High-Impact Entrepreneurship: Enabling Growth, Opportunity and Sustainability

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<p>President Obama, Mark Zuckerberg and global entrepreneurs at the 2016 GES in Silicon Valley.</p>

President Obama, Mark Zuckerberg and global entrepreneurs at the 2016 GES in Silicon Valley.

Photo courtesy of Sonita Lontoh, from GES 2016

Around the same time as the recent World Economic Forum 2017 in Davos, Oxfam shared a report showing that the 8 richest people in the world own as much as what the bottom half of humanity (approximately, 3.5 billion people) own. Silicon Valley has arguably been regarded as the hub for technology innovation, disruption, and entrepreneurship, not only for America, but also the world. Lately, many of its famous entrepreneurs, such as Zuck, Musk, and Benioff, have also been known to focus not only for profits, but also social impacts, and sustainability. A few weeks ago, another one of its well-known residents, Paul Graham, widely known as a co-founder of Y-Combinator, the pre-eminent Silicon Valley seed accelerator, wrote an essay “Economic Inequality,” in which he espoused the need to shift the conversation of economic inequality from decreasing inequality to increasing opportunities for all. In large part, I agree with this because by focusing on increasing opportunities, we embrace the growth mindset, instead of the fixed mindset.

While the awareness for social entrepreneurship and impact investing are growing, there is one additional type of entrepreneurship that has not gotten as much attention — high-impact entrepreneurship. According to a World Economic Forum report “The Bold Ones,” high-impact entrepreneurs are people who launch and grow companies that have above average impacts on job creation, wealth creation, and societal impacts in their communities and improve standards of living. These entrepreneurs stand out on almost all aspects — their companies grow faster, create more jobs, contribute more to society, and transform industries to a greater extent compared to their peers. Over 600 companies started by high-impact entrepreneurs surveyed in the study (approximately 1/10,000th of all US companies) have created over 160,000 jobs in the last two years (approximately 1/20th of the total US economy). These high-impact entrepreneurs grew aggregate revenues of almost $100 billion by 30% annually when the overall US economy grew only by less than 3% annually. Most importantly, these high-impact entrepreneurs have also made a real difference to their societies through innovation and transformations.

A few months ago, I had the privilege to participate as an international selection committee member for Endeavor, the high-impact nonprofit. Endeavor focuses on catalyzing long-term economic growth by selecting, mentoring, and accelerating the best high-impact entrepreneurs from around the world. I found the Endeavor panel experience both humbling and inspiring. I had the opportunity to meet and evaluate entrepreneurs with the greatest potential to create growing companies that not only create jobs, but also have the highest likelihood to give back and inspire others, and create the greatest multiplier effects in their communities, societies, and countries.

The individual stories of these entrepreneurs are diverse, unique, and impressive. From the more traditional entrepreneurs such as the father-and-son team aiming to grow a transportation business in the Middle East/Africa, or the sisters trying to grow a health drink business in the Midwest; to the more tech-savvy endeavors such as the game platform entrepreneur in Southeast Asia, or the genius engineer building a satellite business in Europe, or the bitcoin entrepreneurs leveraging block chain technology to revolutionize the financial system in a country where most people do not have bank accounts or credit cards. While each of their stories is unique, the common thread was that these entrepreneurs were inspiring because they had overcome many years of obstacles and challenges, and continued to persevere. One cannot help not to develop a healthy dose of respect for the courage, vision, and determination these potential high-impact entrepreneurs displayed.

If we want to grow the economy more sustainably, we need to grow high-impact entrepreneurs. Help them with access to business leaders and policy makers who can serve as mentors, advisors, sponsors, connectors, investors, and role models. Inspire these high-impact entrepreneurs to give back their time, money, and efforts to help other inspiring high-impact entrepreneurs to succeed. True success comes not by focusing on one’s self, but on how one can help others to grow and succeed as well. This multiplier effect is the key to fostering sustainable economic growth through creating employment and opportunities, not only here at home, but also abroad for all mankind.

Sonita Lontoh is the Vice President of Strategic Markets at Siemens, Digital Grid, and a co-founder of the Silicon Valley Asia Technology Alliance.

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