Global Entrepreneurship Summit 2016

Palo Alto, California

There’s an excitement that comes with early morning starts.

Flashback: 2.30am, June 18, 2016.

Emerging from a bleary-eyed fog, the realisation hit me: I was about to embark on the trip of a lifetime.

It was the day, I was to fly out of the country for the Global Entrepreneurship Summit.

The next 18 hours were filled with excitement and nerves. It was a blur: The roaring of Boeing wheels on tarmac, airport lounges, customs queues and conversations with fellow travellers. I happened to meet some fascinating people on the long haul flights: an English woman on her way to her sister’s wedding in Cancun, a Czech paraglider on his way to Bali and a Canadian filmmaker on his way home from the premiere of his film at the Maori film festival.

People are so incredibly interesting.

On my arrival at San Bruno airport, I was greeted with the ambient warmth of a California Summers day and began a relaxed trip into the city. It was 8am on a Sunday morning, and my driver chatted easily about the Bay Area and the upcoming State playoffs. On arrival to my central city I was greeted by a familiar face — my fellow Kiwi and entrepreneur Samantha Jones, of ethical clothing company Little Yellow Bird.

Exploring San Francisco

The day was spent exploring the Bay Area with Sam and her friends from LA. We had a couple days of sight-seeing, taking the iconic cable car, cruising under the Golden Gate Bridge (getting drenched in the process) and enjoying the city’s rather hipster atmosphere. But as much as we loved the city, the excitement for what we were really there for was building: The Global Entrepreneurship Summit!

On the evening of the 21st June, we went out for dinner with some delegates. On our way to our meal I heard about some amazing ventures from these new acquaintances. One was Chris, the founder of SlateCube, who told me about his Nigeria-based business connecting young African entrepreneurs to internships.

I remember thinking how amazing the connections were between our enterprises . The stories we’d already heard were incredible and GES hadn’t even started!

The morning of the 22nd dawned with clear and sunny skies. The adventure was about to truly begin. It was just past 8 in the morning when five of us jumped in one of the ever-present Ubers to our first partner event, a Benetech site visit. Benetech uses Silicon Valley technology to create new products that serve humanity, including an app that helps fight violence against women. It works by offering secure encrypted reporting and support for victims of domestic violence. I was also lucky enough to meet people with the calibre of Rachel — a program manager at Benetech with a real passion for social justice.

The excitement was building!

The rest of the day was spent checking in at Stanford University for the conference, where Sam and I met some other attendees and tried things like the ‘Google for entrepreneurs’ container, where we could connect with people living on the other side of the world through a strikingly quality audiovisual experience. I briefly met Kenia, of Jamaica, an absolutely phenomenal entrepreneur who went on to win sizeable investment and be interviewed on the GES stage the next day.

The night of the 22nd brought the GES welcome reception. We arrived at the Stanford University plaza to a large group of diverse, glamorously-dressed people mingling and chatting. I met Massa from Jordan, who truly inspired me with her educational initiative that impacts many young women. It was absolutely invaluable to meet someone in the same sector as me, with so much experience to share. I will never forget it. Later we had the privilege of hearing from John Kerry, the Secretary of State, who spoke on the importance of entrepreneurship, and his hopes for the next few days.

The morning of the 23rd began with breakfast again at the GES village, followed by a plenary with a high calibre of speakers including the chief executives of Uber, AirBnB and Salamander Hospitality among others. What struck me was how uniquely individual each executive was. They had all been successful but they’d all got there different ways and they all brought different strengths and personality traits to the table.

The incredibly enthusiastic CEO of AirBnB, Brian Chesky, being interviewed.

Other highlights of the day include meeting my mentor from Google, Ofer Ronen, who gave me some great advice on how to balance scale and impact. It was incredible to get advice from someone like Ofer, who has built his own company that he sold for millions and now invests in other startups through angel investment. Later I met Ligwina, an Indonesian woman who is empowering thousands of people to take control of their finances through her online program. Ligwina and I were booked for the same speed networking session — which was both a great learning experience yet a little stressful at the same time. I managed to get some great advice from people who had experience in investment, software development, startup mentoring and other spaces.

With friends from Niger and Panama in the GES village

The rest of the day was spent at some fascinating workshops before I headed to a cocktail event with the Skoll Foundation. The Skoll Foundation works to support high-impact social entrepreneurs. Before the event I met people like Lucy — a mother, scientist and entrepreneur who has set up labs all around her home in Kenya to test crops for deadly pathogens, protecting the people who rely on them. I reconnected with my friend Thinley from Bhutan, and we listened to a panel representing various social enterprises making real impact. What I loved was the honesty of these people, talking about their challenges. I feel like there is a common perception that if you are successful you must be confident and headstrong, yet what I have found is that real leaders often possess a real humility that comes from their constant teachability: They are in pursuit of their vision, their goal, but they are willing to constantly learn and improve to reach that goal effectively. At the Skoll Foundation event, I had the privilege of briefly meeting Premal Shah, the co-founder of Kiva.

