LiveAtState: 2016 Global Entrepreneurship Summit

Ziad Haider
Special Representative for Commercial and Business Affairs, Bureau of Economic and Business Affairs
CEO of Pinnacle Group Nina Vaca
Washington, DC
June 15, 2016

Audio version also available.

MR. ZELTAKALNS: Welcome to LiveAtState, the State Department’s interactive online video platform for engaging with international media. I’m delighted to welcome journalists today joining us from around the world. Today we’ll be speaking with Ziad Haider, the State Department’s Special Representative for Commercial and Business Affairs; and with Nina Vaca, Chairman and CEO of Pinnacle Group, as well as Presidential Ambassador for the Global Entrepreneurship Summit, which is taking place next week at Stanford University in California.

Before I turn it over, I’d like to make a couple of housekeeping notes. You can start submitting your questions now in the bottom of the window titled “Questions for State Department Officials,” and if you have any difficulty submitting your questions, you may email them to We welcome your questions and we’ll try to get to as many as possible in the time that we have, but please note we can only accept questions in English. If you’d like to continue engaging on today’s topic after the program, you may do so on Twitter @ges2016, and be sure to visit for more information about the summit.

With that, let’s get started. Special Representative Haider, thank you for joining us today.


MR. ZELTAKALNS: Is there anything you’d like to say at the top?

SPECIAL REPRESENTATIVE HAIDER: Sure. Well, thank you so much. Well, good morning or good evening, depending on which time zone you’re in. As was mentioned, I’m Ziad Haider; I’m the Special Rep for Commercial and Business Affairs at the State Department. And one of the most exciting parts of my job is to promote entrepreneurship globally. And in doing so, I am really responding to a call that President Obama made in Cairo seven years back, where he talked about the importance of capturing the imagination and sparking the creativity of entrepreneurs globally, as well as connecting them with investors and leaders – business leaders – around the world.

The seed that President Obama planted in that speech is what has evolved into what’s now known as the Global Entrepreneurship Summit. Since the Cairo speech in 2009, there have been five – seven such summits – excuse me – five such summits in a range of places around the world, including Morocco, Kenya, Turkey, the UAE, and also right here in the United States. For the seventh and final summit of this Administration, we are delighted to be bringing it back home one last time, and that will be at Stanford University next week, June 22nd through 24th. And what we’re particularly excited about is building on the success of the last five summits, which have collectively brought together 16,000 people from all corners of the world.

This particular summit will have a total attendance of about 1,200, of which 700 will be entrepreneurs from 170 countries, and, importantly, 300 will be investors, because one of the most important features of this summit is not just for it to be a talking show but for entrepreneurs to have the chance to connect with investors and get the resources they need to take their ideas to the next level.

Let me also just emphasize two other features of the GES summit this year. The second feature will be the emphasis on women entrepreneurs in particular. Half of those 700 entrepreneurs will be women. And in addition to the programming that we have throughout the course of GES, there will be a focused day called GES Plus which will focus exclusively on women and youth entrepreneurs in particular. In fact, as a side note, the youngest entrepreneur that we will have at GES will be 11 years old. That’s quite remarkable in my view.

And the last point I would just make is that what we’re particularly also excited about is that this is not the end of the show. GES is going to continue into the next administration in 2017 for the seventh such summit, and we are delighted that last week when Prime Minister Modi from India was here meeting with President Obama, both leaders announced that the Government of India will be hosting the next GES.

So there’s a lot more to share with you about why we focus on entrepreneurship, what will be happening at the summit, what will be the types of entrepreneurs and from where are they coming, but I’d be happy to save that for the Q&A, Mike, if that works.

MR. ZELTAKALNS: All right, thank you very much. Ms. Vaca, welcome to the show.

NINA VACA: Thank you.

MR. ZELTAKALNS: What – tell us a little bit about your role in GES.

NINA VACA: Sure, and thank you for having me. My name is Nina Vaca and I’m proud to serve as an inaugural presidential Ambassador for Global Entrepreneurship. The PAGE program has 17 ambassadors – we started with 10 and now have evolved – ambassadors who have built global companies and who spend their time fostering and inspiring entrepreneurs all over the world. I personally had the opportunity to go to Ghana, Africa with Secretary Pritzker, and I saw firsthand the power of inspiration in sharing stories and creating an ecosystem where people can learn and be inspired and have access.

