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Secretary Pritzker Honors Women Entrepreneurs in Marrakesh, Morocco

Wednesday, November 19, 2014
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U.S. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker delivered remarks to approximately 300 women entrepreneurs to kick off Women’s Entrepreneurship Day in Marrakesh, Morocco. Secretary Pritzker discussed America’s leadership in empowering entrepreneurs at home and abroad, addressed the importance of the Presidential Ambassadors for Global Entrepreneurship (PAGE) which she chairs, and touted how a strong entrepreneurial society can lead to greater economic growth, stability and security, and a rising middle class. 

In her address, Secretary Pritzker urged the women entrepreneurs in the audience to mentor and advise their peers, share best practices with one another, and inspire the next generation of entrepreneurs in their home communities and countries, and she outlined the key ingredients needed to encourage more women and more young people to turn their ideas and inventions into thriving businesses. 

Remarks As Prepared for Delivery 

I want to thank King Mohammed and the government of Morocco for hosting this year’s Global Entrepreneurship Summit. 

I am delighted to join you today to celebrate entrepreneurship – and to highlight the economic and social benefits that innovation brings to all of our countries. 

But before I begin, I must say that I am so inspired by the women at this summit – all of you. Your dynamism; your fearlessness; your courage to not only enter the workforce, but to start a business is so inspiring to me. Your appetite for risk, your vision for your companies, and, indeed, your vision for your societies, comprise the very definition of the entrepreneurial spirit. 

In the United States, we do not just respect and admire our entrepreneurs, we celebrate them – from Ben Franklin to Steve Jobs; from Elizabeth Arden to Elizabeth Holmes of Theranos, who started her blood testing company at 19 years old; from Bill Gates to Alexa Von Tobel who founded LearnVest and will join us at this year’s Global Entrepreneurship Summit.  

The story of America has been shaped and driven by people like those I just mentioned: risk-takers, inventors, pioneers in business and technology. 

Entrepreneurship is one of America’s greatest assets and exports, and President Obama has been promoting global innovation since his famous speech in Cairo in 2009. The President knows that opportunity for business creators to thrive is the foundation for a rising middle class, for security and stability, and for broad based prosperity. 

I am proud to lead the U.S. efforts to support and empower aspiring innovators, both at home and around the world.

Now, some countries still restrict access to opportunity: by exerting social pressure; by limiting educational options; by making it difficult to raise capital. 

But no nation can grow and thrive over the long term when huge swaths of its population are denied a chance to chase their dreams and succeed. Societies can only reach their full economic potential if they tap into 100 percent of their talent pool. 

That means embracing the ideas and aspirations of our youth. That means enabling women to get a good education and secure the capital needed to start their own companies. That means allowing women to dictate their own futures. That means empowering you – and all women entrepreneurs. 

This is not an abstract topic for me; this is personal. I spent 27 years in the private sector, and I started five companies. 

I understand how it feels when most of your colleagues and competitors are men. I understand what it is like to have an idea, but not know how to take it from a concept to a business plan to an entity that can actually get funding. I understand the uncertainty associated with needing to hire people with expertise that you do not possess. I understand what it is like to stumble, get back up and try again. And I know the exhilaration of bringing in that first 100 dollars of revenue.      

I was fortunate to have the guidance, direction, capital and the fortitude I needed to succeed. And I want all entrepreneurs, especially women like you, to have the same support structure. 

Because the fact is, when women entrepreneurs take risks and succeed, societies change for the better. Expectations change, not only for other women, but for men and children, too. It becomes easier to accept the idea of a woman as a family’s breadwinner, the head of a household, a community leader, or a head of state. 

Because when women entrepreneurs thrive, economies grow. In the United States, women-owned firms generate more than $1.3 trillion in revenues and employ nearly 8 million people. In developing nations, there are as many as 10 million small and medium enterprises owned by women – all of them creating jobs, driving consumer spending, and injecting growth into their communities. 

Because when women entrepreneurs flourish, families benefit. Women tend to spend more of their money on their children’s health and education, which leads to a more skilled, more productive generation of workers. 

In the United States, we know the power of women entrepreneurs as leaders and trailblazers in our communities. 

In the Obama Administration, we are leveraging this power through a brand new public-private partnership called the President’s Ambassadors for Global Entrepreneurship, or PAGE, which I am honored to chair. 

This initiative brings together 11 of America’s top entrepreneurs, who use their stories and their expertise to mentor and inspire young people and start-ups across our country and around the world. 

