by Jenna Franze
Athgo’s 5th Global Innovation Forum at the World Bank HQ opened on May 22, 2013 in Washington, DC. The three day event began with a welcome address delivered by Athgo’s VP of Education and Training, Darel Tai Engen, PhD. He challenged participants to bring intelligence, knowledge, experience, and creativity to the table. Over 120 students and young entrepreneurs awaited the series of speakers and startup development sessions that would later ensue. The first day’s agenda included keynote dialogues, panel discussions, and collaborative entrepreneurial team sessions, ending with a private reception hosted by the Embassy of Finland in Washington, DC.
Ms. Stephanie von Friedeburg CIO, World Bank Group VP, Information Management and Technology delivered the keynote welcoming remarks at the forum. She called upon the youth to use technology to monetize innovation and startup development. However, a main takeaway was that initiating such endeavors is challenging. So, failure is inevitable and to some degree, even welcome. In terms of entrepreneurship, failure does not exist. Rather, Ms. von Friedeburg assured the audience that entrepreneurs “pivot” instead of fail. Pivoting is a kind of “bounce back” that occurs when entrepreneurs move from one idea to the next. She encouraged the participants to use technology to reduce poverty.
Dr. Armen Orujyan, Founder of Athgo Corp, identified two types problems that need to be identified in order to turn a problem into an opportunity. According to him, individual and communal problems can be identified in all business ventures. Most successful businesses address communal problems. There are local or indigenous communal problems and there are universal problems such as poverty, which takes on varying shapes in different areas of the world. His presentation was the segway for a group activity in which participants identified two problems and worked to think of solutions for those problems. Topics ranged from medicinal prescription compliance to pollution and food accessibility.
He also introduced, Ms. Masiela Lusha, Athgo’s Ambassador for Youth. Ms. Lusha is an actress, author, and humanitarian. Throughout the forum, she interacted with the young entrepreneurs, offering her advice and support. She said it was an extremely humbling experience to be among such bright and talented young minds.
A Keynote Videoconference to Remember: President Paul Kagame of Rwanda
A very special guest, H.E. Mr. Paul Kagame, President of the Republic of Rwanda joined the forum via videoconference from his office in Rwanda. He presented the success story of Rwanda’s growth in healthcare, education, and technology in the past decade. According to him, there have been public-private partnerships in the ICT sector to bring about positive changes in the country. For example, he stated that 96 percent of the population can now access healthcare. H.E. Mr. Kagame held an interactive Q&A session with the young entrepreneurs and stressed the importance of utilizing the innovative potential of young people. One participant noted the progressive gender equality present in Rwanda. H.E. President Kagame discussed the inclusive approach that the Rwandan government has implemented to ensure that men and women work together to protect the human rights of its people.
Panel 1: The Virtual Mentor
The list of highly prestigious guest speakers continued into the first panel that discussed open educational resources, e-commerce, and the role of social media to address employment challenges. Mr. Aaron Sherinian, Vice President of Communications and Public Relations, UN Foundation moderated. Distinguished speakers were Ms. Marie Thérèse Royce, Senior Director International Affairs, Alcatel-Lucent; Ms. Daniella M. Foster, Director, Public-Private Partnerships, Department of State; Mr. Gary Fowlie, Head of the Liaison Office, ITU and an Economist and Journalist; and Mr. Leonard Yip, CIO and CPO, Panda Restaurant Group. Each panelist contributed entrepreneurial insight by sharing his/her experiences in the business world, building partnerships, and being on the forefront of mobile technology. Ms. Royce, a former university professor, was inspired by the power of education and technology. She bridged the two through mLearning (mobile Learning). Indeed, mobile technology is spreading like wildfire as developing communities become more connected through cellular devices. For example, mobile money is one practice that has been extremely popular from all corners of the globe. If presented with the opportunity, Ms. Royce stated that “98 percent of people who have heard of mobile money would use it as a platform to transfer funds.” With mobile money, Royce reported, “People say they are getting a raise because of transparency. People are getting the money they should be receiving. The money is not being lost through corruption.”