We all know that in the United States, 60 percent of the (inaudible) new jobs in this country are created by small business owners. They’re created by immigrants, and entrepreneurship has been an incredible vehicle to make the United States of America what it is today. Entrepreneurship is an incredible vehicle to create wealth all over the world. And so I’m proud to serve as a Presidential Ambassador, to share my personal story, to help entrepreneurs. I’m delighted that we’re focused on women. As a female entrepreneur, I’m proud last year to have had grown my company to be the fastest-growing woman-owned business in America. And I think it’s important to share those stories and share those connections with the entrepreneurs at GES, and I’m delighted to be here.

MR. ZELTAKALNS: Thank you for joining us and thank you, Ziad, for joining us as well. Ziad, we’ll start with you. Why is fostering entrepreneurship around the globe important to U.S. foreign policy?

SPECIAL REPRESENTATIVE HAIDER: Mike, that’s a great question. Thank you for asking that. I have to say it’s a question that I’ve gotten everywhere in the world that I go, from Egypt and Tunisia to India and China, that why is there this emphasis on entrepreneurship in our foreign policy. And I think the best way to really explain it is three words: stability, prosperity, and, perhaps most importantly, dignity.

I think the stability argument is well known. Entrepreneurship is a source of job creation which actually diverts people from paths of hopelessness, of despair, and gives them a chance to have a paycheck, pull an income, support their families, and actually feel as if they are being part of something that they can build. And I think all in all we’ve seen that as an important antidote – not the only one, of course – to what we see out there in terms of extremism and other sources of instability.

But at the same time, we aren’t just out there doing this for the sake of stability and just a purely national security point of view. We also think it’s important from a prosperity point of view, because entrepreneurship is a vehicle to bring in people who would otherwise be marginalized, who would be on the fringes of society, into the fold, and again, give them a chance, the resources, the training, to be able to build something of their own.

And that, I think, goes to an interrelated point of dignity. And I said the word “dignity” deliberately, and it’s really because when I was in Tunisia two weeks ago at the Cogite incubator, which is one of the leading incubators in Tunis, I asked an entrepreneur there, “What does entrepreneurship mean to you?” And his response was very telling. He said, “Entrepreneurship is success without unfair advantage.” Success without unfair advantage.

And in thinking about that, what I think he was driving at was the point that the opportunity for an individual to build something without having to run through the government, without having to run through a state-owned company, on his own free will, by his own creativity, something that’s his own, is something that’s fundamental to all of us. We want to have that sense of pride of ownership. And Nina, obviously as you mentioned, the fastest-growing women-owned business in the U.S., I’m sure that spirit resonates with her deeply.

So it’s those three reasons that we want to put our efforts, our resources, our moral support, our political-diplomatic support, behind entrepreneurship globally.

MR. ZELTAKALNS: Thank you. And by the way, I’d just like to remind viewers that they can submit their questions using the chat box at the bottom of their screen and also by emailing

Ms. Vaca, I’d like to go to you next. How can leaders foster innovation and entrepreneurship among their employees?

NINA VACA: Innovation, opportunities, as you mentioned, is an incredible – an incredible tool. But innovation is – when opportunities are limited, innovation takes place. And in this country, innovation has sparked so many changes – the internet is an example – and the way that we foster or the way that leaders can foster it in their entrepreneurial employees or associates is to allow them to act as an entrepreneur. And in building an entrepreneurial culture, it’s very important as a leader to not believe that people work for you. They work with you. And so when you’re building something larger than yourself, when you’re building something of purpose, of value, you will find – and when you allow people the opportunity and the freedom to be innovative. And entrepreneurship – in entrepreneurship there is failure. And so you will find that if a leader is allowing people to be innovative, is allowing them to work with them, is making them feel like an entrepreneur and not as an employee, you will find that the entrepreneurial spirit will be alive and well in your culture.

SPECIAL REPRESENTATIVE HAIDER: Mike, if I could just add to that.


