Highlights from the 2016 Global Entrepreneurship Summit

A sign on Stanford University’s campus during the 2016 Global Entrepreneurship Summit in Palo Alto, California. [GES Photo]
A sign on Stanford University’s campus during the 2016 Global Entrepreneurship Summit in Palo Alto, California. [GES Photo]
Last week, the United States hosted the seventh Global Entrepreneurship Summit (GES) at Stanford University in Silicon Valley. Over the course of three days, I had the privilege to witness firsthand how 700 entrepreneurs and 300 investors from 170 countries forged connections and found inspiration during GES 2016. I take great pride in the work of the office that I lead at the U.S. Department of State, the Office of Commercial and Business Affairs within the Bureau of Economic and Business Affairs, in helping ensure the success of GES 2016 as part of a team effort across the U.S. Government and with external partners. In the wake of GES 2016, it is worth reflecting on how GES began in the first place and what made GES 2016 so special.

Seven years ago, only 19 weeks into his presidency, in a landmark speech in Cairo, President Obama said that the world needed to “create a new corps of business volunteers to partner with counterparts … to identify how we can deepen ties between business leaders, foundations and social entrepreneurs in the United States and … around the world.”

To implement this vision, President Obama committed to holding Global Entrepreneurship Summits each year across the globe. Since 2010, an estimated 17,000 entrepreneurs, investors, foundations and entrepreneurship ecosystem stakeholders have participated in Global Entrepreneurship Summits in Washington, Istanbul, Dubai, Kuala Lumpur, Marrakesh, and Nairobi. For the final GES of the Obama Administration, it was thus appropriate to return to the United States and, specifically, to host GES in Silicon Valley — the world’s leading center for innovation.

“represent the upside of an interconnected world and all the optimism and the hope and the opportunity that that interconnected world represents.” The President’s most compelling statement, however, was his spending more than an hour on stage with a panel of three young entrepreneurs — asking about their aspirations and challenges. Many of the entrepreneurs and foreign officials remarked how they were struck by the informality of the interaction – something they had never seen their own heads of state do — and the personable manner in which the President elevated not just the entrepreneurs but also the very idea of entrepreneurship.

In his remarks, Secretary Kerry stressed the “close connection between what entrepreneurs and investors do” and what he and the President do “in terms of our foreign initiatives and efforts.” He challenged the entrepreneurs at GES 2016 to harness and apply their energy and creativity to tackle three key policy challenges facing the world: extremism, climate change, and corruption.

The CEOs of Google, LinkedIn, Facebook, Airbnb, and Uber, among many others, shared a firsthand account of their journeys as entrepreneurs. Google CEO Sundar Pichai reminisced about tinkering with his parents’ rotary phone as a twelve year old in Chennai, India. AOL Founder Steve Case shared his “5Ps” for succeeding as an entrepreneur: purpose, place, partnership, policy, and perseverance.

Yet the real stars of the event were the 700 entrepreneurs themselves — half of whom were women — doing incredible work all over the world. One of my personal highlights was meeting with a group of young women from Africa and South Asia who had received training through “WECREATE Centers” that my office helps support around the world. Many of them have gone on to do incredible things such as founding “SheKab” — Pakistan’s first shared taxi service for women.

Another highlight was joining a group of entrepreneurs in a policy hack competition sponsored by Dell to develop technology solutions to help refugees access language training and employment.

But GES was more than just about inspiration and ideas. It was also about connecting ideas with capital to make them a reality. That is why 300 investors, foundations, and venture capital firms were invited to GES 2016.

Over the course of the three days, many of them announced millions of dollars in commitments to support entrepreneurs throughout the world. Many of these announcements were made at our Global Launch Lounge, which I had the opportunity to host.

In one of the largest announcements, the California Public Employees’ Retirement System announced that it would open an $11 billion fund to invest in entrepreneurs with strong potential for success that might be otherwise overlooked. In separate announcements, the Endeavor organization, Capria Ventures, and the Draper Richards Kaplan Foundations committed a total of $265 million to support entrepreneurship throughout the world. Following a pitch competition that same day, Obvious Ventures awarded a $50,000 prize to Stephanie Spiers for her Solstice Initiative, which aims to provide Americans with access to cheap solar energy.

As any entrepreneur will tell you, the hallmark of a successful venture is when it becomes self-sustaining. Fortunately, GES has become just that and will carry on into the next Administration. During his visit to Washington last month, Prime Minister Modi and President Obama announced that India will host the 2017 Global Entrepreneurship Summit. To facilitate the Government of India’s planning, we invited an official delegation to attend and observe GES 2016. My colleagues and I had the opportunity to meet with them on the sidelines of GES to discuss how we can best partner to ensure GES 2017’s success. During the closing ceremony, as part of a formal passing of the baton, our Assistant Secretary for State for Economic and Business Affairs, Charles Rivkin, introduced the delegation who, in turn, extended a warm invitation to all the entrepreneurs gathered to participate in GES 2017 in India.

To institutionalize his administration’s commitment to entrepreneurship, President Obama also issued an Executive Order on Global Entrepreneurship to coincide with GES 2016 that directs the U.S. government to continue its support for GES, led by the Department of State. The Executive Order further directs the Department of Commerce to be the lead administrator of the Presidential Ambassadors for Global Entrepreneurship Program that enables business leaders to advance policies that encourage entrepreneurship in the United States and around the globe.

In summary, GES 2016, in my view, represented the best of U.S. diplomacy: leading by example, bringing people together from around the world, and helping accelerate positive change. Over the past seven years, we have worked with partners around the world to painstakingly build the preeminent platform for entrepreneurs to connect with each other and with capital. I can’t wait to see what ideas take flight and what India has in store for us in 2017.

About the Author: Ziad Haider serves as the Special Representative for Commercial and Business Affairs at the U.S. Department of State.

Editor’s Note: This blog also appears in the Global Entrepreneurship Summit publication on Medium.com.

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