Mr. Yip reminded participants to be cognizant of protecting their personal brands online and in person. He ended by quoting Yoda: “Your strength is your weakness.” With this advice, Mr. Yip encouraged participants to constantly refine their skills and to work with colleagues with a diverse range of talents. That way, any weaknesses within one individual will be negated by the skills of another.
Mr. Gary Fowlie urged the audience of young entrepreneurs to do more than just build businesses. Citing the social benefit that entrepreneurial ventures can create, Mr. Fowlie declared, “Exercise human rights and ensure others have those rights as well.” His speech communicated the importance of constructive entrepreneurship.
Ms. Daniella M. Foster encouraged participants to think about challenges facing non-English speakers in the business world. Dr. Armen Orujyan’s wise advice resonated here: Identify a problem or a challenge and turn it into an opportunity. Indeed, Ms. Foster channeled this idea when she referred to unemployment. “Being creative is a necessity to solve any problem, including unemployment,” she told the audience. Ms. Foster argued further that understanding technology will help the young entrepreneurs to solve many of the problems facing the international community today.
After a busy morning filled with such helpful advice and encouragement from established professionals, the young entrepreneurs had a chance to socialize and network over lunch at the World Bank.
Panel 2: The New Mobility Industry
The second panel discussed enabling safer, more equitable, and efficient movement of people and goods through ICT.” The panelists were industry experts hailing from academia and highly successful companies. Mr. Jeff Werner, General Manager of International and Public Policy at Daimler moderated. Panelists included Mr. Enrico Pisino Head of Innovation, Chrysler Group LLC; Ms. Susan Zielinski Managing Director of SMART, University of Michigan; and Mr. Charles “Chip” Meyers Jr., Vice President, Corporate Public Affairs, UPS.
To be a constructive entrepreneur, Mr. Werner said it was paramount for entrepreneurs to find the intersection between profitable and sustainable businesses. He cautioned the audience, “Don’t be a brand with a negative impact on society.” Indeed the goal of many of the constructive entrepreneurs in the audience was to develop and implement ideas that would benefit many people, especially those who struggle in the developing world or those who live in environmental disaster-prone areas. Mr. Pisino encouraged the entrepreneurs to develop a strong network of partners, both internally and externally. He also urged participants to be innovative when dealing with problems such as environmentally detrimental fuels. Ms. Zielinski’s main message was to recognize the difficulty in bringing together organizations that work on the same problem but are fighting against each other in competition. She stated, “Go beyond the usual suspects. Be smart about bringing things together because new cultural evolutions, social networks, and new technologies are creating a great basis for the next generation.” Innovation and collaboration throughout the entire system is necessary for a successful business venture.
The panelists agreed that sustainability is different in every region and at multiple scales (global, national, local). Therefore, an entrepreneurial idea that can be flexible enough to allow for customization has the potential to be highly successful. Entrepreneurs should know what people’s needs are in different locations. Staying in touch with the necessities of the local people will help entrepreneurs target key populations who suffer problems overlooked by the mainstream system. Mr. Chip Meyers of UPS spoke about the future of mobility. Managing and anticipating change is a highly valued skill in the business world. However, it is also a skill that entrepreneurs master because entrepreneurs are the people who keep innovation flowing. Meyers’ advice to the entrepreneurs was to think through their processes. “The first 15 percent of any process will dictate the remaining 85 percent. Quality and cost are important. Keep your eye on the service and not on the dollar signs, and you will be successful.”
Startup Development Session
Athgo participants had an hour and a half breakout session to collaborate with team members. This being the first official team meeting, many teams decided to flesh out their ideas and choose the project that they would pitch to the entire forum at the end of the conference.