SPECIAL REPRESENTATIVE HAIDER: This is something that we try in my travels all over the world talking about GES and entrepreneurship. We try to bring with a great deal of humility a perspective on what are the ingredients that have allowed, for example, a Silicon Valley to thrive in the United States. And there are some sort of standard elements that we think are important to share. One, of course, is access to capital. Entrepreneurs need to be able to get the resources to build their businesses. And so when I was in Cairo two weeks ago, one of the issues I was focused on with the Egyptian Government is a new requirement that their banks have to allocate 20 percent of their lending for SMEs in particular. And so how does that get put into motion so entrepreneurs get resources.

The second ingredient, obviously, is strong intellectual property protections. We talk about that theme a lot. And when I was in China earlier this year, I had the chance to visit an incubator where that was one of the first questions I got, was, “Can you come over here and have your folks explain to us what’s the best way to file for IP protections,” actually in the United States, interestingly enough.

And the third ingredient, I think, is that nexus between entrepreneurs, business, and academic institutions, which is why it’s so important that GES this year is happening at Stanford University, one of our preeminent universities. And so making it a point to not just take this conversation to entrepreneurs and businesses, but to academic settings. So when I was in Tunisia earlier in the year as well, I made it a point to stop at the Tunisia Business School to meet with young entrepreneurs.

But let me just close by a point that Nina made which I think is just a beautifully human point. Everywhere in the world, the number one issue that entrepreneurs raise is the cultural issue, the cultural and mindset issue, whereby it’s okay to not go into a traditional career of being a lawyer, doctor, banker, engineer. It’s okay too in the eyes of – if you’re a woman entrepreneur, your husbands, your brothers, your fathers to support you if you try to do something on your own. And yesterday I had the chance to talk with four women entrepreneurs from all over the world – Pakistan, Kenya, Cambodia, and Zambia – and each one of them from their respective locations brought up this point of a cultural shift that has to happen so that they can continue doing the good work that they do.

So we try to enable all of these elements with a great deal of humility because each society, of course, has its own entrepreneurial spirit and culture, and we by no means have a monopoly on it here in the United States. But as I said, it’s about enabling that growth to happen.

MR. ZELTAKALNS: To piggyback on that, we have a question from Morocco, from Morocco World News, about how many of the participants, as investors and entrepreneurs, are from Morocco and how many of those are women? And also from the region, how important is entrepreneurship to that region?

SPECIAL REPRESENTATIVE HAIDER: Yeah. Well, so I don’t have the numbers for Morocco specifically as a country, but we can easily get that for you. I know we do have a delegation. But from the Middle East/North Africa region writ large, we have 101 entrepreneurs that we’re expecting. For just those of our friends who are from other parts of the world: from the Africa region, we have 126; from East Asia and the Pacific, 98; from Europe, 112; as I mentioned, Middle East/North Africa, 101; South/Central Asia, 98; and the Western Hemisphere – Latin America and the United States – is 107.

In terms of the gender breakdown, we’re expecting about 338 women and 348 men, so it’s roughly even in that sense. But we can follow up with any journalists who have specific – country-specific questions with that data as well.

NINA VACA: If I could add on to the focus on women at GES, my personal travels to Ghana, it was amazing the entrepreneurial spirit that women are having all over the world. We know that in the United States, women have started 10.6 million owned businesses and employ 19 million Americans and contribute trillions to the American economy. Interestingly enough, around the world there are 300 women entrepreneurs, and so this number continues to grow at an incredible trajectory. And I think now is a time, not really just in our country but around the world, that women are creating – we’re creating an awareness of the contributions that women are making, and I’m delighted that GES has a focus on women.

Yesterday I had the pleasure to join the President as well as Michelle Obama, the First Lady, and with a summit, the White House summit on the state of women and girls. There were 5,000 women thirsting for information, and the topic that came up over and over and over again was entrepreneurship. People are thirsty for information, they’re thirsty for connections, they’re thirsty for capital, they’re thirsty for inspiration.

And so what we’ve seen is that access to capital is an incredible tool, but access to inspiration is equally as important. Because you can’t be what you can’t see, and role models really matter.

