Why India Rolled Out the Red Carpet for Global Entrepreneurs, and What I Learned From Them
President Trump’s tax plan, smart cities and agri-tech were also big topics at this year’s Global Entrepreneurship Summit in Hyderabad
PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images
I've been to conferences where the organizers knocked themselves out to make the attendees feel welcome. I've never been to one where an entire city, and a good chunk of a state government, got on board in the same way.
But that was my experience at the Global Entrepreneurship Summit, held last week in Hyderabad, India. From almost the moment I stepped off the plane, I was welcomed by Hyderabadi and surrounded by entrepreneurs from all over. While waiting for my luggage, I chatted with a Palestinian woman and a man from Boston, both there for the summit. That pleased the conference organizers, including the young Indian man assigned to help me with my luggage: "I am happy," he said, escorting me to a bus to my hotel. "I see you are talking freely with people from other nations, and that makes me happy."
There were also people from my nation, which co-hosted the conference. The U.S. delegation was led by Ivanka Trump, presidential daughter and adviser, who on the first evening addressed the 1,500 people assembled at the convention center in Hyderabad. I'd seen her face on billboards on the way to the hotel, but didn't quite anticipate what a lovefest the crowds would make it.
Trump spoke about women and empowerment, and at later sessions took opportunities to promote the administration's expanded childcare tax credit, her paid family leave proposal, and the President’s tax plan. K.T. Rama Rao, a moderator of one of the panels that Ivanka participated in, and the Minister for IT and several other industries in the state of Telangana, went so far as to say he hoped the tax plan would pass, saying, "I hope the Trump administration has a huge victory."
Someone in the audience tried to get a chant of "U-S-A" going, unsuccessfully; one for Prime Minister Narendra Modi (Mo-Di! Mo-Di!) likewise failed.
Entrepreneurship is, in a sense, an industry like any other. And if I go to a high-level entrepreneurship conference in the U.S., I'm bound to recognize many of the speakers and at at least a handful of the entrepreneurs. The topics are familiar, too: building your brand with social media, raising money, hiring strategies. This conference had all that, but it also had discussions about water use, agri-tech, and smart cities, which don't appear all that frequently on the agenda of U.S. entrepreneurship conferences.
Most entrepreneurs are enthusiastic networkers, but this crowd was in another league. Every time I sat down next to someone, they would promptly introduce themselves. That's not so unusual. But if they were already talking to someone else, they'd introduce me to their pal, too. If they were on their phone, they'd put it down immediately, and no one hesitated to interrupt me if I was tapping away on my phone.
The delegates from Arabian countries may have been particularly mobbed, perhaps because wealthy families in the region are starting to put some of their considerable money into investments in entrepreneurs. "Let's go meet some Arabs," one media entrepreneur said to me during dinner the first night. "I think I see some Emiratis!"
While I recognized a few people from other events, the international nature of GES ensured that the variety and diversity of entrepreneurs was beyond anything I'd seen before. I met an El Salvadoran with an innovation consultancy; a not-for-profit founder who thinks she's unlocked the key both to entrepreneurship and to ending poverty, and has a patent pending to prove it; an entrepreneur developing a first-trimester test for preeclampsia; another other using warehouse receipts as a form of collateral for farmers in underdeveloped countries; and one who specializes in life-support systems for space travel. For starters.
Well after the airport was forgotten, the Hyderabadi continued to knock everyone over with their hospitality. Dinner Tuesday was at the Falaknuma Palace, built in the late 1800's for the ruling Nizams; on Wednesday it was at the Golconda Fort, which dates to the 12th century. There was live music, there were dozens of dancers, and there was a life-sized animatronic elephant.
The city seemed almost suspiciously clean, and my driver told me the government had been working for a month to spruce it up. During the event, a strict regime of "food hygiene" was in place throughout portions of the city, which meant street stores and vendors selling street food had been shut down. Some "very bad singers," as my driver described them, had even written a song imploring Ivanka Trump to come to Hyderabad every year, so their city would be clean.
On the way back to the hotel from Falaknuma Palace, the roads seemed practically deserted ... which seemed unlikely in a country famous for its traffic.
I asked the man sitting next to me what had happened. Had the road been closed? I was being a little facetious--but yes, they'd closed the road, and delegates would occasionally be accompanied by motorcades throughout the event. The trip back from Faluknuma Palace usually took more than an hour, my seatmate told me, but we were looking to make it back in about 40 minutes.
"For the bus driver," he said, "this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity."