"The Internet is arguably the greatest economic engine of all time" Google CEO Sundar Pichai
TANFORD, Calif. — President Obama not only shared a stage in Silicon Valley with Mark Zuckerberg and Sundar Pichai Friday, but a similar mind-set: Entrepreneurship is hard, but essential in an increasingly globalized world.
"The world has shrunk. It is interconnected. It promises to bring extraordinary benefit, but it has challenges and can sometimes evoke fears," Obama said at the Global Entrepreneurship Summit at Stanford University here. "Entrepreneurship remains the engine of growth."
The president's second trip to Stanford in a year — he attended a cybersecurity conference last year — marked his first comments on the United Kingdom's decision to leave the European Union. Obama said he was "confident" the U.K. was in an orderly transition from its 43-year membership in the union.
Obama said he had spoken with British Prime Minister David Cameron, who announced his resignation after the vote. While the UK's relationship with the EU will change, Obama said, "our relationship with the U.K. will endure."
The president's comments on Brexit were a rare detour from a laser-focused agenda on budding entrepreneurs that highlighted celebrities (the cast of Silicon Valley), tech royalty (the heads of Google and Facebook) and politics (Commerce Secretary Penny Prtizker). Obama briefly touched on the importance of diversity, and the importance for tech companies to offer annual progress reports on their hires.
Obama took off his jacket, rolled up his sleeves and moderated a panel with Zuckerberg and a trio of young entrepreneurs from around the world. (For the record, Obama and Zuck hugged when the Facebook co-founder bounded on stage.)
For Zuckerberg, the single-biggest obstacle to connecting the world and feeding entrepreneurship is making the Internet available to the 4 billion people who don't have it. (The world's population is 7 billion.) "Personally, the biggest thing I’m concentrating on is connectivity," Zuckerberg said. "For most folks, this is a blocking factor. Without access to Internet, it is hard to imagine what you are missing out on.
Tech continues to be a prime mover in the U.S. economy, earning greater attention from government regulators and policy makers. "The Internet is arguably the greatest economic engine of all time," Google CEO Sundar Pichai said in a brief keynote before the president went on stage.
AOL co-founder, Steve Case, who appeared earlier with young entrepreneurs, took the analogy further. "Silicon Valley rose from orchards more than 40 years ago to the epicenter of innovation today," he said.
Obama's trip comes as presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump is entangled in a war of pointed words (and tweets) with Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, Hewlett Packard Enterprise CEO Meg Whitman and Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky. Trump and his surrogates have also leveled broadsides at Apple and Facebook.
Progressive tech leaders have distanced themselves because of Trump's anti-immigration policy and his comments about minority groups.
Obama's presence "demonstrates our enduring commitment to entrepreneurs who are building their communities against all odds," said conference participant Dilawar Syed, president of Freshdesk, a maker of cloud-based customer-engagement software.
Next year, GES will be held in India, the latest infatuation of Silicon Valley.
Credit: USA TODAY