Athgo Global Innovation Forum: Day 2

I am participating in the ATHGO Innovation forum, hosted at the World Bank in DC from August 13-15. This short series is an account of what occurred; of reflections and takeaways.

My first full day in DC begins with the usual stroll past the IMF, and down the (apparently) famed Pennsylvania Avenue towards World Bank HQ. Queue security; check ID; “Step right through”, and we’re finally inside.

Today’s opening panel on team building and networking is quite lively. John Shegerian of Electronic Recyclers International is moderating, with Ivo Ivanovski (Minister of Information Society, Macedonia), William Saito (Intecur), and Navneet Singh Narula (nBrilliance) as panellists.

John has a long history of building companies, though most recently took on the formidable task of turning Electronic Recyclers International around in the early 2000s. It was a task and a half, but today ERI is the largest electronics recycling firm in the US. John had much to say about entrepreneurship and his experiences, here are some of those sentiments:

“I didn’t want to do any more businesses just for money – I knew I had to make a profit, but everything I do has to have bottom line social value… You have to make a profit – have to have a sustainable business model – before you can go out and change the world.”

“Build it and they will come” is field-of-dreams entrepreneurship. It doesn’t work that way.” (surmised)

“Technology has democratized the world like never before, but face to face is now even more important…I remind our sales team: ‘You close [deals] nose-to-nose’.”

“Everyone can be great because everyone can serve” – Dr. King

This was perhaps the first time the larger idea of “constructive’ entrepreneurship came into focus at the forum. The idea of not just building another iPhone app or launching a new web service, but of solving real, core societal needs. Essentially, directing human effort towards problems of great concern. (Dustin Walper over at myplanetdigital wrote a related piece a few months ago describing Canada’s current position in tech entrepreneurship and where we need to go.)

William’s mission over the last six years has been to “appeal to the younger generation to be more entrepreneurial,” though, before that he developed technology critical to bio-authentication devices (such as fingerprint readers) and proceeded to count Microsoft amongst its numerous licensees. Currently teaching at three Japanese universities and aiding the Japanese government, I can’t help but liken him to Steve Blank. Some insights from William:

“To succeed in life you really need to do what you’re passionate about”

“It’s not about the money – if it were about the money, there are many, many easier ways of making money”

“The opposite of success is not failure, it’s not trying”

“Spend time out of your comfort zone”

“It’s not the plan that’s so important, but that person’s passion. You may not eat that day, but will you get back up and try again?”

“Half of the world lives on less than $2 per day, but it’s doubled in five years”

“Most successful entrepreneurial organizations are started with multiple people”

“Universities tend to be focused on very specific disciplines, and in countries like Japan it’s worse. Diversity of background and diversity of skills are essential”

“[Only] when you come so close to failure, you know what your weaknesses are”

“Everyone should have 500-1000 dollars in the stock market, if for no other reason to understand your own emotional response to risk” and thus be better prepared to handle a situation when significant risks are on the table.

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