they can do to ensure that they are tapping into all of our Nation’s talent so that their workforces and investment portfolios look like America. We must ensure that no child is denied the opportunity to learn critical subjects like computer science (#CSforAll). We must work together to ensure that the playing field for all entrepreneurs  — no matter who they are, where they’re from, or what they look like — is a level one. We must have all of our talent on the field if we’re going to realize our full entrepreneurial potential and tackle our biggest challenges. To submit a commitment or activity that will promote entrepreneurship and inclusion  —  at your organization, across the United States, or abroad — please visit this form.

You can join on this journey. Follow GES 2016 on Twitter, Instagram, and Medium and join the global conversation online at GES2016.org. In this online space, you’re going to meet some inspiring American business leaders. You’re going to read and hear the stories of GES participants, the inspirational minds from around the world who are driving innovation in their respective communities and countries. And you’re going to see how this #RoadtoGES winds from corner to corner throughout the world, marked by events and efforts happening across the United States and around the globe. We invite you to read, share, and get inspired. We’ll see you June 22–24 in Silicon Valley!

About the Authors: Valerie Jarrett serves as Senior Advisor to the President for Public Engagement and Intergovernmental Affairs, Courtney Beale serves as Senior Director for Global Engagement and Special Assistant to the President, and Megan Smith serves as the United States Chief Technology Officer in the White House’s Office of Science and Technology Policy.

Editors Note: This blog originally appeared on the Official Global Entrepreneurship Summit blog on Medium.com.

For more information: Visit GES2016.org and follow @GES2016 on Twitter for information and updates about the Global Entrepreneurship Summit.