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8/11/2015 11:16 AM

The ‘Why’ keeps Silicon Valley’s ‘accidental entrepreneur’ anchored

Gus Franklyn-Bute, Senior Regional Investment Advisor, SelectUSA | U.S. Commercial Services, UK

As Britain gathered to #WalkTogether in commemoration of the 10th anniversary of the 7/7 bombings in London, U.S. Ambassador, Matthew Barzun convened a cohort of leading young entrepreneurs in the UK to a morning discussion. In the splendor of the Winfield House Gold Room, Ambassador Barzun quipped that the alliance of youthful disrupters, innovators and founders had gathered for a morning session of therapy. Serendipitously, as special guest speaker Julie Hanna (U.S. Presidential Ambassador for Global Entrepreneurship (PAGE) and Executive-Chair, Kiva) took the floor, what unfolded was an unexpected, open and cathartic tête-à-tête on the personal, emotional and occasional loneliness that shadows the meandering journey of the entrepreneur.

It’s deeply personal for me”, says Julie Hanna, I am an accidental entrepreneur”.

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To the most seasoned executive, as to the huddle of energetic founders bursting with ambition and multiple ideas to change the universe, Hanna’s unguarded honesty resonated meaningfully as she abridged her rites of passage – those life changing moments that molds one’s character.

Picture a family fleeing an Egypt at war during Black September and a young girl never to see her peers again. Then think about a fresh faced graduate landing in Silicon Valley with a newly minted degree in-hand – a period that triggered an awakening of having lived a life without ‘equity of access’.  Then consider the executive ascending to positions of leadership, earlier in her career founding and helping build several high technology companies, including the world's largest healthcare portal Healtheon now WebMD (NASDAQ: WBMD), and now an active advisor and investor in high growth technology companies, including sharing economy pioneer Lyft. In 2015 Julie Hanna was appointed by President Obama to be Presidential Ambassador for Global Entrepreneurship.  Unknowingly, her achievements and groundbreaking successes were writing a powerful minority spin-off script of a successful female entrepreneur in Silicon Valley.

Hanna’s journey is proof of how the experiences of childhood and the happenstances of youth, along a spectrum of wholesome to adverse, may fashion the core values of founders and entrepreneurs. As their startups scale into global disruptive enterprises, the causal-effect is that these dominant principles become embedded in the company’s culture. Simultaneously, while growth and investment generate wealth and jobs for some, businesses whose values reflect that of their founders may equally be at risk of engendering unwelcomed social, economic and moral discontent from others, when the company’s activities disrupt livelihoods and marginalize communities. One wonders to what extent this assertion holds for those unicorns that are spawning fear and loathing in countries where they are aggressively planting their footprints. Are the early life experiences of founders also pivotal in modeling the type of disruptive companies that some commentators define as ‘carers’, ‘sharers’ and ‘darers’? Deeper still, can these formative years, which define the values and moral of founders, forecast the corporate culture and ethos of disruptive enterprises they would later lead – those companies which Hanna references as either Mission Driven or Mercenary Driven.

Whatever the response to these questions, the challenge with which Julie Hanna wrestles is ‘knowing how to remain universally relevant’. Her solution is to understand the “WHY”.

Hanna’s early, happy family life which offered limited access, a condition which did not change until arriving in Silicon Valley, nurtures her deep and principled conviction that justice = fair access for all. This compelling motivation is born from her work in the technology sector and as an entrepreneur.

‘It is the “WHY” that anchors the socially conscious entrepreneur in the relentless pursuit to impact the world and create fair access and opportunity’, says Hanna.

As Ambassador Barzun widened the discussion, it was evident that the room was genuinely inspired. The founders spoke of their own personal struggles: wearing the public face of success, while grappling with internal issues and challenges; tirelessly fielding the repeated question of whether they were yet millionaires; learning to listen and seek perspective; the solitude of holding on to the bigger vision until teams, investors and partners ‘get it’; the necessity of having to focus on operational activities, which hinders the pace of creative development; and learning to take the path of least resistance since the conduit to success never go according to plan.

Hanna suggests that being too attached to the outcome may steer founders off course and purports a preference for certainty over confidence. None more so then when scaling a business for which the ‘why’ propels corporate ambitions to create a greater and enduring social impact. This modus operandi perhaps signals why President Barack Obama appointed Julie Hanna to be Presidential Ambassador for Global Entrepreneurship.


About Julie Hanna

Julie Hanna is an entrepreneur, investor and advisor to companies and public institutions globally. She has been founder, CEO and founding executive of five successful technology companies in Silicon Valley, giving her a deep understanding of b2b and b2c businesses from startup to scale-up. In recognition of her groundbreaking work and leadership as an entrepreneur and innovator, President Obama appointed Julie Presidential Ambassador for Global Entrepreneurship in 2015.

She is Executive Chair of the Board at Kiva, the world's first and largest crowdlending marketplace for global entrepreneurs. Praised by President Clinton and Oprah, and a TIME magazine Top 50 Website, Kiva is a catalyst for revitalizing local economies in 86 countries.

Julie is an active advisor and investor to high-growth technology companies including, Lyft, Lending Club (NASDAQ: LC), Bonobos, Mightytext and Idealab, creator of over 125 companies with 40 IPO's and accessions. Julie is a member of the World Economic Forum Global Agenda Council on Humanitarian Response. She is an international speaker on entrepreneurial leadership and innovation and a guest lecturer at Stanford, Cambridge, and Oxford Universities.

About SelectUSA

SelectUSA is the U.S. government-wide program to promote and facilitate business investment into the United States. Housed in the Department of Commerce, SelectUSA leads the Interagency Investment Working Group to ensure investors get the answers and assistance they need across the federal government. SelectUSA provides services to international investors of all sizes and U.S. state, regional and local economic development organizations (EDOs). @SelectUSATech is an initiative created by the UK Commercial Service to support technology and startups scale-up in the United States.

Gus Franklyn-Bute is Senior Regional Investment Advisor for SelectUSA, UK & Ireland in the U.S. Commercial Service in London.

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