Keynote Dialogue: Denis O’Brien
The stage transformed into a smaller seating arrangement as Dr. Orujyan took the stage with the next keynote speaker, Mr. Denis O’Brien, Chairman of Digicel Group. Mr. O’Brien is an exemplar of successful constructive entrepreneurship. His down-to-earth demeanor and sense of humor was absolutely engaging, entertaining, and enlightening. Despite his success that led him to become a billionaire, Mr. O’Brien’s business life was not without hardships and mistakes. When he was young, he lost nearly all of his money as his business went into bankruptcy. What saved him, he said, was a triathlon. Participating in a triathlon taught him resilience and perseverance which he later applied to his business life. He also noted that failure should not hold one back from a successful future. As he began to reestablish himself and his businesses, he realized that the “game changer” was to make the “mothership” impenetrable. In other words, do not take risks that will sink a business. Mr. O’Brien’s advice was to have very good partners who will share the risk of starting and running a business and to hold employees accountable through training and setting goals.
When Dr. Orujyan asked Mr. O’Brien if he would have done anything different, he answered with a definitive “No.” “You make mistakes, and people let you down. People might join you and then steal your idea, but that’s just the way it is.” In homage to his motherland he said, “[Being an entrepreneur] is like living on a cliff in western Ireland.” It can be difficult at times, and the future can bring unforeseen challenges. He wished all young entrepreneurs good luck in their endeavors and left with a few concluding remarks. First, he told participants to avoid developing companies that rob the poor to make a profit and then leave. In his words, “Do not be modern day conquistadores.” Secondly, O’Brien urged the young entrepreneurs to do something that is interesting and that will promote positive change. “Pick something that’s going to make a massive difference to the people you’re selling to.” Finally he concluded, “If you fail, stop, take stock where you failed, and keep going.”
A Trip to the Embassy of Finland
The creative and engaging dialogues were continued outside of the World Bank’s walls as the group traveled across town to the Embassy of Finland for an evening get together. Young entrepreneurs were humbled by this opportunity. Distinguished guest speakers and entrepreneurs took advantage of the occasion by networking and learning about opportunities to expand their ventures in Finland.
Day 2 Kickoff- Panel discussion with H.E. Dr. Hamadoun Touré
Day two began with another high profile speaker, H.E. Dr. Hamadoun Touré, Secretary-General of ITU (International Telecommunication Union). H.E. Dr. Touré insists that the youth are a critical driving force in innovation and solving real-world problems. He stated that entrepreneurship is a skill that can be acquired. Dr. Orujyan added that privilege is not an indication of success– the diverse audience of young entrepreneurs was proof of that. H.E. Dr. Touré said ITU promotes entrepreneurship through capacity building. Each year, ITU selects 30 young innovators and finds sponsors for them so that they can get the training necessary to develop entrepreneurial skills. Those who have participated have been successful in their business lives.
H.E. Dr. Touré even turned the table to ask Dr. Orujyan a few questions such as, what is a major social concern that you are seeing in the realm of entrepreneurship? Dr. Dr. Orujyan responded: “There is a lack of resources for implementing startups. When you have a steering wheel, tires, and an engine, it is not a transportation solution unless you put it all together. In a similar way, a barrier is placed on entrepreneurs. Success is a very elusive element if you don’t know how to put your arms around it. Hopefully this [forum] will be the boost that young entrepreneurs will need to move forward.”
All participants were told to recite, “I believe in myself” three times. Then, H.E. Dr. Touré, reflecting on his own experiences, encouraged the young entrepreneurs to think of something positive if a negative thought ever comes to mind. For him, it helps to recite the positive thought ten times. It is a meditation that will give participants the confidence to continue pivoting despite any challenges they may face.
