Remarks by the President at White House Demo Day
4:14 P.M. EDT
THE PRESIDENT: Look at you guys with all your gadgets. (Laughter.)
PARTICIPANT: Happy Birthday!
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you! (Laughter.) Thank you very much. Thank you. I’m so gray. (Laughter.) But I feel good otherwise.
Welcome to the White House, everybody. As a birthday treat to me, I thought I’d invite business leaders, investors, and government officials here for the first-ever White House Demo Day. (Applause.) I think it’s fair to say that when I was eight, I would have been confused by that choice. (Laughter.) But now I think it’s really cool, and I am so grateful to have all of you participating.
On a typical Demo Day, entrepreneurs, like many of you, pitch your ideas to potential investors in venture capital or elsewhere. And it is a high-stress, make-or-break moment that can change the course of your life. Folks are peppering you with questions, you don’t know what’s going to be coming. Today was much more relaxed because you just had to pitch the President of the United States your ideas. (Laughter.) So no problem -- in front of TV cameras that everybody is going to watch. (Laughter.)
Fortunately, everybody did a stellar job that I had a chance to meet. And here in this room, we’ve got some of the best and brightest entrepreneurs America has to offer, folks from all across the country who are working every day to transform the way we live and learn and communicate. They have taken over my house. We’ve got people who are developing the next generation of lithium-ion batteries. A system of radio sensors that notices when a senior takes a fall while they’re in their home. A robotic teddy bear that helps kids with diabetes learn about managing their health and staying active. There was an app that helps military families transition to their new communities; another app that helps you order replacement parts just by snapping a photo of the old one. And then there are the folks at Astrobotic Technology in Pittsburgh. They are shooting for the moon –- literally –- with plans to land a rover on the lunar surface in the next couple of years, which is pretty exciting. I wouldn’t mind seeing how that turns out. (Laughter.)
You know, in America, that’s who we’ve always been. We explore next frontiers, we’re pioneers with a vision for tomorrow -- whether it’s Lewis and Clark, Sally Ride. We’re the nation of Franklin and Edison, and Carver and Salk; Jobs, Gates. And the folks here today are heirs to that legacy, and they’re the driving force in a 21st century economy.
Startups, young firms account for almost 40 percent of new hires. And as we’ve fought back from the worst economic crisis of our lifetimes, those firms have helped our private sector create more than 12.8 million jobs over the last 64 straight months, which is the longest streak of private sector job growth on record.
So as President, I’ve worked to make it easier for entrepreneurs to strike out on their own. We’ve made it easier for folks to buy health insurance, making it portable so you can strike out and do your thing. We’ve made it easier to pay off student loan debt -- although there was an app that I just saw, somebody who’s really good at working with businesses to help manage student loan debt in an efficient way.
We have tried to download government data sets for new apps and innovations, following in the path of the National Weather Service and other data that’s turned into commercial ventures. We’ve worked to connect to high-speed broadband and open access for a free and open Internet. And we’re working on trade agreements to open up new markets for companies to sell their products overseas. Thanks to the bipartisan JOBS Act that I signed, it’s easier for innovative companies to take that next step and go public. And when it’s fully implemented, more startups and small businesses will be able to accept support from regular investors through crowdfunding.
So today, America is home to more high-tech companies than anyplace else in the world. And business leaders have declared that China is no longer the world’s number one place to invest -— America is. With technological advancements like cloud computing and big data and 3D printing, the fact is there has never been a better time to launch an idea and bring it to scale right here in the United States, right now.
But we’ve got to make sure that we’re taking full advantage of this moment by tapping all the talent America has to offer, no matter who they are or where they set up shop. And obviously there are chronic challenges for any entrepreneur. Capital is tough to come by, but it’s even tougher if you're not in one of a handful of cities that have a well-developed venture capital presence.
It’s always hard to get in front of the right people, but sometimes it’s harder if you're a woman or an underrepresented minority who all too often have to fight just to get a seat at the table.
Right now, one study shows that fewer than 3 percent of venture capital-backed companies have a woman as their CEO. Another study showed that fewer than 1 percent have an African American founder. Yet we’ve seen again and again that companies with diverse leadership often outperform those that don’t. That's the market that is out there -- not just here in the United States, but globally. So that lack of participation from everybody isn’t good for business.
We’ve got to make sure that everybody is getting a fair shot -– the next Steve Jobs might be named Stephanie or Esteban. They might never set foot in Silicon Valley. We’ve got to unleash the full potential of every American –- not leave more than half the team on the bench.
And that’s something that a growing number of tech companies have begun to recognize. So in January, Intel announced that by 2020 they would achieve full representation of women and minorities in their U.S. workforce. Last week, Pinterest also announced ambitious new diversity goals of their own. Today, we’ve got a series of public and private commitments to build on those efforts.
