Your Excellency, the Prime Minister,
Ms. Leila Serhan, General Manager of Microsoft for North Africa, the Eastern Mediterranean, and Pakistan,
And to our many talented entrepreneurs with us today,
Good morning and thank you for letting me be here today to celebrate your tremendous accomplishments. I was so impressed talking with all of you this morning and hearing about how your new business ideas. I know that most of you traveled a long way to join this competition. It is fitting, then, that we are standing here at the American University of Beirut. Lebanon has long been a crossroads for the Mediterranean and for the world – a center for international trade and commerce, and a place where ideas have always been exchanged and new ventures brought forth.
I am very proud to be a part of what this day is all about, which is a partnership between the Department of State’s GIST program (“Global Innovation through Science and Technology)” and Microsoft. We’re working not only here in Beirut but around the world to support entrepreneurs. We work with innovators from 136 countries to help transform new ideas into businesses that will create economic growth. Since 2011, GIST has directly reached over 600,000 entrepreneurs worldwide and mentored more than 5,500 startups. According to a recent survey, GIST alumni have secured over $10 million in investment funding and generated nearly $220 million in revenue. And as I look out into this crowd today, I know that number is about to grow.
The United States believes in the power of creativity and that, with a little support, ideas can grow and transform the world around us. This is why we have invested hundreds of millions of dollars in education here in Lebanon and the Middle East over the past ten years. It is also why we invest in entrepreneurship. We want to help talented individuals test their ideas, create new models and prototypes, and launch successful businesses.
I want to pay attention to Microsoft and Microsoft’s founder Bill Gates – who certainly needs no introduction to all of you. He once said that “Whether it’s Google or Apple or free software, we’ve got some fantastic competitors and it keeps us on our toes.” Competition is indeed a powerful motivator. It forces us to adapt, revisit our assumptions, and constantly refine our ideas. I hope that you have found that this week’s competition was exactly that – an opportunity to capitalize on great ideas and help bring them one step closer to reality. You’re bringing something as entrepreneurs. You’re bringing your ideas to life, and
I think that you feel a deep pride in your hard work and sacrifices along the way. Bill Gates knew this; but, he also knew the importance of taking the bad with the good. He said that “It’s fine to celebrate success but it is more important to heed the lessons of failure.” I completely agree with that – we should never be afraid to fail. It takes bravery to pour your heart and your soul into an idea. It takes even more bravery to stop when we fail to learn from those setbacks.
Last year, Lebanese-American entrepreneur Tony Faddel visited Beirut and shared his decades-long experience working in Silicon Valley. He is now the CEO of the technology firm Nest. But he is best known for his work at Apple where he helped create the iPod. He began work with a mobile computing company over a decade earlier at a company called General Magic. Unfortunately, these were the early days of the internet and the device that he created completely flopped with consumers. The company went bankrupt. But, he learned from this experience, re-imagined what consumers needed in a mobile device, and continued his efforts at Apple. His work gave birth to the iPod and later the iPhone and helped Apple turn into one of the biggest companies on the planet. Tony’s story shows the power of persistence, but especially when coupled with dedication to continuing to learn.
I salute each and every one of you here today for your hard work. The fact that you are here today is testament to your work ethic and the creativity and power of your ideas. I hope you embrace this journey. You often don’t know how far you have come until you look back to see where you have been, and you’ve all come a long way. I want to thank the Prime Minister again for honoring us with his presence. And, you’ve all come a long way. Thank you to the team at Microsoft and GIST for making “Imagine Cup” possible. I wish all you the very best of luck at this competition and in the future.