GES 2017 set for Hyderabad, focusing on women entrepreneurs

A view of Hyderabad, India. Photo by: Eric Parker / CC BY-NC

The 2017 Global Entrepreneurship Summit will take place in Hyderabad, India, from November 28 through 30.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi broke the news on Twitter Thursday, mentioning @realDonaldTrump and @IvankaTrump, which resulted in a retweet from Ivanka, President Trump’s daughter and senior adviser, who will lead the United States delegation to Hyderabad.

News of the exact date and location has been a long time coming, after India was announced as the host country at last year’s summit at Stanford University in Palo Alto, California. Several months have passed since early conversations that GES 2017 would be in Hyderabad in late November. The delay of official confirmation — compared to the seven-months notice that was given last year — comes after concerns about the future of the summit under the new U.S. administration.

U.S. government officials told Devex they could not discuss the details of GES until official confirmation of the date and location, which they said would come this week. On Thursday, hours after Modi’s tweet, Trump tweeted that his daughter would lead the U.S. delegation, which the White House announced in June. Devex received a note from the U.S. Department of State saying these Twitter interactions served as official confirmation.

The White House had not issued an official release at the time of publication, but Devex has learned that the theme of the summit will be “women first, prosperity for all.” Ivanka Trump’s participation signals a major focus on women’s entrepreneurship, in a country where experts tell Devex that young women have a keen desire to become wage earners and job creators in the digital economy. The summit’s focus on women entrepreneurs throughout the agenda is an expansion of a topic at side events during the 2015 and 2016 summits in Nairobi and Silicon Valley.

The State Department, the U.S. Agency for International Development, the National Security Council at the White House and the U.S. Department of Commerce are taking a lead role in organizing the summit, working in partnership with the Indian government. NITI Aayog — the National Institution for Transforming India — is its key in-country partner, having signed a statement of intent with the U.S. government back in September last year.

With GES travelling from a tech hub in the U.S. to a tech hub in India, there are natural questions about the key differences between these two entrepreneurial ecosystems, said Will Poole, founder of Unitus Seed Fund, the most active seed fund in India.

“The one difference that’s likely the biggest impact for Indian startup founders is the lack of ‘mentor capital’ — formal and informal mentoring from both experienced and peer entrepreneurs,” he said in an interview with Devex earlier this year. “While mentoring and entrepreneurial network support is no less important in the USA and other developed markets, it’s much more readily available. In India, there are relatively few role models of entrepreneurs who have ‘punched their ticket’ and those that have are in such demand that they can’t possibly handle the number of requests they get. I hope that GES 2017 will provide best-in-class tools and opportunities for entrepreneurs to connect with their peers and with mentors both in India and globally.”

The environment for entrepreneurship is improving in India, but sources of capital such as angel investors, and resources for entrepreneurs such as incubators and accelerators, are growing in a fragmented way, said Erik Azulay, manager of the IC2 Institute at the University of Texas, who moved to India in March to manage the new Nexus innovation hub.

“Working together, that is where you get an innovation ecosystem, like you have in Austin, Texas,” said Azulay. “Everyone asks: Where is the next Silicon Valley? But that is not the model I would recommend. What we talk about at IC2 is sustainable development through entrepreneurship.”

Nexus, a collaboration between the IC2 Institute and the American Center at the U.S. Embassy in New Delhi, will also play a leading role in GES 2017, Azulay said. But even as he and State Department officials discussed plans for the summit, the lack of official confirmation on the date and venue made inbound interest a challenge for those tasked with making sure the event is a success.

The silence led to concerns about the future of the summit under the administration of U.S. President Donald Trump. The annual conference promoting global entrepreneurship was launched by former President Barack Obama, and has rotated across a range of countries ever since. However, the U.S. relationship with India seems important to Trump, who is also sending Secretary of Energy Rick Perry and Secretary of Defense James Mattis to the country in the coming months. 

“We never thought about building … or innovating something, or solving a problem. We didn’t have leaders who emphasized that. We had leaders who ran outsourcing Indian IT companies, which was glorified.”

— Varun Chandran, CEO of Corporate360

The U.S. and Indian governments will work together on planning, financing, logistics and other details, in a summit that will showcase their shared commitment to entrepreneurship, and provides a key opportunity for the announcement of new commitments.

This year’s summit will also present an opportunity for India to demonstrate what its market can offer to international startups, said Varun Chandran, chief executive officer of Corporate360, a software company that works with information technology companies to streamline their sales and marketing efforts. The company is creating jobs in rural Kerala, where Chandran grew up.

“Let’s take a step back and look at why Google, Microsoft, Facebook, Apple came from the U.S. Why not from India? We had the talent, we had the background, we had the infrastructure, but we didn’t have the fundamentals in place,” he said. “When people like me came out of college, our first focus was how can we get a job at Infosys or one of the major IT companies. We never thought about building something or innovating something or solving a problem. We didn’t have leaders who emphasized that. We had leaders who ran outsourcing Indian IT companies, which was glorified.”

While India is known as a destination for IT outsourcing, the success of high-profile companies has increased the momentum for startup success, he said. What remains to be seen is whether the Asian startup ecosystem can move beyond a number of models that copy what has worked in the U.S. market, as GrabTaxi has done with Uber, he added.

“India can teach the world about inclusive entrepreneurship, which is more sensitive to the economic needs of the many versus the desires of the few. It can be the laboratory of the world for inclusive growth in a vibrant digital economy,” said Radha Basu, CEO of iMerit Technology Services, and a speaker at GES 2016. “India has a lot to learn regarding enabling government policies, and especially industry-academia research collaboration for deep innovations. Successful high valuation entrepreneurship is still nascent. There is no Google yet.”

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    Catherine Cheney

    Catherine Cheney is a Senior Reporter for Devex. She covers the West Coast of the U.S., focusing on the role of technology and innovation in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. And she frequently represents Devex as a speaker and moderator. Prior to joining Devex, Catherine earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Yale University, worked as a web producer for POLITICO and reporter for World Politics Review, and helped to launch NationSwell. Catherine has reported from all over the world, and freelanced for outlets including the Atlantic and the Washington Post. She is also the West Coast ambassador for the Solutions Journalism Network, a nonprofit that trains and connects journalists to cover responses to problems.