My Malaysian Field Trip: The Global Entrepreneurship Summit

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.

Rich Barton, Sec Pritzker, Malaysian President, and Sec Kerry

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.

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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.

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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.

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  • Brian Vierra

    Rich, great write up on your talk in Malaysia Rich and on entrepreneurship in Asia in general. Much of this rings true to me, as someone who has started several companies in Asia. The political arena is changing and with the right moves they will unleash a flood of ideas and hungry, talented, young entrepreneurs. I also like how you make your trips true adventures by taking the time to enjoy the surf, fishing etc. We’d love to have you in Bend (not so far away as Malaysia), to deliver the keynote at the Bend Venture Conference (www.bendvc.com), and of course do a little fly fishing and mountain biking to make it all that much more meaningful.