In the corridors of the Westin St. Francis in San Francisco this week, the founders of the world's premier online community for architects rub shoulders with the CEO of a leading producer "smart" camera automation system and the creator of a culinary school that prepares low income youth for good jobs in the hospitality industry—all under the approving eyes of some of Silicon Valley's hottest VCs and angel investors.
The catch? None of the hundreds of world-class entrepreneurs making the big move up hail from the United States.
Welcome to the 2011 Endeavor Entrepreneur Summit—a unique conference that brings together some of the most promising entrepreneurial companies from Latin America, South Africa and the Middle East.
The bi-annual event sponsored by New York-based Endeavor Foundation is a celebration of the foundation's work to promote "impact entrepreneurship" at the fast-growing edges of the global economy. Attendees have passed through a rigorous screening process designed to select companies with the potential to create employment, economic development, innovation, and social value, as well as turn a profit. Alumni of the program are expected to reinvest to support entrepreneurship in their societies and contribute to the creation of a global ecosystem that promotes new business creation.
Former Sun CEO Scott McNealy kicked things off on day one with a lively keynote, observing that breakthrough entrepreneurs need to have a controversial strategy ("if everyone thinks you are doing the right thing, they will all do it too and you won't be able to differentiate.") He helpfully added that it is also important that the strategy be correct.
An all-star panel of Valley VCs including Matt Cohler of Benchmark, Dave McClure of 500 Startups, and Jeff Bussgang of Flybridge discussed the world of opportunities developing in emerging economies, and provided guidance on how entrepreneurs from places perceived as "high risk" environments could attract the attention of serious investors ("have a global strategy from day one," said panelist Dan Senor). Stuart Francis of Barclays Capital forecast that 35% of IPOs from tech companies in the next five years will be from companies outside the US, and 35% of the money will come from international sources as well.
Following the plenary sessions, the entrepreneurs got down to details with tracked workshops on design, leadership, talent management, innovation and other disciplines. Wednesday morning, Endeavor co-Founder and CEO Linda Rottenberg and San Francisco Mayoral candidate (and Endeavor Board member) Joanna Rees hosted a special breakfast for woman entrepreneurs, recognizing visionary business leaders from Egypt, South Africa, Brazil and Chile.
Conferences like this have been known to generate more heat than light, but serious business is being done here. Nearly all the entrepreneurial companies in attendance are ready to compete at the highest levels. Some alumni like Argentina's Mercado Libre and Egypt's SySDSoft, have already gone public or been acquired (by Intel, in SySDSoft's case), realizing enormous value for their investors.
For Endeavor, these kinds of successes are more than just validation for their program and their selection process. They are the fulfillment of the organization's core mission of nurturing and promoting world-changing businesses in the parts of the world where change means the most.