MR. ZELTAKALNS: Thank you, Nina. Thank you very much. And as the CEO and chairman of Pinnacle Group, an established business, in your opinion, how do established businesses stay innovative?

NINA VACA: So the company has been around for 20 years. I founded it in 1996, and the way that we stay innovative is through technology and people, leveraging technology to grow our business. We have been on the fastest-growing list for 10 years, and the way that you do that is by leveraging technology and people. It’s really that simple.

SPECIAL REPRESENTATIVE HAIDER: Mike, can I go back? I did not answer half the question from our Moroccan friend. He asked about why is entrepreneurship important in the Middle East specifically.

And this is a theme I had the chance to spend a little bit of time with when I was in Tunisia and Egypt last – a couple of weeks ago. And the reason of going back to Egypt, as you probably picked up, was deliberate because seven years ago that’s where the entire GES show began, in essence, with the President’s speech. I think the importance was communicated to me very clearly by both government officials as well as entrepreneurs, which is in a region where there’s just such high rates of unemployment or, frankly, skills mismatch.

For example, in Tunisia you have 15 percent unemployment but you also have one in three university graduates without a job. And so there is both dimensions of unemployment and a lack of the right skills, where you have to increasingly – and in the case of Tunisia, which is transitioning away from an authoritarian, centralized political system to a democratic one – you have to find ways to enable people to grow in the private sector, and you have to give them that space to build and create on their own.

And so I think it’s just really at the heart of some of the economic challenges that the Middle East/North Africa region are facing, which is that issue, as I mentioned, of creating prosperity. But again, I’d come back to that point of dignity as well, that I don’t need to go and work in a state-owned company or state-owned enterprise, I don’t need to get some favor and get a job with a big state industry; I can create something on my own. Or as one Egyptian entrepreneur said, “We don’t need the red tape, we just need the red carpet. Give us a chance to grow something of our own.”

MR. ZELTAKALNS: Ziad, thank you. And staying on that theme, we have a question from Liberia, from David Yates at The Daily Observer newspaper. And he wonders what the importance of GES to African countries – not just North African but sub-Saharan African countries – is, particularly Liberia.

SPECIAL REPRESENTATIVE HAIDER: Yeah. Well, I think the importance is very significant in the sense that if you look at the number of entrepreneurs you have and coming from all over the world, the region which will have the largest single number of entrepreneurs is Africa at 126. So that’s one thing I would say is that, to use Nina’s very nice word, the thirst for inspiration, for connections, for resources that we’re seeing from that region is tremendous, and we fully know the potential of that region as well. That’s one thing I would say.

The second thing is that GES once again did occur in Africa, in Kenya. I believe that was actually last year in Nairobi. And that, too, speaks to the strong interest in that region to make those connections and actually continue to build their own culture of innovation, that ecosystem. So those are two things.

At the – at GES itself, I can’t speak specifically to Liberia, but at a more regional level there will be panels focused exclusively on entrepreneurship in Africa and what it takes to build that out. And on a more personal note, I mean, I’ve seen that firsthand. I haven’t had yet a chance to travel to Africa. In this role, I will be going out there later this fall.

But as I mentioned yesterday, I had the opportunity to participate in a Google Hangout with four women entrepreneurs, two of whom are from Africa, where we actually have opened these centers called WECREATE centers that train women entrepreneurs. The women from Africa – one was from Kenya and one was from Zambia. And the one from Zambia was just doing fascinating work in terms of access to credit because she recognizes that many women entrepreneurs in Zambia don’t have the resources to build their business, and the lady from Kenya, Maryana– and Evelyn was from Zambia – Maryanawas working on creating programs that educate children on personal safety, a very important thing. So how do we make sure that children are equipped to deal with situations that are precarious and know what steps they need to take?

So I mention that because I have seen firsthand these women have come through centers that we have built in partnership with partners in Africa and the potential is tremendous. And I’m just excited to meet – maybe not all 126 probably, but at least a subset of them at the summit next week.

MR. ZELTAKALNS: Thank you. Ms. Vaca, anything you’d like to add?

NINA VACA: Again, as we talked about, entrepreneurship is an incredible vehicle to build wealth creation, and when you build wealth in a country, you build stability, you build opportunity, and you build a future – not only for that individual, you build it for their family, you build it for their community, and you build it for their country.

And so I am very passionate about entrepreneurship. I’m an immigrant myself. My parents emigrated from Quito, Ecuador, South America to the United States. And I’m one of many immigrants who have started companies and have created a better future not for themselves, but for their families, their communities, and their country.

SPECIAL REPRESENTATIVE HAIDER: That’s a great point and it’s a very timely point because the same week in which we’re doing – we have GES, on Monday, this coming Monday is also World Refugee Day. And that’s the day when we’re going to stop to think about the challenges facing 20 million people around the world who have been displaced by conflict, but importantly – and this is crucially important – also the real contributions that these individuals can make in each of their individual societies that have taken them in.

And so while in previous years I’ve spent World Refugee Day at a refugee camp or a shelter, this particular day I’m going to be spending with U.S. businesses that are hiring refugees and refugee-run businesses that showcase the very entrepreneurial spirit that we want to exhibit at GES. And really, I’m delighted that, as I mentioned, one of the outcomes from GES we hope is the connection between entrepreneurs and investors, but we’re also hoping that entrepreneurs are able to tee up certain policy ideas for us as government officials to work tough problems. And one of those issues will actually be how to deal with the refugee crisis. So at GES, we will be having a series of policy “hacks” where we ask the entrepreneurs to come together to take a policy question, work it, and provide some recommendations, and we’re looking forward to working that as one of the issues.

MR. ZELTAKALNS: Nina, I’d like to go to you next for a question from Cici Woo of Chew on This Storytelling and she asks: “How does GES help to impact attitudes towards failure and freedom in different cultures?”

NINA VACA: The way GES can address your question is by having role models and having stories. You can’t be what you can’t see, and it’s so important President Obama will be surrounded by 10 of his presidential ambassadors each that have a unique story of where they started – immigrants, nonimmigrants, females, men. And so I think it’s really important to not only have access to real stories that you can see, touch, and feel, but also have access to an ecosystem.

What GES does is it brings together people that are interested in seeing entrepreneurs succeed. And I can tell you firsthand, surrounding yourself by people that want to see you succeed is an incredible recipe. Giving those entrepreneurs access to capital, access to connections, access to people – every time I see ambassadors in the room and I see people from different countries, from different industries, from different entrepreneurial experiences, there’s always that exchange of information, that exchange of contact, that building of relationships – access that you would never get anywhere else.

MR. ZELTAKALNS: Next question for you, Mr. Haider, is from Nikkei and it’s from Nicola Pavesic. And she asks: “Would the U.S. benefit from the presence of Silicon Valley – of a Silicon Valley-type ecosystem in other potentially even competing and economically powerful countries?”

SPECIAL REPRESENTATIVE HAIDER: Well, I think it goes back to that – the first question is what does it take to build it. I don’t think it’s as easy to replicate as many government official think. And the question in itself implies – when I get this question from foreign government officials – that Silicon Valley was a top-down creation, which it really isn’t. There’s, of course, the role for government regulations in terms of IP policies, in terms of the ease of starting a business. But it really is a bottom-up enterprise where, as I mentioned, entrepreneurs, businessmen, universities come together.

So I think I would just start by saying that this isn’t – there isn’t a cookie-cutter model to creating that type of an entrepreneurial ecosystem. Having said that, would we welcome the creation of such centers? Of course. I mean, it’s a global world. If you look at so many of the great minds in Silicon Valley today, they’re not necessarily people who were born in the United States or are blue passport-holding individuals. Many of them are immigrants from places like India and elsewhere in the world. And we welcome that interconnectedness, and that’s why we take the time and the effort and the resources to build platforms to inspire and – or, to use the President’s word, to spark the imagination, to spark the creativity and capture the imagination globally.

I would also say that we take great pride in GES, inspiring others to set up their own platforms. I can think of one such platform in the Middle East region which is RiseUp Summit. This is an organization that a few years ago could probably not even get more than a couple of people in an auditorium, and last year they had about nearly 5,000 entrepreneurs from across the Middle East and North Africa gather in Cairo. So we take pride in the example and our approach and a platform that we have created, but we would love to see people spin off and create those universes and work across lines.

