President Obama To Entrepreneurs: We Need Your Help

By Jessica Floum
San Francisco Chronicle

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) The seventh annual Global Entrepreneurship Summit took place this week at Stanford University where President Obama along with aspiring business leaders from around the world discussed how entrepreneurship can solve some of the world’s major issues. From low-income housing to climate change, leaders are calling on young entrepreneurs to innovate.

San Francisco Chronicle

A day after Britain voted to leave the European Union, President Obama told 700 entrepreneurs from around the globe that their leadership is needed to bridge the world’s growing cultural rifts.

“Yesterday’s vote speaks to the ongoing changes and challenges that are raised by globalization,” Obama said.

The president spoke at Stanford University, which hosted the seventh annual Global Entrepreneurship Summit, where aspiring business leaders attended from as far away as Rwanda, Uruguay, Egypt and Pakistan.

“Cultures are colliding,” the president said. “Sometimes it’s disruptive and people get worried. You’re the bridge. You’re the glue. Particularly the young people that are here.”

The summit, held this week in the heart of Silicon Valley, was nonetheless dominated by a sense of chaos in the world’s political centers, from No. 10 Downing Street in London to Capitol Hill in Washington.

On Thursday, when Uber CEO and co-founder Travis Kalanick asked White House senior adviser Valerie Jarrett how the Bay Area’s tech scene compared to Washington, she shared frustration.

Silicon Valley, Jarrett said, is “heaven. You actually get things done.”

Also Thursday, Secretary of State John Kerry called on technologists in the audience to help solve violent extremism, climate change and political corruption.

“There is an urgency to encourage as much entrepreneurial activity as possible,” Kerry said. “My years of experience have taught me an important lesson for these types of gatherings. The best thing the government can do is convene the forum, make sure the coffee is hot and get out of the way.”

Obama’s call resonated with Ugandan entrepreneur Andrew Amara, who builds low-income housing equipped with solar panels, rain-catching devices and structures that can withstand extreme climate conditions.

Amara said his venture might see an impact from Britain’s EU exit. Uganda’s interactions with the EU have been largely through Britain, which once controlled the country as a colonial protectorate. Uganda could lose an advocate within the EU, but Britain could gain more flexibility in how it spends aid money in the East African country, Amara said.

Christina Khater, the founder of a wedding-planning company in Beirut, is a dual citizen of Greece and Lebanon. As an EU citizen, she was able to attend graduate school in England.

“It’s very sad,” she said. “The laws are going to change, and it will be more difficult to create businesses there.”

On Friday, when he sat down on stage in a panel moderated by Obama, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg repeated calls for a more connected world. He said that boosting Internet connections would help founders around the world gain access to information and opportunities.

A young Egyptian entrepreneur thanked Zuckerberg for the role Facebook played in his country’s Arab Spring revolution.

The mix of political and tech titans with entrepreneurs from developing countries displayed the cultural divide between Silicon Valley and Washington.

During a break Friday, business leaders exchanged website addresses, photos and contact information by high-fiving small plastic hands that dangled around their necks, a technological innovation to replace the old swapping of business cards.

Meanwhile, Secret Service agents pushed through the networking crowds to ensure that nobody got too close to Jarrett, Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzer or U.S. Chief Technology Officer Megan Smith.

The audience of young entrepreneurs also revealed a generational divide. While a crowd gathered around Uber’s Kalanick after his talk, Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak was greeted by a ponytailed entrepreneur who spoke with an accent as he asked his name.

“I’m Steve Wozniak,” Wozniak said, with apparent surprise.

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