Remarks by Vice President Joe Biden to the Global Entrepreneurship Summit

THE VICE PRESIDENT:  What a delight to be here.  (Laughter.)

AUDIENCE MEMBER:  Happy birthday.

THE VICE PRESIDENT:  Thank you.  (Applause.)  It’s nice of His Majesty to assemble this crowd for my birthday.  (Laughter.)  I appreciate it.  (Applause.)  I am getting to the age where I don’t look forward to birthdays.

AUDIENCE:  (Sings “Happy Birthday”.)  (Applause.)

THE VICE PRESIDENT:  Thank you.  I was telling the President of Gabon that I have a new attitude as to how to compute one’s age.  There was a famous American baseball player named Satchel Paige.  And he was a great pitcher in American baseball.  And he was pitching in the Major Leagues well beyond his years.  And on his 47th birthday, the sportswriters went into the locker room and said, Satchel, what’s it feel like to be so old and still be pitching?  (Laughter.)  And he looked at them and said, gentlemen, that’s not how I look at it.  Here’s how I look at age.  How old would you be if you didn’t know how old you are?  (Laughter.)  I am 42.  (Laughter and applause.)

Thank you very much.  To all the Excellencies, and to all the nearly 3,000-plus investors and inventors, businesspeople, government officials, leaders from over 50 countries, it’s good to be back at this summit.  I had the opportunity on the third summit to address it in Turkey.  And it’s a delight to be back here today, and I feel even more enthusiasm in the room today than I did then.  And it was full of enthusiasm then.  (Applause.)

Morocco -- and it’s particularly good to be here in Marrakech in Morocco.  What most people don’t realize is Morocco holds a special place in the heart of Americans.  Morocco is the first nation -- (applause) -- Morocco was the first nation in the world to recognize the United States of America 237 years ago in December 1777.  So I’ve come here to say thank you.  (Laughter and applause.)

I’ve also come here to an ancient Muslim nation at the crossroads of Africa, the Arab world and Europe to talk about what it takes for all nations to succeed in the 21st century, what is required to create thriving, innovative societies worthy of the talents of their young people.

You talk to people in this region and many of you and us are concerned about terrorism.  But outside the conflict zone, what they're really concerned about -- and we are as well -- is how our children, how their children find jobs. 

People everywhere in the world are hungry for economic opportunity.  And it’s about a lot more than being able to make money.  My father used to have an expression.  He’d say, Joey, a job is about a lot more than a paycheck.  It’s about your dignity.  It’s about respect.  It’s about your place in your community.  And to be frank, the challenges ahead for all of us are immense, especially in regions with developing economies and rapidly growing populations.

Many of the countries represented here today have well over 60 percent of their population under the age of 30, some under the age of 25.  In the Middle East and Africa, for example, in a race to create tens of millions of jobs, just to break even, as the democratic wave -- demographic wave of young people enters the labor force, it doesn’t matter where you live if people cannot get educated; or they get educated and they can’t get a job; or they get a job and can’t earn a decent living; or they can earn a living, but it gets siphoned off or stolen by corruption; or if half the population -- women -- cannot contribute to prosperity; those countries caught in that vortex are not positioned to succeed in the 21st century because real and lasting stability depends on governments and citizens of this region finding a way to work together to expand opportunity and unlock the enormous talents of your people.

The challenge is formidable, but there are also incredible opportunities.  When I travel the region and the entire developing world, I see young people with limitless promise to make not only their countries but the whole world better.  That is not hyperbole.  That is not stated to appeal to the audience.  That is the reality.  That’s the world we live in.  And the opportunities out there for entrepreneurship have never been greater than they are right now.

To those of you who are older, think back 20 years ago.  Could you in your wildest dreams have envisioned half of the incredible breakthroughs that young entrepreneurs have created in those past 20 years?  And imagine -- just imagine -- what will happen in the next 20 as we unlock everything, including the dimensions of the human brain.  And we see people in the Middle East and Africa, and every region of the world using tools of technology undreamed of just a short time ago; and expanding possibilities beyond their wildest imaginations.

