Speaking at a United Nations conference (in South Africa)!


One month ago, I found myself in Johannesburg, South Africa at the United Nation’s Global Entrepreneurship Congress… AS A SPEAKER (I wrote that line and stared at it for a whole minute).

Let me set the stage: every year, the Global Entrepreneurship Congress gathers together thousands of entrepreneurs, investors, researchers, policymakers and other startup champions from more than 170 countries to identify new ways of helping founders start and scale new ventures around the world. My topic within the EMPRETEC Global Summit was internationalization, crossing borders and the personal characteristics of entrepreneurs, what EMPRETEC calls the “Personal Entrepreneurship Competencies.”

Right before the panel I was speaking on was a class on high impact networking and I was asked to help facilitate it. With no actual idea of what what in store, of course I said yes and thankfully so, because it turned out to be one of the most rewarding hours of the trip. First because the strategy that I used to choose teams worked like a charm and secondly, because of how many people pulled me aside later and commented on how I lead my team to be the most open, welcoming, joyful, helpful and cohesive! They were absolutely wonderful folks (as was everyone in the room, but you could definitely tell that some teams fell sort of flat - not us)! I had the pleasure of leading the "red team" (note: we chose baseball hats in different colors to delineate teams). My strategy was as follows, "lead the red cap team, because the types of people that chose red over the other colors (pink, purple, blue, green or white) were the ones that I hypothesized would be bold and confident - and bingo, I was totally right! 

Now for the talk... As to my thinking and prep, I had to connect coffee and the values of Caffe Unimatic to people from 172 countries at all levels of the entrepreneurial ecosystem… hmm… it was an interesting ideation and thought process and I believe that it actually helped me reframe how meaningful what we are doing and how we’re choosing to do it really is. Here’s where I landed: 

When thinking about internationalization, Economist and NYT Columnist Thomas Friedman came to mind. He has a theory, he calls it “The Big Mac Thesis” wherein he asserts that two nations with McDonald’s franchises are less likely to choose conflict as an effective form of foreign policy. It sounds somewhat silly, but the concept (especially when taken further) is interesting. Stanford also did a study that showed that between the years 1950 and 2000, international commerce quadrupled and international conflict was sonly 1/10 of what it was for the entire previous century… so it seems that the more we trade, the more we understand one another and the better off we are. It seems that commerce creates connection and the cornerstone of commerce is the entrepreneur. Hence, the more entrepreneurs there are in the world, the better it will be… following?

Also, as I thought about coffee and crossing borders, I realized that the Unimatic is already in 10 countries. That’s partially because of the magic of the internet, the entire planet is now open for business, but really it’s because of the way we told our story. I know that because none of those 10 countries share a similar ritual around coffee, and yet they chose to adopt our pot… why? We believe that it is because they saw their own values in our values, perhaps it was the part about an immigrant starting a business, the Italy / Brooklyn connection, the relationship of father and daughter, the power of legacy… or something else entirely. That tells us that connection done right, is universal and that our challenge as entrepreneurs and artists is not to reach cross borders and try to be everything to everyone, but rather to simply reach across the table and connect to another human. 

I also had the opportunity to comment on the “personal entrepreneurship competencies” that EMPRETEC teaches (and I went out on a limb here). After commenting on the tremendous importance of confidence, the art of persuasion and the sophisticated skillset of sales, I recommended that the UN add another PEC to their list: resilience. Mental resilience, or “PTG - post traumatic growth” is a skill that can absolutely be taught - we teach it to our military before they go to war and Legacy Out Loud teaches it to our high school and college aged girls before formally unleashing them and their missions out into the world. In my opinion, and in the opinions of all the CEOs that I’ve spoken to, it’s the thread that we all have in common. Bottomline: we all have one thing in common, rising from really hard things in life. I believe that it’s the most important skill for entrepreneurs, leaders and humans in general. Without it, all the planning and striving and pitching practice could be rendered useless and it’s not something we teach or talk about enough. 

The experience of both leading my team through the class and then speaking to a room full of global delegates was nothing short of exhilarating and the feedback was even better than I imagined. Hearing, “I’m usually tough and kind of a jerk, but that could not have gone an better - amazing job - people noticed” was pretty satisfying. The part that stuck with me most was that the whole way through, I trusted my gut and even said, onstage to the folks from the UN that their official list of “personal entrepreneurship competencies” was incomplete - kind of nerve-y for someone who used to be afraid of her own shadow, huh? Of course, I was respectful about it, but it still felt like a bold move.

Long story short, this opportunity made me think broadly and deeply, challenged me and stretched me to lean on myself more to show up and state what I feel to be true. A new friend from the conference who ended up being a pretty knowledgable guy in terms of entrepreneurship (he essentially runs it at the Kauffman Foundation) told me that I really "get it" - much more than most others he's spoken to... so yeah, I need to run with that. I can say for certain that it gave me a sense of perspective and a newfound sense of confidence in what we are doing, what we stand for and how many people are picking up what we’re putting down ;) 

To many more opportunities to share! 

...Video excerpts to come soon!