Among our ambassadors are a number of extraordinary women, who have changed our country – and the world – for the better: 

  • Women like Nina Vaca, the daughter of immigrants who founded the IT services firm Pinnacle in her living room with just $300 – and turned it into a global brand. 
  • Women like Alexa von Tobel, who started LearnVest to make personal investing more manageable – and whose company now makes financial planning easier for thousands of Americans.  
  • Women like Daphne Koller, who co-founded Coursera to bring high-quality education from top universities to people around the world, at a low cost. 

I am proud that Alexa and Daphne will join us this week to participate at the Global Entrepreneurship Summit. 

Yet, even with American support of entrepreneurs worldwide, we know that our efforts can only go so far when women lack access to the basic ingredients needed to start a business. Too often, women lack access to capital. Too often, women lack access to training in vocational and technical skills. Too often, women lack access to information and communications technology – the computers and mobile devices needed to grow a business in the 21st century. 

Female entrepreneurs all over the world need a change in culture: where it is acceptable to fail in one business and then try again with another; where women are encouraged to break free from their traditional roles; where affordable child care equips mothers with the freedom to strike out on their own; where anyone, male or female, is empowered to start and run their own business. 

On top of these challenges, in many communities, structural obstacles still create enormous difficulties for women and men who want to launch and grow a new business. 

I have traveled all over the world since I became Secretary, and I have met with countless ministers and heads of state. They always ask me: how do we encourage and support entrepreneurship like you do in the United States? 

The conversation begins with how to build an infrastructure of opportunity. 

Countries need a strong educational system that produces students able to think broadly and creatively, and to accept and take risks, even if that could mean failure. 

Entrepreneurs thrive when their country’s private sector and universities have close relationships, so that ideas can easily become commercialized and tested in the market. 

Countries also need laws that make it easy for innovators to both start a company and wind it down, and laws that protect intellectual property. And, entrepreneurs need strong rule of law, a level playing field, and the ability to access financing throughout the stages of a business’ life cycle. 

Even without all the elements in place, entrepreneurs around the world continue to defy the odds, take risks, and inspire us with their perseverance. They are entrepreneurs like Ethel Cofie, who is here today. I met Ethel this past May at the Meltwater Entrepreneurial School of Technology, a dynamic incubator in Accra, Ghana. 

Ethel runs a successful technology consulting firm, specializing in mobile app and software development. But her success did not come easily. 

Ethel grew up in Accra. She was one of only four women in a class of 150 to graduate from Ghana’s Valley View University, earning a degree in computer science. 

She won a scholarship to attend graduate school in London, then returned home to Ghana to pursue her dream and start her business.  However, Ethel could not find enough clients for her consulting firm; she could not secure enough business or support; she ran into too many obstacles; and she had to close down her operations. 

Ethel’s original company failed, but all was not lost. 

In the following years, she worked for a Gates Foundation project to expand mobile technology in Ghana. She served as a technical consultant to a Ford Foundation initiative on election monitoring in Nigeria. She managed a team of technical and business analysts for Vodafone. 

Through her experiences, Ethel learned; and decided to try again. This time, with mentorship from her father, her former boss at Vodafone, and one of the leading digital media entrepreneurs in Ghana, Ethel succeeded. And today, her business is thriving. 

Now, she wants other women, especially in the tech sector, to follow her lead. In fact, this summer, Ethel organized an online, pan-African meet-up to exchange best practices and encourage fellow women tech entrepreneurs across the continent. 

President Obama and I know that few, if any, entrepreneurs succeed on their own. The United States is committed to serving as your partner, and we are acting to expand our role as the global leader in entrepreneurship. 

In the coming weeks, we will announce the expansion of the President’s Ambassadors for Global Entrepreneurship, adding new voices to our efforts to inspire young people in America and beyond our borders. 

In addition, we are supporting a new entrepreneurship curriculum, developed by Daphne Koller of Coursera, to teach aspiring entrepreneurs the basics of starting a business. 

Let me close by saying, all of you embody the statement made famous by Bobby Kennedy half-a-century ago: that “some…see things the way they are and ask why; I dream things that never were and ask, why not.” 

Everyone in this room has dreams – and is working to realize them. Every one of you has challenged convention. Everyone here has the capacity to not just start a business but to bring prosperity to your families and communities. 

Throughout this summit, I urge you to share that spirit – because you are the agents of change in the 21st century. 

Thank you for being here.