President Obama calls entrepreneurship the most powerful force the world has ever known for lifting people out of poverty. Last week, as small business innovators gathered in Milan for the Global Entrepreneurship Congress (GEC), few would disagree with that sentiment.
Italy is a country that has been exploring new frontiers in global commerce since the early days of the Spice Route. So Milan was a fitting place for 21st century trailblazers to convene to find new partners, new investors and new customers in a borderless global marketplace.
This is the sixth year of the GEC, but it was the first year in which public officials from around the world also gathered. Last week, on behalf of the Obama administration, I convened the first-ever ministerial-level meeting with senior government leaders who oversee entrepreneurship policy. Ministers representing nations from five continents took part in an historic dialogue. It was striking to learn how much we have in common; namely, to ensure that the innovators who will define our economic future have the financing, expertise and regulatory conditions they need to thrive.
To advance these goals, the United States launched the Spark Global Entrepreneurship Initiative last November in Marrakesh. It’s a bold U.S.-led effort to marshal at least $1 billion in outside investments over three years to support global entrepreneurs, with at least half of that capital flowing to women and young entrepreneurs, who are too often denied economic opportunities.
Spark symbolizes our intention to ignite new possibilities through entrepreneurship, even in the most marginalized segments of society. This has been an administration priority since President Obama’s Cairo speech during his first year in office. The impact of our work in this area is already being felt from the corridors of European cities to the remote huts of African villages. We’re determined to light a spark in nations that do not yet have vibrant private sectors.
Currently, there are more than 1,000 U.S. government programs to promote global entrepreneurship. Spark will serve as the first-ever umbrella for connecting, coordinating, and communicating their work. Spark will create a searchable directory of programs and resources to enhance collaboration between the federal government, investors and organizations that support entrepreneurs.
Our next step is to build a coalition to execute Spark’s ambitious goals. A number of companies, organizations, and leaders have already approached us about forming a broad coalition to advance the frontiers and impact of entrepreneurship. In the coming weeks, we will announce a new partnership that will enable us to significantly expand our efforts.
As the world confronts challenges ranging from ISIL to Russian aggression, America’s leaders are often called on to speak with clarity about what we’re against. Spark is about making sure the world knows what we’re for. Our movement is growing every day, so please join the conversation at #StartTheSpark and help us build a broad-based coalition capable of lighting a path for entrepreneurs across the world.
Maria Contreras-Sweet is the Administrator of the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) and a board member of the President’s Ambassadors for Global Entrepreneurship (PAGE) program.