Remarks at the German Marshall Fund on Innovation and Entrepreneurship

Charles H. Rivkin
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Economic and Business Affairs
The German Marshall Fund of the United States
Washington, DC
December 5, 2016

As prepared

Thank you. And my deep thanks to the German Marshall Fund for hosting this very important and timely discussion today. The German Marshall Fund serves as a living reminder of the Marshall Plan, which provided the economic support that our European allies at the end of the War needed to restore their democratic freedoms and security.

There was a lesson there, which still applies today: Economic security is – and always will be – freedom’s first building block. That lesson is especially apropos, as both our economies face challenges such as extremist violence, cyber-attacks, and a rapidly changing workspace, to name just a few.

I believe everyone in this room would agree that, by promoting economic growth, our prospects for mutual security are immediately enhanced. And one of the surest ways to do that is to empower the people best equipped to generate growth: entrepreneurs and the investors who support them.

Entrepreneurs are the backbone of virtually every economy. They grow economies through the jobs they create. They improve communities with the products and services they produce. They take the lead in addressing our greatest global challenges. And by generating growth, they contribute to greater economic security.

The question before us all is: How can we best support these entrepreneurs, especially in the United States and Europe?

When I was U.S. Ambassador to France, I saw firsthand the positive ways Europeans and Americans work together. I especially saw it in the collaboration between young people, and people with enterprising ideas. People like Pierre Dubuc, whose startup OpenClassrooms aims to provide entrepreneurs and innovators—especially those among them who are new immigrants, on both sides of the Atlantic—with the tools they need to scale their businesses.

We need to create many more opportunities for entrepreneurs and startups across our two economies, so that we can deepen ties between business leaders, foundations and social entrepreneurs in the United States and Europe. That means creating opportunities, not only in the Los Angeles’s and Lisbon’s but the Little Rock’s and Leipzig’s, not only the Boston’s and Berlin’s but the Baltimore’s and Bucharest’s.

We also need to free our entrepreneurs to do what they do best. That includes having cultures that recognize that an entrepreneur often needs to fail before he or she can succeed.

In the early part of the 20th century, a longtime associate of Thomas Edison’s once visited him at his lab and learned that, after five months, Edison was still trying to develop a nickel-iron battery. The associate said: “Isn’t it a shame that with the tremendous amount of work you have done you haven’t been able to get any results?” Edison turned to him and said: “Results! Why, man, I have gotten a lot of results! I know several thousand things that won’t work.”

That’s a message we need to send to all entrepreneurs: success is about translating setbacks and failure into success instead of simply avoiding risk.

That’s why I am especially delighted to formally announce our partnership with the German Marshall Fund in launching the Young Transatlantic Innovation Leaders Initiative or YTILI fellowship.

It opens channels between our two economies, underscores our partnership in very real and economic ways, and provides opportunities for the next generation of entrepreneurs and innovators in Europe and America

We want to invite young, diverse, enthusiastic, and creative individuals from across Europe with innovative, ready-to-scale, or social small enterprises to apply for the fellowship and join the YTILI network. I’m pleased to announce that applications for the YTILI fellowship, implemented by GMF, will open on January 6, 2017. The online network is set to launch in March 2017.

Two hundred fellows will come to the United States for a two-week long immersive fellowship program. They will meet up again in Europe along with selected American participants for continued programming.

Cohorts represent a range of endeavors, such as developing mobile apps to transform local industries; engaging youth in their communities; and supporting fellow entrepreneurs through shared spaces, networks, and courses. Upon returning home, YTILI Fellows will stay connected to their peers from across Europe, build on their experience in the United States, and create new opportunities for innovation and collaboration across borders.

In closing, I wanted to share one example of a YTILI “win.” Last summer, at the recent Global Entrepreneurship Summit, I was asked to be on the judging panel for a policy “hackathon,” which Dell and the Kauffmann Foundation hosted.

There were two YTILI fellows on the winning team, which focused on pitching technology solutions for the refugee crisis in Europe. When they returned home, they worked with other alumni and private sector donors to launch a three-month coding camp for Syrian refugees in Switzerland, with permanent job placement at the completion. And they are hoping to hold additional camps in Greece and Austria next year.

Let’s talk about how we can create more success stories like that.

To sustain this great work, we need your help—your ideas, advice and insights as experts and practitioners. How do we tap into these existing networks, make transatlantic connections, and pool our ideas and resources in order to expand the reach and impact of YTILI? And would any of you consider forming an advisory council that can work with the State Department and GMF to ensure future growth for YTILI?

Thank you for listening to me, and thank you for the great ideas and suggestions I know all of you will bring to this table.