We’ve got more than 40 leading venture capital firms who are pledging more -- pledging to do more to track and hire and support women and underrepresented minorities and veterans at their firms and portfolio companies. A pair of leading pension funds are committing to diversifying the ranks of those who manage their money. We got companies like Xerox, Box, and others that are going to institute their own version of the NFL’s “Rooney Rule,” named after my good friend Dan Rooney, of the Pittsburgh Steelers, which means interviewing at least one woman and one person of color for every senior position -- just so that folks get a chance to get in the door.
And more than 100 deans at America’s engineering schools are committing to recruit and retain more diverse student bodies, building the pipeline for the next generation of innovators and entrepreneurs because this is something we are seeing again and again and again. We are not producing all the technical talent, all the engineers that we need. And part of the reason is because too many girls and too many young people of color are getting intimidated and winnowed out of the process, not being mentored, not being encouraged, and we deprive ourselves of the talent that we need in order for us to continue to be a dynamic, innovative economy -- because that’s the part of the population that’s growing.
So my administration is also going to do our part. We’re expanding our TechHire initiative to 10 new cities and states -—bringing together employers and local governments to create newer, faster training pathways, like coding boot camps, so that a more diverse group of workers can get hired and perhaps eventually start a business of their own. We’re scaling up the National Science Foundation’s successful Innovation Corps program at six more federal agencies so we can help more of our scientists move their ideas out of the lab and into the marketplace.
More than 50 new cities have signed up to our “Startup in a Day” initiative. Many of them have earned cash prizes from the Small Business Administration to help them clear away all the red tape so that a local entrepreneur can apply for all the licenses and permits that they need to start a business in just one day.
So we hope that these efforts are going to open up new opportunities for all of our entrepreneurs -- all of our would-be entrepreneurs. And in the months ahead, I look forward to seeing more folks across this country -- investors, accelerators, universities, civic leaders, corporate giants, growing startups -- all take new steps to build on these actions. Because you never know who’s going to have the next big idea, or what path will lead them there.
So I’m just going to give you a couple of examples because these are folks who are here. Take the story of Ramona Pierson. Where’s Ramona? There -- Ramona is right back here. So I was just talking to Ramona. Ramona is -- this is a pretty remarkable story. Back in 1984, when she was 22 years old, Ramona had already been a U.S. Marine. She was a young, dedicated, highly skilled professional in the prime of her life. One day, she’s out for a run, and she was hit by a drunk driver. And she was in a coma for 18 months -- woke up 18 months later, weighed 64 pounds, was bald and was blind, could not walk, could not speak, was moved into a nursing home. I think it’s fair to say that a lot of people would be broken by that. In that nursing home, Ramona was surrounded by dozens of senior citizens, folks with a lifetime of knowledge, and expertise, and skills of their own as parents, teachers, and community leaders. And they helped coach Ramona back to health. They became her mentors. And over the next few years, Ramona had to relearn the most basic skills –- walking, speaking, crossing the street -– and she gained the perspective of others with challenges.
Decades later now, Ramona looks back on that process of learning by connecting with others as the catalyst for a startup she launched three years ago called Declara. And it’s a technology platform that combines the power of a search engine with a worldwide network of experts, so that we can all learn things faster from our fellow citizens and their lifetimes of knowledge. It’s sort of like a Google meets Facebook, but there’s all kind of stuff to it. Ramona was explaining it to me and it was fascinating, and I understood about half of it. (Laughter.) So today, Declara has users all around the world. It’s attracted millions of dollars of capital. They’ve got a team of 65 employees, with women serving as CEO, COO, and head of data sciences.
That’s the power of a good idea. And when Ramona was in that nursing home, I don’t think anybody would have imagined that she was going to be a candidate to be a significant tech entrepreneur. Ideas can come from anybody and anywhere, and can be inspired by any kind of life experience. And we’ve got to judge those ideas on their merits. We’ve got to make sure they’re not filtered by misperceptions about who people are or who’s capable of dreaming something up. That’s at the very heart of America -- the idea that any of us can make it if we try.
And together, if we have enough effort and enough urgency, our idea can move the world. We can all be a part of making sure everybody has that chance. And that’s what the Demo Day is about here today. That’s what our initiatives are about. That’s what our outstanding 40 partners that are making announcements are all about here today. I’m very proud of them. And I can’t wait to see what all of you end up doing.
And keep in mind that in about 18 months I’m going to need a job. (Laughter and applause.) I’ve got some skills. (Applause.)
Thank you very much, everybody. Appreciate it. (Applause.)
4:30 P.M. EDT