Global Entrepreneurship Week speech
November 14, 2011
I want to thank the many organizations that made this week possible: UNCTAD, ILO, WIPO, ITC, UNDP, the Geneva Economic Development Office, Geneva University, and Startup Weekend Switzerland.
From inventing the internal combustion engine to developing the artificial heart, the world’s doers, makers, and entrepreneurs have proven time and again that it takes only a single good idea and the courage to pursue it to change history. This week, we celebrate the remarkable everyday successes of our entrepreneurs and innovators. Together, we can unleash technologies that will shape the 21st century and create a world where men and women can take a chance on a dream – an idea that starts around a kitchen table or in a garage – and turn it into a new business, or even an industry, that can change the world.
One of the most powerful tools of successful entrepreneurship is innovation. Innovation, though hard to do, is easy enough to define. To innovate is to bring to the world something new. A new way of thinking, of processing, of doing, that we haven’t seen before. It calls to mind some of history’s greatest thinkers, artists and inventors. Today I want to take it a step beyond innovation, however, and talk about disruptive innovation, which opens new worlds and changes the rules of the game in previously unimaginable ways.
A disruptive innovation is one that no one sees coming. It changes a market so significantly and unexpectedly that the market is propelled into the future. One great example was the Ford Model T, one of the first automobiles. How many of you rode over here in carriages? The cellular telephone was another disruptive innovation. The late Steve Jobs was an incredible disruptive innovator. The iPod and iPhone created new markets, stimulating a boom of innovation and imitation around these path-breaking innovations. Because of disruptive innovation, we can travel faster, work smarter and stay connected in ways previously unthinkable.
The green sector, in particular, is ripe for disruptive innovation, and talk of the green economy is at an all-time high. The UN Conference on Sustainable Development – or Rio +20 as it’s more commonly known – has the green economy as the focus of one of its themes. The recent Cancun Agreements under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change – which will be discussed further in Durban, South Africa in December – call for mechanisms that will contribute to economic growth in a more environmentally sound manner.
Recent expert meetings and panels at the UN have made clear that innovation and entrepreneurship are critical to economic growth generally and to the transition to a green economy in particular. The technologies and processes of the past lack the efficiency, resource consideration and productive capacities necessary to forge a path to a green economy. Disruptive innovation is needed.
The United States looks at the green economy as covering a broad set of issues – maintaining ecosystem services that are a foundation for green growth; developing and deploying clean energy technologies; supporting efforts to eliminate trade barriers to environmentally-friendly goods and services; and improving resource efficiency and production practices in the use of energy and natural resources.
This means supporting the work of groups like the Self-Employed Women’s Association (SEWA) of India, a collective of over two million women, which is working to adopt small-scale clean technologies like clean cook-stoves and solar lanterns. In the process, they are protecting the environment and supporting their livelihoods by selling, distributing, and repairing the products. Their improved incomes allow them to spend more on their children’s healthcare and education, and investment allows the programs to flourish.
A German company, Velotaxi, also succeeded in green entrepreneurship. In 1997, Velotaxi held a fleet of 30 bicycles, each placed inside of a wide frame. The wide frame allowed environmentally-friendly taxi service, but also supplied advertising space. Today, more than 120 Velotaxi-network businesses exist worldwide.
The Blessing Basket Project, a U.S.-based non-profit, was started by an MBA student participating in her university’s entrepreneurship competition. The concept was simple: to pay basket weavers directly, without the intervention of a middle man, more than anyone in the world for their baskets – essentially, to turn the weavers into entrepreneurs themselves. In Madagascar, one of six countries where Blessing Basket currently operates, the effect of this opportunity in one rural community has been tremendous. A new school was built. More children are attending it, and for longer. The local forest, home to rare lemur and plant species, has stopped disappearing. The women’s increased income makes illegal logging unnecessary. All of this because one entrepreneur, on the other side of the world, saw an opportunity to save the forest and help lift the women out of poverty on their own terms.
The recently-published UN Environment Program report “Towards a Green Economy” predicts that by 2050, investments in a green economy will create economic gains beyond a business-as-usual scenario. Resource efficiency is a central component to that green economy. To some degree, we are all subject to the constraints of our world’s natural resources. Disruptive innovations can help to improve resource efficiency and production practices in the use of energy and natural resources. Sustainable economic development depends on resource efficiency, and we therefore have an absolute imperative to adapt our industrial and development practices to better manage our natural resources. Disruptive innovators can do that.
