GES 2019: “Crushed it!”

Edition 28 June 2019, by John Mahnen

The 2019 edition of the Global Entrepreneurship Summit was held in The Hague at the World Forum. The GES is an initiative of the U.S. State Department and the 2019 edition was co-hosted the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The Embassy of the U.S. in the Netherlands and the Embassy of the Netherlands in the U.S. were also involved. With a theme entitled “The Future Now”, GES 2019 empowered entrepreneurs to pursue solutions to global challenges in the following sectors: Agri/Food, Connectivity, Energy, Health, and Water. GES 2019 got off to flying start with an opening in The Hagues’s city hall with speaches by Prime Minister Mark Rutte, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Mayor of The Hauge, Pauline Krikke. The massive atrium played host the first of many networking opportunities.

The summit itself was opened by HRH Queen Maxima and spoke about the importance of female entrepreneurship and access to financial services for women. Among the other dignitaries on hand were Sigrid Kaag, Minister for Foreign Trade and Development Cooperaton, Mona Keijzer, State Secretary for Economic Affairs and Climate Policy, and Elaine Chao, U.S. Secretary of Transportation. Initiated nearly a decade ago by the US Government, the Global Entrepreneurship Summit (GES) is the preeminent annual gathering of entrepreneurs, innovators, investors, and thought leaders from around the world, providing a unique event that is a combination of an innovation marketplace and policy forum. Since 2010, an estimated 20,000 emerging leaders having participated in GES, governments and the private sector have committed to provide over $1 billion in new capital to entrepreneurs worldwide. Host cities have included: Dubai, UAE; Hyderabad, India; Istanbul, Turkey; Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia; Marrakech, Morocco; Nairobi, Kenya; Silicon Valley; and Washington, DC. Governments of countries involved have co-hosted these past Summits.

GES 2019 brought together close to 2,000 world leaders in innovation, entrepreneurship, investment, science and policy from more than 130 countries to promote entrepreneurship and contribute to major global challenges. The focus of GES 2019 was on the 1,200 selected unique entrepreneurs who have developed or are developing promising innovative products and services. Some of the participants commented that the summit was overwhelming at times – so many themes and so many speakers. Luckily, most of the presentations were captured so that the delegates can see all the information in their own time, but they are available to the public as well on YouTube. Among the many offerings, the session on Future Connectivity was not only engaging but entertaining. Jeff DeWit, CFO of NASA may not be a rocket scientist but he does pay their salaries. He spoke about a generation that has grown up while there was a permanent presence in space on the International Space Station. He added that there is a sign at NASA that reads, “We went to the moon before there were wheels on luggage.” GES 2019 was indeed encompassing – ideas big and small. From platforms to run Smart Cities to edible crickets from Montana and from Albania to Zanzibar and ABN AMRO to Ztractor Inc. The best way to view the GES is through the lens of Economic Diplomacy: two developed nations joining forces to not only bring their own best and brightest together but opening the doors and the collective networks to entrepreneurs from every corner of the earth. U.S. Ambassador to the Netherlands Pete Hoekstra summed it up best when he spoke about the ability of the shared values of the co-hosts to help people prosper and improve their lives.

Women played a central role in the GES program, not only with their presence in numbers but also with themed sessions and a Women’s Power Lunch. Just one of the many impressive leaders at the GES, Sascha Mercer, Senior Policy Advisor Economic Cabinet of Curaçao, made an impassioned elevator pitch to stop the brain drain that her Caribbean island faces. Rather than just being famous for liquor and baseball players, Mercer wants entrepreneurs to know Curaçao as a Center of Innovation. The closing session of the GES was chaired by Manisha Singh the U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Economic and Business Affairs and featured a discussion between President and CEO of Mastercard, Ajay Banga and Advisor to the President of the U.S., Ivanka Trump. Among the topics discussed was the eye-opening need for identity for women entrepreneurs in certain parts of the world, one of the issues being tackled by The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) in partnership with Mastercard. In a statement released by Mastercard, Executive Vice Chairman Ann Cairns said, “When women work, economies grow. It is quite simple.”

Many of the delegates at the GES 2019 had strong ties to sustainable business, green tech and impact investing. Among the many deals concluded in The Hague, BigMile and PostNL announced a cooperation that will see PostNL reduce their carbon footprint and improve their bottom line. Cincinnati, Ohio based Kroger also announced that they will team up with Dutch agribusiness firm Kipster to bring the most sustainable eggs in the world to the shelves of the largest supermarket chain in the United States. Morehead, Kentucky, about 160 kilometers south of Cincinnati, will also see tangible results of the GES. AppHarvest signed an agreement with Dutch greenhouse builder Dalsem to build a facility and raise produce that will cut down transport distances for deliveries to the East Coast of the United States. The 60 sixty-acre facility will bring much-needed jobs to the area decimated by the decline of coal. Some of the solutions that were announced at GES were rather more mundane but nonetheless profound. ProRail, the organisation that takes care of maintenance and extensions of the national railway network infrastructure was faced with a vexing question, namely, how to develop toilet facilities for workers to use during incidents on or near the track without leaving the spot. Not a small ask considering that trains don’t always break down in the close proximity of a railway station. Together with twelve corporates, the Dutch Chamber of Commerce (KvK) was looking for innovative solutions to fourteen issues, in the run-up to GES 2019. ProRail happily announced that will be testing the offered solution directly after the summit!

U.S. Ambassador Pete Hoekstra was visibly proud of the GES. It was certainly a time to shine for the U.S. diplomatic mission. Ambassador Hoekstra put in more than a diplomatic appearance taking a very active part in the summit right through the closing beach party at Scheveningen together with his wife Diane. He was clearly impressed by what he heard at the summit about artificial intelligence. “AI is going to be a big help in human decision making”, he mused before heading off to make his own difficult decisions at the expansive luncheon buffet. Also commenting on the Summit, Ambassador Maureen Cormack, Senior Advisor for the U.S. Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs on the GES, praised the cooperation between the U.S. and the Netherlands in organizing the event. Ambassador Cormack underlined the fact that the organizers had “worked really hard to recruit entrepreneurs who are investment ready, who have scalable enterprises”, providing a more expedited match to the potential investors. Press coverage of the event was also substantial, with the Dutch media giving GES a considerable amount of attention. The Amsterdam newspaper Het Parool reported on a perceived slight to Singrid Kaag that happened in closing plenary of the summit which featured a discussion with Ivanka Trump. If Minister Kaag felt slighted for the fact that the program ran a bit long leaving no time for her speech, it did not show at Scheveningen. The minister delivered her speech to partygoers and then made her way around the many tables speaking to the hundreds of delegates getting in their last bits of networking – economic diplomacy at its finest.

GES was truly a meeting of the minds. In general, GES speakers and participants found it more interesting to talk about solutions to the world’s pressing issues than to cast gloom and doom scenarios. It was better to talk about hyperloops than not travelling at all and to discuss new energy sources rather than carbon taxes. The message was clear: the world’s entrepreneurs are perfectly capable of tackling the pressing problems of our times and those to come. By bringing them together to comingle amongst themselves together with just the right mix of academia, government and a few big checkbooks, the Global Entrepreneur Summit is a wise investment in the future. Years ago, the World Forum was the home to the North Sea Jazz Festival with every nook and cranny filled with inspiration. It seems that building was simply waiting to inspire a new audience to foster and create the solutions the world’s marketplaces are looking for. In concluding his remarks on the eve of the summit, the U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told the audience to get out there and “Crush it!”. Mission accomplished, Mr. Secretary! To catch up on all the information from the GES 2019 and to see the presentations, look to GES2019.org.