Throughout the conference I was struck by the reality and tangibility of this global community. We have so much in common, and are working to solve the same problems and challenges.

The day of the 24th started with a buzz: today was the day we were to hear from President Barack Obama! The long queue to go through the necessary security did nothing to dampen the feeling of enthusiasm and excitement. I chatted in the line to Walid, an entrepreneur from Algeria who is doing great things in software/app development.

Waiting for the President.

The morning begun with several different amazing speakers, including the CEO of Google. Then President Obama emerged on the GES stage to a huge round of applause as everyone rose to their feet.

What a moment.

His speech blew me away with it’s balance of eloquence, content and humour. After he gave his address, Obama moderated a panel of entrepreneurs and Mark Zuckerberg. I was struck by the president’s good humour and down-to-earth manner. The three GES entrepreneurs in the panel he interviewed were humble and intelligent.

After this morning session, we broke off into separate master classes. I was excited to head off to one on technology in education, where I got to meet the woman who heads up the entrepreneurial program at HP along with the founder of Coursera and founder of Rumie. Debbie from HP and I talked about the synergies between our ventures.

Another masterclass was crafted on the topic of ‘impact entrepreneurship’. This was such an insightful and interesting workshop. The panel talked about the importance of transparency and of continually reviewing (and improving) the efficacy of your program, and other related topics. This workshop was my masterclass was so relevant, it was such a privilege to hear the thoughts and insights of these entrepreneurs. I continually made connections with amazing entrepreneurs from all over the globe. Their generosity and advice blew me away. Many of them I am still in contact with.

Finally, we all gathered on one of the lawns at Stanford for a closing ceremony. I reconnected with friends, we swapped details and eventually we moved on. I’ve mentioned a few amazing people in this blog- but there are too many to tell about. I am grateful for the connection with each and every one.

On the bus back I talked with some new friends from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Algeria. It was so interesting to hear about their enterprises, their families and their culture. One of the things GES really highlighted for me is that instead of just tolerating our differences, we should celebrate them. We share far more than what we think and our differences are unique and beautiful.

The main GES event over, I attended one last partner event. This ran over the weekend, and was the 48-hour Hackathon. These Hackathons have been created to bring people together to solve issues based on the Sustainable Development Goals. This one was on Gender Equality and I spent the weekend with a diverse group of women who shared the same passion for every woman’s right to access education. We worked together on the project and finished up by pitching it in a bid to win $40k of prize value to work on it. The eventual (and deserving) winner, ‘Safe Harbour,’ was created to provide safe places for victims of domestic violence. I so hope it continues to grow and has success.

My time in San Francisco and experiences at the Global Entrepreneurship Summit were absolutely life changing. The great people I met, inspiration gained, and new perspective will continue to have influence on what I’m doing with Limitless. GES opened my eyes to the world of possibilities that exists and inspired me to think big and aspire to greater things.

Flying back to the corner of the globe I call home — New Zealand — I pondered the lasting impacts this would have, going forward, with Limitless.

But it’s bigger than that.

GES have me so much hope for the world, and what we can achieve — together. I was honoured to meet so many phenomenal people, that have the ingenuity and drive to provide solutions to the most pervasive issues of today. Climate change, fragile economies, conflict and injustice present themselves in every corner of our planet, but so do innovators, dreamers, entrepreneurs.

There are people out there taking hopeful action and creating solutions.

I arrived at GES feeling completely inadequate, in awe of these people. But what I found was entrepreneurs, investors and government officials alike who all just were incredibly supportive and excited for the opportunities I have. They were willing to look ahead and see potential. These were big picture people. It didn’t matter that I’d only been working on Limitless for a short time compared to most.

I have learned that we have a responsibility to grow our businesses and skills to be successful. Not for our own gain, but because we have been given great opportunities and I believe we have a responsibility to use these to create change. To quote President Obama “Don’t be shy, because ultimately the world needs your energy, your creativity, your vision”.

My time at GES was an absolute privilege and my greatest hope is that going forward I can use the privilege of this opportunity to uplift others. I am so grateful for the US Embassy for inviting me and making this GES experience possible, and for all those who helped get me there. Thank you.