Africa: White House Hosts International Entrepreneurs

Washington — In advance of the upcoming Global Entrepreneurship Summit in Dubai December 11-13, the White House convened a who's who of self-made businesspeople for a Celebration of Global Entrepreneurship.

Former secretary of state Madeleine Albright is chair of the Partnership for a New Beginning (PNB), launched in response to President Obama's 2009 speech in Cairo in which he promised to "deepen ties between business leaders, foundations and social entrepreneurs in the United States and Muslim communities around the world." PNB focuses on generating economic opportunity through people-to-people exchanges between the United States and majority Muslim societies.

Albright described Microsoft and the Intel Corporation's initiative in Tunisia to mentor students in leadership and commercial skills, as well as a delegation of American investors in the West Bank who have provided training and business opportunities to young entrepreneurs.

"In a world where technology is increasingly dominant," Albright said, "the gap is growing rapidly between those who have access to modern education and training and those who do not. It has been said that history is a race between education and catastrophe and that is, obviously, a race we must win."

Deputy Secretary of State Thomas Nides spoke of entrepreneurship as the heart of the administration's economic statecraft. "We can't have stable societies without economic opportunity," Nides said, "and nothing creates opportunity like entrepreneurship." Nides spoke of entrepreneurs' need for "open, free and fair regulatory systems and policy environments that favor risk-taking. They need a business climate that makes it easy to start a business and get financing; where legal certainty increases investor confidence; and where failure is just part of the experience, not the end of a career."

Mohammed Al Gergawi, minister of Cabinet affairs for the United Arab Emirates, who will host the Global Entrepreneurship Summit, highlighted measures the UAE has taken that have made it a role model for entrepreneurship in the Arab world. He stressed the importance of gender equality in creating an atmosphere in which new ideas can thrive.

The centerpiece of the day's events was a series of open discussions among entrepreneurs both experienced and just starting out.

Three 2011 winners of the Global Innovation through Science and Technology (GIST) Tech-I competition described their entrepreneurial ventures and the lessons they have learned.

Ziad Sankari from Lebanon founded CardioDiagnostics, a biomedical startup, after his father died from a heart attack. Hind Hobeika, also from Lebanon, is using her background in athletics and engineering to create tools to track and improve athletes' performance. Greenovation Technologies was started by Hasanul Qader Mirza with an eye toward helping the poor of Bangladesh with an affordable and sustainable housing material called Jutin.

The three young entrepreneurs shared their experiences in raising capital, the importance of mentors and how they look to the entrepreneurial climate in the United States as a model. "We need to build more bridges" with innovators in the United States, Hobeika said. In Bangladesh, Mirza said, "we have the ideas, but we don't know how to implement them."

These challenges set the stage for the session with the more seasoned entrepreneurs, or, as Jeff Hoffman suggested it should be called, "Ask an Old Guy." Hoffman, who founded Priceline.com and several other successful companies, was joined by Usama Fayyad, who leads the OASIS-500 investment fund in Jordan that is committed to funding 500 Internet and technology startups, and Bill Reese, the president and chief executive of the International Youth Foundation.

Entrepreneurs are not born, Fayyad said. "Entrepreneurship is a bunch of habits you develop." The entrepreneurial spirit, he said, "is a virus -- a good virus."

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