The green economy offers a path to sustainable development and poverty eradication with the potential for new jobs, business opportunities and community development all proceeding in a sustainable and environmentally sound manner. Disruptive innovators will forge that path.
In order to do so, they must be supported as they turn their innovations into successful commercial enterprises. The UN Conference on Trade and Development established Empretec to do just that. At the moment, there are Empretec centers in 30 countries, primarily in Africa and Latin America. The centers provide opportunities for participants to become more familiar with the behavioral competencies of successful entrepreneurs through their Entrepreneurship Training Workshops.
Many successful entrepreneurs have businesses that share certain characteristics – the wish to improve human welfare, communications and infrastructure; the desire to innovate and realize change; and the hope to improve health and safety. Entrepreneurs need human capital, policy certainty and financial resources in order to take their good ideas to the next stage and ultimately make the leap to successful financial concerns.
In the United States, President Obama’s Startup America Initiative intends to provide that support by celebrating, inspiring and accelerating high-growth innovation. It is designed to increase access to capital, provide training and mentoring, reduce barriers and unleash market opportunities for entrepreneurs. It also coordinates action across the Federal Government to bolster private investment in early stage companies, helping ensure that our best ideas have a chance to get off the ground and into the marketplace. By making it faster and easier for entrepreneurs to turn new ideas into new businesses and jobs, we are building an innovation economy.
The U.S. is involving many of our agencies in this endeavor, but we also believe that government alone cannot ensure the successful and inclusive transformation to a greener, innovative economy. The private sector has the critical role to play – from research and development, innovation and investment to greening business practices and supply chains. It is in this domain that entrepreneurship and innovation figure so prominently and importantly. Innovative ideas and concepts can arise from any source, not just from well-funded government programs or big industry research and development arms. Entrepreneurship is exemplified by the multitude of individuals and small to medium enterprises all over the globe seeing ideas through to fruition.
On that front, American private sector leaders have launched the Startup America Partnership, an independent alliance of entrepreneurs, corporations, universities, and other leaders, joining together to fuel innovative, high-growth startups. This movement harnesses the agility, intelligence, and ingenuity that has powered our success for generations and uses it to fuel our growth in rapidly evolving global markets.
However, no country can be truly successful if it leaves half of its population behind, so in addition to the Startup America programs, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is leading the charge for increasing women’s participation as entrepreneurs in the global marketplace. She recently chaired the APEC Women and the Economy Summit in San Francisco in September, where she laid out the economic case for women’s full participation in the economy, and the urgent need for action. The World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Index, designed to measure gender-based gaps in resources and opportunities within a country, also recently called attention to the statistics in its 2011 report. Overall, the research confirms a worldwide correlation between gender equality and level of competitiveness, GDP per capita and human development. It also estimates that closing the male-female employment gap would boost US and EU GDP. The UN Economic & Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific reported that limiting job opportunities for women is costing the area $42-46 billion per year.
It doesn’t stop there. Worldwide, women own or operate ¼ to ⅓ of all private businesses. In the developing world, 40 to 50% of businesses are women-owned, and these enterprises tend to grow faster than those owned by men. Research also shows that women owned SMEs have better credit ratings and loan repayment records, leading to increased financial stability, reinvestment, and future growth.
Consequently, the U.S. Department of State has initiated several signature regional programs to strengthen women’s entrepreneurship and help spur economic growth, including the aforementioned APEC Women and the Economy Summit, the first-ever high-level ministerial on women and the economy in the US. Programs also exist in Africa, Eastern Europe, Latin America & the Caribbean, Central Asia and Afghanistan. Strengthening data collection on women and economic growth is a main goal for all of the programs, and the data can be used to increase support for women’s entrepreneurship worldwide.
Events like Global Entrepreneurship Week can ensure that all of our entrepreneurs, men and women alike, have access to the resources, connections, and partnerships that will promote their success. I hope that over the next week, we hear both success stories and innovative ideas from entrepreneurs, as well as from those who financially support them. This week, here in Geneva, we hope to engage all of you in a discussion about the journey entrepreneurs can take into the green economy, so that the world’s economies can raise living standards, enhance social well-being, and improve health for all segments of society.
This is by no means a modest endeavor. As the world faces new and growing challenges, we don’t just need innovation. We need innovation that disrupts. No one is more capable of disruptive innovation than entrepreneurs, and this week we celebrate and encourage our global entrepreneurs to keep pushing forward, challenging the status quo and finding new ways to solve old problems. Ways to disrupt.