Panel 3: The New Mobile Entrepreneur
Distinguished speakers from the third panel included: Mr. Paul Garnett, Director, Technology Policy Group, Microsoft; Mr. Sandeep Dadlani, VP & Head Americas– Retail, CPG & Logistics, Infosys LTD; Ms. Valerie D’Costa Program Manager, infoDev, The World Bank; H.E. Mr. Jean Philbert Nsengimana Minister, Youth and ICT of Rwanda; and moderator, Mr. Chris S. Thomas, Chief Strategist, World Ahead Director of Architecture, Intel Corporation. Mr. Garnett holds an innovative position at Microsoft as part of the Technology Policy division. Out of the 7 billion inhabitants of the world, 4.5 billion are not connected to the Internet. This digital divide has been his motivation to think of ways to provide cheap broadband access to the developing world. He has spearheaded a project in Kenya that utilizes cloud-based technology to connect people within a 10 km range of a base station to gain access to broadband. The project is still in its beginning stages, but it has been successful thus far. “I feel fortunate enough to have a job where I can set myself up for failure and see what happens,” he remarked. Mr. Dadlani focused on presenting ways in which young entrepreneurs can identify unmet needs in emerging markets. Once problems are identified, entrepreneurs can use their unique thinking to come up with new, frugal solutions. Large companies are always seeking the assistance of entrepreneurs to solve problems in their business models. Mr. Dadlani was confident that young entrepreneurs are the key to the future of technological and societal development. Ms. D’Costa presented the audience with a current transportation problem in South Africa. The South African transportation system is so overburdened that it can take up to 2 hours for a person to get a taxi. Local South African entrepreneurs solved this problem. Ms. D’Costa is the program manager for infoDev, an organization funded by the World Bank. She stressed the importance of creating an alliance between entrepreneurs and the World Bank. She seeks to find entrepreneurs who want to create jobs, generate wealth in a society, and improve livelihoods of locals so that people can provide for themselves. This message was well-received as the room was filled with constructive, young entrepreneurs eager to do just that. His Excellency Mr. Jean Philbert Nsengimana, Minister of Youth and ICT in Rwanda prompted the audience to think of the government as an entrepreneur. He also reflected on the collaborative nature of the forum. “I, too, am learning new things at this conference and will apply these lessons in the Rwandan government.” Rwanda has transformed many industries like agriculture, education, financial services, and healthcare through the implementation of innovative ideas. “The future vision,” he stated, “is not mapped out.” Thus, he called upon young entrepreneurs to be the contributing factors transforming the vision of many governments and organizations into a reality. Citing a New York Times article, he ended by saying, “Development is like a marathon that has to be run as a sprint.” Undoubtedly, young entrepreneurs, like those present at the Global Innovation Forum, will be on the forefront of innovation and positive societal change.
Panel 4: Funding Mechanisms
With such great ideas and support from experts, the last missing piece of the puzzle surrounded questions of how to fund entrepreneurial projects. The fourth and final panel discussed these questions. Panelists included Mr. Jed Cohen, Founder and COO, RocketHub.com; Dr. Javier Elguea, President, Institute of Technology, Carlos Slim Foundation; Mr. Aleem Walji, Director of Innovation Labs, World Bank Institute; Mr. Markku Kauppinen, Political Counselor, Embassy of Finland, Washington; and moderator, Mr. Navneet Singh Narula, Founder & CEO, nBrilliance Innovations.
Online crowd funding is an increasingly popular way to fund entrepreneurs. Mr. Cohen, the founder of an online crowd funding platform called RocketHub.com, said that the way to successfully raise funds for a project comes through charisma. “Explain why you’re passionate, and you will inspire more people to become involved,” he advised.
Dr. Elugea of Carlos Slim Foundation believes in employment instead of charity. He said, “If you give a person employment you solve many of their problems for life.” His organization promotes startups in IT in Latin America. His organization also uses crowd funding (on the TelemexHub platform) to provide scholarships for 400 thousand students in Latin America. Mr. Walji, as a representative of the World Bank, said that the World Bank will play a major role in helping entrepreneurs grow in scale to provide solutions to the many problems plaguing development across the world. He encouraged Athgo participants to seek grant funding from the World Bank, which in turn, will create a bridge between governments and entrepreneurs.
Mr. Walji stated that the value of entrepreneurs does not go unnoticed. Business models proposed by entrepreneurs are known for reducing costs and increasing the efficiency and effectiveness of development programs. Thus, Mr. Walji had a creative piece of advice: “Be a hyphen. Connect things. Challenge the world. How would you solve a problem? Entrepreneurs should collaborate with the World Bank to see how your idea can be adopted.” The political counselor of Finland, Ambassador Markku Kauppinen highlighted Finland’s role in entrepreneurial innovation and support. He noted that bilateral and multilateral partnerships have been crucial for governments to promote successful entrepreneurial strategies. “Finland,” he stated, “has the knowledge and innovation necessary for entrepreneurial participation and development.”
