12 June 2012

Turning the mindset towards innovation through cultural exchange – and why that matters

What would immediately strike you if you were a fresh European entrepreneur in your early 20s, that has just landed in U.S. to meet with biggest innovators and VCs ? This is definitely not something that comes easy every day. We wanted to create an experience that would be memorable. To make it memorable, it had to be meaningful. To make it meaningful, we wanted powerful interactions between people. Living in today’s world, where mobility is key, we all know that people to people connections benefit everyone- from individual participants and their families to host communities and host countries. And this is how “Innotour USA 2012” came to life in February this year- our unique 2-weeks innovation tour to Silicon Valley, Boston and Washington DC How it started We selected Europe’s most innovative, enthusiastic and motivated young entrepreneurs and with the help and support of the U.S. Mission to the European Union in Brussels we flew them to the other side of the Atlantic. The reason was simple: getting to know the American way of doing innovation, seek for inspiration and bring back the well kept ‘’secret’’ to Europe. “Once your mindset changes, everything on the outside will change along with it.” Through our own nature, we tend to continue to adopt or accept prior behaviors, choices, or tools. The set of assumptions and methods is so established within our minds that it creates a powerful incentive within our society to continue to do adopt it. And we have been doing so here in Europe for too long, creating our own barriers and reject risk taking whenever possible. For 10 young entrepreneurs, the wake up call began in U.S. , at a round table discussion at the U.S Department of State, where Mr Alec Ross, Senior Advisor on Innovation to Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, shared his example about risk taking: „RISK goes down in history, it started with people seeking new frontiers”. A very fruitful ground for innovation was indeed forming in US, judging by its own people who came there to literally seek for the new frontiers. But if we look deeper, this culture survived over the years and America’s entrepreneurs today still continue to innovate in a way that inspires the world. How do you sustain and encourage such positive culture towards risk taking? „Today’s barriers to entrepreneurship are lower”, Mr Alec Ross encouraged the European delegation and he even went further with mentioning few of the advantages of starting a business in EU:

  • Europe has a mature and developed market place
  • Highly skilled workforce
  • Strategic geographical location

‘Keep the authenticity, be authentic!’ is what Scott Goodstein, the Online Director for “Obama for America” presidential campaign constantly repeated in front of us in the session we had together in DC. ‘You have to believe it in order to express it in your work’. During the 10 days tour ,we went from speaking to government and institutions in Washington DC, to meeting professors who are teaching innovation at top Schools (Stanford, Harvard, MIT) . No book beats the experience we had when visiting over 10 companies , successful start-ups , incubators and VCs in Silicon Valley.

What makes Innotour USA so powerful is its ability to build bridges and connect people with people. We have taken responsibility to embed our main learnings from Innotour in our every day actions and initiatives, as well as future projects here at EYIF. One of them has started and you can see it happening already. Soon after our Innotour experience, Dr. Burton Lee, Professor of European Entrepreneurship and Innovation at Stanford University, with whom we had the honour to speak first during the US tour in February, came to Europe and delivered a session to entrepreneurs and innovation experts in Brussels. Together with the U.S. Mission to the European Union we were honoured to host the event and set the frame for such conversations to take place and inspire other communities here in Europe. Continuing on this path, EYIF is bringing more of these extraordinary people to Europe in a 2 days UNConvention in Brussels. Following up on the meaningful dialogues we have started in US in February, Mr Alec ROSS, Senior Advisor on Innovation to Secretary of State, Hillary CLINTON, Sheila MARCELO, Founder and CEO, Care.com and Young Global Leader, WEF, as well as William E. KENNARD, US Ambassador to the European Union are joining a great panel of Innovators and VCs to inspire young entrepreneurs in Europe. Building bridges through exchange and experiential learning is now one of our top priorities in our attempt to help change the mindset towards innovation in Europe. Join us and let’s start by engaging in a meaningful debate on  26-27 June in Brussels. See you there!