People like the young man from Lebanon, who after his father died of a heart attack, invented a 24/7 GPS-enabled heart-rate monitor to provide early warning for others, saving thousands of lives.  He raised a small amount of capital to get started.  He now employs 70 people.  Or the young Kenyan who founded a company to let children who couldn’t afford to buy textbooks read them one page at a time on their phones.

So how do we help?  How do we help these brilliant young minds?  How do we help entrepreneurship take even deeper root?

America’s experience, like many others, teaches us that fostering entrepreneurship is not just about crafting the right economic policy, or developing the best educated curricula.  It’s about creating an entire climate in which innovation and ideas flourish.

No two countries do it exactly the same way.  But there’s a common thread through all those that have succeeded.  Just like the basic rules of physics, there are certain basic rules that comprise the path to prosperity in the 21st century.  And societies and governments can choose for themselves whether or not to follow this path.

I’m not here to tell anyone else what’s in their interest.  I’m here on behalf of the President to state what we think best leads to that path.  In today’s fast-paced world, those that don’t follow the path are already being left behind.  So what is required to prosper in the 21st century?  What does it take?

It takes an education system, but one that is universal, open to all, including girls and women, that trains people to be skeptical.  I was meeting with a man many of you know, a wise man from Singapore named Lee Kuan Yew.  He was asking me why did I think America was able to reinvent itself so often.  I said, because stamped into the DNA of every naturalized American, as well as native born, is an inherent skepticism for orthodoxy.  You cannot fundamentally change the world without breaking the old.  It takes a value system that gives people the freedom to try and to fail, or as they say in the fabled Silicon Valley, fail forward, without being criticized.

To divert for just a moment, I spoke at a conference in the western part of my county, in Colorado a month ago.  And there were hundreds of brilliant young entrepreneurs and not-so-young very brilliant, very wealthy entrepreneurs from Silicon Valley.  And I sat next to a young woman who was in her 30s, who was already a billionaire and has come up with a way to test blood at about 25 times cheaper than the present way.  And she’s now working on cures for Ebola.

And I found out -- I said, where did you go to school?  She said, I dropped out of Stanford.  (Laughter.)  It seems to me the road to success is getting into Stanford and dropping out.  (Laughter.)  But to be very serious, it’s about challenging orthodoxy.

It takes a legal system that’s fair, where you know the contractual agreement you’ve made will be upheld and protected, a system where judges are not corrupt, where you can risk starting a business; and failure and bankruptcy doesn’t land you in prison; and maybe most importantly, one  that justly rewards and protects intellectual property.  You’d expect an American official to say that.  But for many societies, for any society that fails to protect intellectual property, I guarantee you that society will stifle entrepreneurship and economic innovation in their own society.  They may be able to steal, but they will always be behind the curve.

It takes a society that empowers women because entrepreneurship thrives when a society engages all the talents.  In the words of that Chinese proverb, women hold up half the sky.  Women hold up half the sky.  (Applause.)  And I might add they have at least half the grey matter.

It’s true.  It takes a political system founded on the rule of law that protects basic liberties, including the freedom of speech, the freedom of religion, one that roots out the cancer of corruption, the worst enemy of entrepreneurship.

In the 21st century where some countries seek to use oligarchic and kleptocracy as tools of international coercion, corruption is a threat not only to economic growth, but to security and sovereignty.  Fighting corruption is not just good governance.  It’s self-defense.  It’s patriotism.  Lots of nations are struggling to decide whether they are confident enough to trust their people to follow that path.  To the extent they do, they have prospered.  To the extent they don’t, they haven’t.  All those factors I’ve mentioned create the context in our view for entrepreneurship to take root.

Where they're absent, the same human talent remains, but too often it is squandered.  Many of the best and brightest leave -- simply leave their homes.  And many of them come to America.

Ladies and gentlemen, in 2017, the United States for the first time, Caucasians of European descent like me will be in an absolute minority in the United States of America.  The secret that people don’t know is our diversity is the reason for our incredible strength because the brightest, the most innovative, the most adventuresome, the greatest risk takers, they’re the ones who leave when they cannot flourish and seek other places.  (Applause.)

We in America are proud to welcome them.  From Einstein, who fled Nazi Germany, to Sergey Brin who fled the prejudice and tyranny of Soviet Russia to found Google in America, and so many others.  But we also seek a world, it’s in our naked self-interest to want a world where everyone everywhere can reach their full potential in their own society.  It is in our self-interest to see societies succeed.  Because when they succeed, stability follows, less unrest, less violence, less extremism, more capacity to partner and trade and solving problems. 

Each of us has a role to play in helping us seize the potential inherent in our age.  Aspiring entrepreneurs must do what comes naturally to them:  Dream, take chances.  And in the phrase, the memorable phrase of Steve Jobs when a young man in Stanford said, Mr. Jobs, how can I be more like you?  He had two words.  He said, think different.  Think different.  (Applause.)

You cannot think different where you cannot breathe free.  You cannot think different where you cannot challenge orthodoxy.  You cannot think different where you cannot speak your mind.  (Applause.)  And for those who think the same do not hold promise for progress because the only way change comes it thinking different.

Established entrepreneurs and chambers of commerce must mentor the next generation.  That’s what President Obama had in mind in setting up this conference.  They have an obligation to share the wisdom they gained by their success and equally as much by their failures.  Universities must work through research and internships to nurture and develop entrepreneurial skills of students before they graduate.

Every one of you women and men here who have been successful -- and you have been -- I’ll bet you can look back to some time in your youth where you were exposed to someone doing something you’d never seen before.  And you’ve realized I can do that.  I can do that.

The single most valuable resource on this planet I think we could all agree on in this room is not what’s in the ground, but what’s in the mind.  It’s the single least explored part of the world, the mind.  The things that are going to happen in the next two, five, 10, 15 years are breathtaking.  Investors, they have to be willing to expand the horizon and invest in early stage entrepreneurs -- not only in Silicon Valley -- but in Nairobi and Dakar, everywhere, everywhere where there’s talent. 

Governments have to unlock the marketplace of ideas by allowing people to express their views openly about what they're thinking and what they're trying.

They must unlock the commercial marketplace by eliminating barriers to access to capital; ensuring that rules are fair and predictable, removing excessive cumbersome regulations. 

The government can’t grow the economy by itself.  As a matter of fact, it’s not the major reason.  It’s a catalyst for growth -- no matter how big the megaproject.  To prosper in the 21st century, you also need to grow from the bottom up, allowing your people to unlock their talents through private enterprise and political and economic freedom and action.

Events like this one help re-create and regenerate the culture of entrepreneurship.  We have an expression in my country when you’re saying something that probably the whole audience agrees with, you say it’s like preaching to the choir.  Well, there’s a very strong choir out there of some of the brilliant, brilliant young entrepreneurs that are in this facility.

As one Moroccan tweeted, “I remember the time when entrepreneurship in Morocco was synonymous with being in a precarious state.”  He went on to say, “But today entrepreneurship is celebrated at GES in Marrakech.”  (Applause.)

But I need not tell any of you.  There’s much more to do, more young people to invest in, more to remove excessively cumbersome bureaucracies, more to embrace private enterprise.  And as governments work to create conditions for entrepreneurship to thrive, they’ll find a ready partner in other nations with thriving entrepreneurial cultures, including my own.

The U.S. -- and I have with me one of the brightest people in our administration, a woman who has run a billion-dollar business, our Secretary of Commerce, who is with me today.  She understands that we, the United States, are anxious to participate.  Secretary Pritzker understands it’s part of her DNA what we have to do. 

The U.S. Millennium Challenge Corporation has invested almost $700 million in Morocco.  And I’m pleased to announce that the MCC and Morocco are developing plans together as part of a broader investment to finance at least $50 million in public-private partnership to provide vocational and technical training to equip young Moroccans with the skills they need to compete globally.  (Applause.)

The United States is partnering with Volvo to establish a training academy here in Morocco with 150 students each year from Morocco, Cote d’Ivoire and Senegal, focusing on the maintenance of industrial and commercial equipment, putting them in a position to work for multinational companies or to start their own businesses.

In partnership with Spain, the United States will also provide a credit guarantee to help financing cutting-edge, cold storage facilities in the Tangier Med Port in Morocco, helping fill a critical gap in Morocco’s agricultural exports.

The most important steps are those that countries take themselves, though, to create the conditions where entrepreneurship and innovation are possible.  But where our help is wanted, we’re ready to partner. 

Let me tell you how. 

First, in some cases, we’re helping provide access to capital, the seed money required to start a business.  Our Overseas Private Investment Corporation through that the United States government’s financial institution has committed $3.2 billion under our administration to support micro-, small and medium-size entrepreneurs and enterprises in the developing world. 

In just the last quarter of 2013, the USAID, the Agency for International Development in Egypt issued nearly 13,000 loans to low-income entrepreneurs; two-thirds of whom were women.  But that’s not the most exciting part.  Over 85 percent of those loans have already been paid back by these women.  (Applause.) 

Through a program called Partnering to Accelerate Entrepreneurship, we’re bringing together incubators, investors, financial firms, worldwide financial and institutions to accelerate growth of startups.  They’ve already reached 200 startups and are mobilizing $80 million in private capital in their first year, 10 times the amount of government put into the program.

Second, in other cases, we’re providing training because many people have great ideas, but need advice on how to translate them into action.  At least year’s summit, the U.S. signed a partnership with the organization called UP Global, with a goal of holding what we call Startup Weekends in 1,000 cities around the world by 2016, events to equip aspiring entrepreneurs with the knowledge and resources.  In one year, UP Global thus far has held over 700 Startup Weekends in 700 cities, well beyond the course of the goal. 

Coursera, the online educational platform that’s breaking down barriers to higher education with over 800 courses, serving 10 million people.  Coursera has announced it will host high-quality, university-level entrepreneurship online courses available for free of charge. 

It won’t surprise you, we’re especially focused on women.  My wife yesterday spoke to a remarkably large group of talented women and entrepreneurs.  The promise is amazing.  And we, like other countries want to help.  We have trained over 200 women entrepreneurs each in Libya and in Tunisia.  Under the African Women’s Enterprise Program, we’re bringing together business women from across the sub-Saharan Africa for training and advocacy, and the chance to meet leaders in America like Secretary Pritzker and many other businesswomen and civil society.

Without empowering women, everything else we hope to achieve is exponentially harder.

Third, we’re using America’s global diplomatic and economic presence to convene, connect and champion entrepreneurs.  That includes conferences like this one, where people can share lessons, hear about what works elsewhere, network, pitch ideas.  Even the best ideas need the right outlets.  Lots of transformative ideas never see the light of day.  We want to change that.

And around the world, we’ll work to connect entrepreneurs with the right American companies.  For example, we have helped Palestinian software development house build partnerships with tech companies like Cisco, Microsoft, Intel, HP and Oracle.  We’ve named a Presidential Adviser for Global Entrepreneurship, well known and respected U.S. entrepreneurs and deployed them around the world to speak about what they do, how they do it, and why it matters.

And fourthly, most important of all, around the world, we’re helping create the conditions where entrepreneurship can thrive.  That includes fighting corruption, promoting transparency, helping countries create functioning capital markets, updating the regulations to favor entrepreneurship.

To give just one small example, in four Egyptian cities, the United States worked with the local chambers of commerce to create one-stop shops for business services that reduced the time it took to formally start a small business from 24 hours to one hour; seems inconsequential. 

But combined, all of these things, we talk about these different initiatives, they all make a difference.  But their collective impact is significant.

Today, we challenge the United States government’s top programs in entrepreneurship to spark a billion-dollar new investment [sic] in business and social entrepreneurship by 2018.  Half of it generated by women and young entrepreneurs.  We want others to join the effort.  We’re grateful that the Kauffman Foundation in the United States announced today it will contribute $100 million to the Global Enterprise Network and will be our first partner in getting to the billion-dollar goal.

All of our work to promote entrepreneurship aims to help people everywhere unlock their potential.  But for the United States, this effort is about finding common ground.

One person who understood the quest for common ground as well as any American was a Californian named Chris Stevens.  As a young man he volunteered to join the Peace Corps where he taught English from 1983 to 1985 in a small town in Atlas Mountains right here in Morocco.  He fell in love with your country, Mr. Leader.  He fell in love with the place and its Berber and Arab culture -- (applause) -- and made many, many friends here.

Morocco was the gateway to a life spent as a brave and intrepid diplomat for the United States.  Chris Stevens rose to become the U.S. Ambassador to Libya, and he gave his life in the line of duty, killed by violent extremists in 2012.  In celebration of Chris Stevens’ life, I’m proud to announce the J. Christopher Stevens Virtual Exchange Initiative.  The Stevens Initiative is multilateral.  (Applause.) 

It’s a multilateral, public-private endeavor designed in collaboration with the Stevens family.  It will seek to use the tools of technology to strengthen personal engagement between young people in the United States, North Africa and the Middle East and the rest of the world. 

It’s like a traditional exchange program, except it’s virtual.  Using communications technology that young people, who might otherwise never encounter -- where young people might otherwise never encounter one another will be able to do so virtually to better understand each other’s in a sustained and meaningful way.

The United States, Morocco, the governments of Algeria, Qatar, United Arab Emirates -- together have committed over $31 million over the next five years.  The initiative also involves the participation of a number of private-sector partners and foundations.  And we look forward to expanding these partnerships as this initiative grows.  The initiative will be formally kicked off with a pilot project early next year here in Morocco. 

And I want to conclude by one, thanking you for your patience, but also thanking you for your passion, your immense talent, your self-confidence, and your unbelievable hard work to realize your dreams.

I’m more optimistic today after serving a long in high public office than I have ever been.  I’m more optimistic today about the prospects of the world than I got elected as a 29-year-old kid to the United States Senate.  And a big part for that optimism are all of you assembled here in this room.  You have a chance, like no other generation in human history, to leave a more prosperous, more open, more dynamic and more just world than you found.

I’d like to quote a poem, if you’ll forgive me, from an Irish poet.  My colleagues always kid me back home saying I’m always quoting Irish poets because I’m Irish.  That’s not the reason.  I quote them because they’re the best poets in the world.  That’s why.  (Laughter and applause.)

But all kidding aside, one of my favorite poets who died recently was a man named Seamus Heaney.  And he wrote in a poem called “The Cure at Troy” the following stanza that I believe better describes the world that we are encountering right now than it did his Ireland in 1917 when he wrote the poem. And the stanza goes like this:

History teaches us not to hope on this side of the grave.  But then once in a lifetime, the tidal wave of justice rises up and hope and history rhyme.

We may not make it, but we collectively have a chance to make hope and history rhyme like it hasn’t in a thousand years.  The potential is immense.  The intellect is available.  And the technology accommodates it.

So I wish all you young entrepreneurs Godspeed; Godspeed because it’s more than what you’ll be able do for yourself.  It’s more what you’ll do for all of us.

God bless you all and may God protect our troops. (Applause.)