On the final day of the forum, teams eagerly worked to organize their final ideas for their pitches at the end of the day. The morning consisted startup development sessions. Later, teams paired up with other teams to receive constructive feedback and criticism. This enabled teams to identify their weaknesses or address unanswered questions that they might not have considered in their development plan. In total, twenty teams presented their ideas to the judges. Some of the project ideas pitched were: Pill Buzz, a prescription compliance system that operates via text message; innoLimb, an easily accessible 3-D prosthetics printer; and Uplift Errands, a micro-work platform that provides work opportunities to the homeless. The ideas and implementation strategies from all teams thoroughly impressed the judges and gave them hope for the future.
After the last team presented its ideas, the judges to deliberated. Mr. Narula thanked the participants, noting the awe of the event. “Take a look to your left, and take a look to your right. You’ll realize that you’re among amazing people. You’re sitting in a room of people who believe in what’s possible. We [the judges] are here because we believe in you, and we want you to succeed. We wish you success and that you stay connected. It has been an immense joy to be part of this conference. Take care, keep smiling, and live it up.”
Before he announced the winners Dr. Orujyan added, “ I should not preclude those who will not be part of the top three. Be encouraged by the fact that you are creative. You may hear the term “fail” but learning is part of that process. No one was born knowing that 2+2=4, you may have had a number of tries before internalizing the answer.” Dr. Orujyan stressed that the abundance of problems (whether they be mathematical, social, or environmental) all need the solutions that can be provided by innovative, young entrepreneurs. He quoted Thomas Edison’s optimistic view of failure: “I haven’t failed. I’ve learned two thousand different ways not to make a light bulb.” Dr. Orujyan’s message referenced Ms. Stephanie von Friedeburg’s keynote speech on the first day, recalling that entrepreneurs do not fail- they pivot. The educational lessons that the entrepreneurs learned at the forum are chances for them to pivot. “Team members are the people who will be by your side making things happen,” said Dr. Orujyan. “Take that belief with you.” Out of the twenty teams, only three left the forum with a seed grant to begin funding their projects. Teams competed for the ultimate prize of three thousand dollars. Second and third place winners were awarded two thousand and one thousand dollars, respectively.
The first place winning team presented a solid plan to utilize first response unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) to provide emergency medical solutions to disaster prone areas. UAVs are drones that can provide high-resolution, landscape pictures of disaster areas so that emergency response teams can be more alert and responsive to a devastated area. This team argued that such technology would assist emergency response teams by increasing their effectiveness and abilities to save lives.
Second place went to Team H20asis. The team members plan to partner with NGOs like Convoy of Hope and universities to help fund their project. Their plan is to purify water in unused shipping containers. Not only is the team reducing waste of unused shipping containers, but they are also providing clean, potable water to communities lacking such access. The innovative design of the shipping container will also use water as an insulator so that the potable water will stay cool in hot environments.
Third place was awarded to Team Momentum. The motto was “Bike, Light, Live.” Momentum’s proposal was a bikingprogram that will grant access to many in the developing world to electricity. A small, detachable battery device is connected to bicycles. The device is charged utilizing the kinetic energy of the bicyclist during its use. After it is charged, the battery can power small electronic devices such as cell phones or lamps. Their program provides a small-scale solution to the lack of access to electricity in the developing world.
Dr. Armen Orujyan closed the forum with the following remarks: “It is always a humbling experience to host these programs. Athgo has hosted about 30 forums around the world in past decade.” He left the young entrepreneurs with the following advice: “Its always in you. One key element you always need to remember is to give opportunities to yourself. Be open to yourself, to your internal genius.” Athgo would like to thank all young entrepreneurs and guest speakers who made the event such a success. Many participants left the forum with a new sense of hope and accomplishment in the field of entrepreneurship. The young entrepreneurs’ dedication at the forum was proof of their ability to become strong leaders and active participants in the development and implementation of innovative, constructive entrepreneurial projects.