Bonny Moellenbrock selfie

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This column was originally published on the Investors' Circle blog. Bonny Moellenbrock is pictured top right in a selfie with other Summit attendees.

I recently returned from an inspiring couple of days at the Global Entrepreneurship Summit at Stanford University. This seventh annual event, hosted by the U.S. government, brought 700 entrepreneurs and 300 investors and service providers from all over the world together to “highlight entrepreneurship as a means to address some of the most intractable global challenges,” and to help attendees make productive connections to facilitate mutual support and investment. 

The event reinforced the critical importance of our work to aggregate and move capital into the most promising, impactful innovations. Perhaps even more satisfying was being in Silicon Valley, home of the unicorns, and hearing speaker after speaker (including the unicorns themselves!) share the importance of purpose and positive impact in entrepreneurial success. My top takeaways, for inspiration and application: 

Entrepreneurship is the upside 

In his welcome address, Secretary of State John Kerry stressed the close connection between economic opportunity and political stability. The world needs entrepreneurs to engage in our “generational challenges of violent extremism, preserving the health of our planet, and improving overall governance capacity,” said Kerry. 

President Obama reinforced this assertion as he talked about the challenges of globalization the day after Brexit. “Our interconnected world brings both benefits and challenges that evoke concerns and fears. All of you represent the upside—the optimism, hope and opportunity—of an interconnected world.” 

He also called entrepreneurs key to inclusivity. 

“The world needs your creativity, energy, and vision to help global integration work in a way that benefits all, not just some.” 

Principles and purpose matter 

Patrick Collison, CEO of Stripe, stressed the importance of principles in the successful growth of a company in this interconnected world, where multiple and cross-border presence is likely. When multiple time zones and rapid pace make communication challenging, “Principles matter. What are we building and how do we make decisions?” 

Sheila Johnson of Salamander Hotels and Resorts agreed. She said, “We want every employee to feel like they are owners, too,” through opportunity and a shared vision that help them make hard decisions. 

Steve Case, Mark Zuckerberg and Johnson among others, considered purpose to be a central tenet of success. Purpose was one of Case’s five Ps, as he shared that “it’s more important to want to DO something than want to BE something.” Similarly, in his conversation with President Obama and entrepreneurs from the UAE, Rwanda, and Peru, Zuckerberg reflected, “Entrepreneurship is about creating change, not just about creating companies.” “What really counts is making a difference in someone’s life,” said Johnson. 

“So think broadly about what impact you can have – from job creation, to skill building for employees to being a role model that inspires others.” 

People and perseverance are necessary 

Of course, the difficulty of entrepreneurship and need to simply persevere was the most common thread. My favorite quip was from Travis Kalanick of Uber. “Entrepreneurship is not easy. The minute it gets easy, it means it’s about to get really hard!” 

With the challenges as a given, the only way to carry on is to be connected to people who can support your vision, from your team to a broader network. It’s not surprising that Reid Hoffman, co-founder of LinkedIn, believes that “the key thing that enables entrepreneurs to succeed is networks – they make things happen.” Yet he stressed their strength depends on their depth. 

“The world is global but trust is local.” 
Beyond the celebrities and wisdom, the most inspiring part was being with a diverse group of entrepreneurs from every corner of the globe. No more hopeful, can-do bunch exists. While the event was in entrepreneurship’s epicenter, there’s no doubt that the entrepreneurial spirit is alive and well far beyond Silicon Valley. IC’s efforts to connect, support and invest in entrepreneurs—whether in Philadelphia, rural North Carolina or Nairobi—make a real difference in addressing the many challenges our world faces today.