At the risk of going on, I’ll tell you something that really moved me greatly in Tunis was visiting a Tunisian incubator where I met – where I learned about a Norwegian group of entrepreneurs coming up with an app to help Syrian refugees in another part of the world learn the local language. That to me is the world we want to live in. That’s the best of humanity when people blind to borders are working together to come up with solutions. So if there’s a Silicon Valley they can sprout elsewhere, we would welcome it. That’s the nature of the world.

MR. ZELTAKALNS: Nina, anything to add?

NINA VACA: I think you said so much and so eloquently.

MR. ZELTAKALNS: All right, then, we’ll go to our next question. It comes from Al Jazeera, who is a media sponsor of the Global Entrepreneurship Summit. And this question comes from Mahmoud, who’s asking about the Middle East/North Africa region and wants to know what you think a typical viewer might want to know about how this summit impacts them.

SPECIAL REPRESENTATIVE HAIDER: I think the fact is, is that even though we have such a large number of individuals coming to this summit, including from the Middle East/North Africa region, we regrettably were not able to accommodate everyone. And so if I am sitting over there watching this broadcast and I’m hopefully excited and inspired by the platform that is GES, I would want to know: Well, shoot, I missed an opportunity. Is it too late?

And what I would say to that individual is this: It’s not too late because, one, there will be another GES next year, and we’ve worked hard to make sure that happens. So I would keep my eye out for the application process for next year. Secondly, for this year in itself, those who were not able to come in person – we live in a virtual age – please visit where you can get terrific amounts of detail and interactive material as well. And then third, I would say for those of you who have taken that step forward in your own career or in your own entrepreneurial work, I would also steer you to another website, This is a website also run by the U.S. Government that actually has resources – resources that you all can tap – and investors, and mentors that you can connect with in order to grow your businesses.

So I guess my bottom line would be that GES is terrific and they’ll be – I know – we know and we’re excited for the people who come there to drive value, but we want those who are not able to attend to know that there are ways that they can still plug in and leverage that.

MR. ZELTAKALNS: Thank you Special Representative Haider. I think it’s probably time to offer up some closing remarks. Ms. Vaca, do you have anything you’d like to leave our audience with as we head into GES next week?

NINA VACA: As we head into GES, I’d just like to simply say it’s a pleasure to be a presidential ambassador and to inspire the future generations of entrepreneurship in this country. I really believe that entrepreneurship can change countries. And I’m looking forward to seeing everyone there.

MR. ZELTAKALNS: Thank you very much. Special Representative Haider, anything to add?

SPECIAL REPRESENTATIVE HAIDER: El Mashrou is an organization in Egypt. It’s a TV show actually, to be precise, that’s a Shark Tank for entrepreneurs. It’s a reality show. And the entrepreneurs who did this – who started the show were not Americans, did not do it with American funding – they did it on their own. And that’s the point that I was trying to make, that we don’t have a monopoly over entrepreneurs and entrepreneurship in the United States. But by virtue of coming to GES in Morocco some years ago, they were able to connect with a set of investors who allowed them to take their show across the region, and they’re now poised to take that same show into Europe.

So I think that example, in my mind, blends the very best of GES, which is we provide a platform. We, individuals like myself who wear suits and ties, are not entrepreneurs ourselves but we know the imports of this from a foreign policy point of view and from just a humanity point of view. And so we want to continue providing that platform. We’re delighted that we have the opportunity this year and next year. And I will just repeat that for those who aren’t able to participate, there are ways to continue to plug in. And we wish you all the success in your endeavors.

MR. ZELTAKALNS: Well, thank you Special Representative Haider and Ms. Vaca for joining us here on LiveAtState today. And unfortunately, that’s all the time we have. If you’d like to continue the discussion, feel free to do so on Twitter @GES2016 or visit the website We will send audio and video files and a transcript of today’s program shortly to all those who have attended.

And finally, if you’re in the media and you’d like to arrange an interview during GES, you can write to And we hope you can join us again soon for another LiveAtState. Thank you.