On Wednesday, I was honored to participate in the CGI America meeting in Denver in a panel moderated by Bloomberg Special Correspondent Willow Bay. Other panelists were Former Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin and Jacqueline Hinman, president and CEO, CH2M Hill, a global engineering and manufacturing firm. The title of the discussion was: A New Competitive Era: America in the World.
This was a stimulating hour as Willow navigated us through a range of topics about American competitiveness in the increasingly global economy. As the resident tech guy, I had some opinions about the lack of computer science training and programming being taught in U.S. schools. (I leaned on and promoted my friends at Code.org and their important efforts to push states and U.S. schools to include computer science as part of STEM [science, technology, engineering, and mathematics] curriculum.) What I think surprises most people is that only 1 in 10 U.S. schools offer computer science classes, and when they do it often doesn’t count toward graduation. It’s unbelievable really, especially since it’s not news that we have a supply shortage in the area of computer science and engineering, impacting most tech companies. This led to a discussion about the need for immigration reform to allow qualified workers into this country to fill these jobs, and help fuel even greater growth and innovation. I’ve long supported the simple idea that we should staple a green card to every PhD earned in this country.
Geekwire’s John Cook tuned in via webcast and captured some of the discussion in a post.
After our panel, former President Bill Clinton joined Willow for a one-on-one discussion. I had a great vantage sitting in the front row watching one of the rhetorical masters of our time.
While this was my first exposure to CGI, I was impressed with the format and caliber of attendees, and the emphasis on commitments and follow up. After all, it’s important to have these conversations, but it’s more important to fix the problems and address the barriers that inhibit progress. I like the fact CGI is focused on being more than a forum, but a platform to create solutions across industries, and across the aisles. So far, it seems to be working.
In October, I took a trip to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia where I had the honor of delivering a keynote address at the Fourth Annual Global Entrepreneurship Summit. I realized I hadn’t shared enough about this enlightening and rewarding experience that brought together more than 3,500 entrepreneurs from more than 130 countries.
Me, Sec Pritzker, Prime Minister Najib Razak, Amabassador Joseph Yun, and US Sec. Kerry
I didn’t know about the GES until I met U.S. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker on a visit she made to Seattle Year-Up, a non-profit that helps young adults across the opportunity divide where I am a board director. She explained to me that GES was created by President Obama in the wake of the Arab Spring as a forum to help export American-style startup capitalism to rising economies throughout Asia, North Africa, and the Middle East. I’m a happy evangelist for entrepreneurship, I’d never been to Malaysia, and I knew that if the dates were right, I could lure an Australian surfing pal on a quick surf strike in Indonesia before the summit. So, when the invitation came, I happily said yes, sent my lonely blue suit to the dry cleaners, and started watching swell forecasts on MagicSeaweed.com.
The U.S. delegation in Malaysia was well represented by Secretary of State, John Kerry and Secretary Pritzker. Secretary Kerry kicked off the Summit and included a video message from President Obama. I had a great time creating and delivering my speech called “Power to the People” in which I talk about the common thread of consumer empowerment and marketplace transparency that runs through so many of my startups. I also talked about how important Good Government is in creating a healthy startup eco-system.
In addition to my speech, I was invited to participate in multiple events that exposed me to a large number of the young entrepreneurs participating from all corners of the globe. This included participating in a press conference and round table with Secretary Pritzker, as well as judging the final competition of the Global Startup Youth, possibly my favorite part of my 3 days. Global Startup Youth brought 500 young people, ages 16-25, from around the world and broke them into 50 teams. Each team had 48 hours to dream up and build a smartphone app and then present it in Shark Tank-like competition in front of the crowds. I did my best to be a more sensitive Mark Cuban. The raw energy and creativity coming out of the summit was truly awesome. I admit that I found myself sneaking out of the dignitary dinners with the guys in suits to find the Malaysian satay buffets that fueled the kids in t-shirts and flip-flops.
The rise of entrepreneurship in this part of the world feels like destiny to me, as long as some modicum of political stability predominates. I was reminded that none of us should take Good Government for granted. One that does its best to make sure the entrenched don’t tilt the playing field so steeply that new company creation is fruitless. In my speech, I talked about the important ingredients of a thriving ecosystem, and the first and most critical ingredient is Good Government. It is the soil in which our startups grow, fed by the sunshine of money and a river of talent coming out of our educational system. Despite frustration at times, we in the U.S. owe a great deal of our own business success to an unusually fair and transparent government.
As our world gets ever smaller and entrepreneurial spirit breaks through the binding chains of some of these legacy infrastructures that have stifled innovation and competition, inspiration and innovation will rise. In fact, I had the opportunity to look into the eyes of those making it a reality. Whether as a fellow entrepreneur, investor, educator, media representative, or government official, I highly recommend plugging in to the global rise of entrepreneurship. I came back from my trip energized and happy. The waves in Indonesia may have had a little to do with that, too.
My favorite speaking gigs are ones where I can have real-life conversations on stage with peers, journalists, and the audience. One such event was the most recent Geekwire Summit in Seattle. Even better was this conversation wasn’t just with me, but included my good friend Bill Gurley from Benchmark. I joined Benchmark as a Venture Partner after I left Expedia and have had the pleasure of working with Bill and the rest of the team for years. Bill is the rare wicked smart guy who can also communicate his analyses and opinions through compelling analogies and in with a “hat in hand” Texan’s drawl. Check out his influential blog, Above the Crowd. He’s added huge value on the boards of several of my companies.
I appreciate John Cook, Todd Bishop and Jonathan Sposato for creating the great forum to have such a fun and lively dialogue. Let’s all help make the Geekwire Summit a northern rival to Techcrunch Disrupt. John posted about the conversation on Geekwire, and you can see the full replay below.