President Obama Sparks Fire for GEW2016

Ewan Gaffney | October 11, 2016
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All eyes were on the Global Entrepreneurship Summit in Silicon Valley late this summer where U.S. President Barack Obama hosted the seventh annual summit at Stanford University – bringing together more than 1,000 entrepreneurs, investors and other startup champions from around the world. As he enters the final months of his administration, the summit exemplifies what might be President Obama’s greatest legacy – the spark he provided for global entrepreneurship.

Once again, the Global Entrepreneurship Network (GEN) coordinated the private-sector engagement in the summit with support from leading partners including the Kauffman Foundation, Google, Dell, Skoll Foundation, Microsoft, Samsung, GE, PayPal and many others.

As countries look for innovative ways to help their entrepreneurs start and scale game-changing companies, the summit featured an impressive collection of tech giants and unicorns – startups valued at more than $1 billion.

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg joined President Obama and emerging entrepreneurs from around the world on the main stage. Founders from major startups including Uber, Airbnb, Stripe, LinkedIn (which was recently acquired by Microsoft for $26.2 billion), YouTube and others, also shared their experiences with GES participants, discussing challenges and triumphs of starting a new venture.

President Obama, in his remarks on the final day of the GES, said entrepreneurs “are the glue” who can help lead toward a more peaceful and prosperous future that provides opportunity for everybody.

“In today’s world, where our economies have undergone dramatic shifts, where business don’t stop at borders, where technology and automation have transformed virtually every industry and changed how people organize and work, entrepreneurship remains the engine of growth,” said President Obama.


GEN Kicks Off GES

To kick-off President Obama’s final summit while in office, GEN organized GES+ Emerging Youth and Women Entrepreneurs on Wednesday – an intensive day-long program dedicated to celebrating, encouraging and scaling women and youth-founded businesses. The discussions focused on both the challenges and positives of being an entrepreneur and the changing, yet still difficult environment for women in the field. During a design-thinking session on women in entrepreneurship, participants explored solutions to encouraging women in leadership positions, the lack of access to capital and creating more support networks for women entrepreneurs.

Capping off the GES+ forum, 36 entrepreneurs from more than 70 different countries competed in the Spark the Firepitch competitionSiam Organic, a startup from Thailand that aims to solve poverty for farmers through innovative organic products, emerged victorious for its Jasberry rice, a new variety of rice that combines the taste of Thai Jasmine rice and the powerful nutritional and antioxidant benefits of berries. They received $30,000 for their first-place finish.  

“It means the world to me because this Global Entrepreneurship Summit is really a collection of the most innovative, passionate, entrepreneurs from all over the world,” said Spark the Fire winner Peetachai Dejkraisak. “We are scaling from 1,000 to 20,000 farmers, we have to make a lot of investment in technology on the ground – data collection, new ways of doing things to increase yield and reduce costs. In the past we’ve financed that internally, it’s great that we’re going to have $30,000 that we hope can generate millions of dollars of social benefit.”


Promoting Simple Business Registration

During the GES, Charles H. Rivkin, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Economic and Business Affairs, Frank Grozel, business facilitation program manager for the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) and Jonathan Ortmans, president of the Global Entrepreneurship Network, signed a memorandum of understanding for the development, maintenance, expansion and promotion of the Global Enterprise Registration portal (

This commitment to helping businesses by encouraging governments to develop simple online procedures, comes on the heels of President Obama’s conversation with leading founders at the GES – including Zuckerberg – about how governments can ease the path for new firm formation around the world.


Policy & Ecosystem Hacks

One optimistic message from the Valley last week was the confidence expressed by new firm founders that more of the world’s most pressing challenges can be solved by involving entrepreneurs in building solutions and strengthening ecosystems in the process. Many ideas were aired throughout the GES, including by Dell and the Kauffman Foundation who, with support from the U.S. State Department, conducted an interactive policy hackathon that tasked teams of entrepreneurs, investors and policy experts to design solutions to pressing global policy challenges. The winning team proposed the development of an app that would help address current and future refugee crises by providing translation software and bridging the gap between employers and high-skilled refugees. The team argued that refugees should be “seen for their potential, not as a liability,” and that governments “should be investing money in refugees from the beginning, encouraging them to act” in the workforce. 

Another session that engaged entrepreneurs in crafting solutions was the Ecosystem Hackathon – brainstorming ways for communities to grow and strengthen their entrepreneurship ecosystem. Guided through a hands-on, interactive process by the Kauffman Foundation along with 8Works Consulting, participants came up with solutions in four categories – connectivity, culture, top-down enabling bottom-up and measurement – which will be reported on at a later date by Kauffman.


Continuing the Momentum – from Johannesburg to India

The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and 500 Startups announced at the GES that they will be sponsoring a Geeks on a Plane tour of Africa next year – stopping in Lagos, Nigeria; Accra, Ghana; and Johannesburg and Cape Town, South Africa The tour will culminate in a final stop at the Global Entrepreneurship Congress in Johannesburg, in March 2017.

During the opening session of the GES, Secretary of State John Kerry emphasized the importance of the Summit and the work needed to encourage new ventures around the world, and President Obama affirmed his commitment to entrepreneurship by announcing that the Global Entrepreneurship Summit will continue, and will be held in India in 2017.

As it has done in recent years, GEN plans to be closely involved in the next Global Entrepreneurship Summit. It announced the creation of a new GEN India affiliate, based in New Delhi and led by Yatin Thakur, founder of Startup India.

“It’s exciting for us, because with the GES we will be able to attract all large entrepreneurship ecosystem developers and investors, as well as some really strong, innovative entrepreneurs, to visit the country and get to see our ecosystem,” Thakur said, “and see a global exchange of ideas as well as businesses.”

If you couldn’t make it to the Summit, you can explore the GES through photos on Flickr, and through video on theGES YouTube channel

Ewan Gaffney
Managing Director of GEN UK and GEW UK. I'm a social entrepreneur, digital strategist and facilitator. I'm also an award winning campaign... About the Author