Successful entrepreneurs respond to global trends


Ryder Fyrwald (left), vice president of global operations at the Kairos Society, and Jonathan Ross Shriftman, co-founder of Sole Bicycle Company.
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Go out there and change the world.
- Tim Draper, Draper Fisher Jurvetson

"Whatever the world looks like now, it will change," said Tim Draper, founder and managing director of Draper Fisher Jurvetson (DFJ), during the keynote session at the March 1 Entrepreneurship in the Global Marketplace seminar, organized by the Stanford Program on Regions of Innovation and Entrepreneurship (SPRIE) with sponsorship from, the first in a series of seminars by the Schwarzenegger Emerging Entrepreneur Initiative. Concluding his remarks, Draper urged the overflow audience: "Go out there and change the world."

Draper and the nine other participants shared different perspectives on entrepreneurship, but a key message underlying all of the presentations was that the world is a dynamic, rapidly changing place where entrepreneurs can succeed by anticipating and responding to global trends. In doing so, many suggested, it is also possible to change the world—for the better. The participants all concurred that China is one of the key places in the world—now and in the future—to do business, representing a challenging but a vast frontier of opportunity.

Global demographic trends are a major factor that venture capitalists consider when making investments. Addressing the worldwide aging phenomenon, which is particularly acute in Asia-Pacific countries such as Japan and China, Draper explained how DFJ has invested in a company that manufactures videogame-like devices designed to improve cognition, noting the growing market for such devices that help keep cognitive health apace with a longer life span. Hans Tung, a partner with the Shanghai-based venture capital firm Qiming Ventures, described how his firm is tracking the large segment of China's population living in small cities away from commercial hubs. These members of the populace, who prefer to shop online where they can find a wider selection of goods than in their local shopping malls, are quickly becoming a driving force in China's e-commerce market.

It is China's e-commerce and other Internet firms—fueled by the explosion of Internet users—that carry increasingly significant weight in China's domestic and the global economy. 
Duncan Clark, a visiting scholar at SPRIE, presented related findings from SPRIE's China 2.0: The Rise of a Digital Superpower research initiative, which is led by Marguerite Gong Hancock, associate director of SPRIE. China 2.0, explores the conditions generating such rapid growth of the Internet, and investigates questions surrounding the possible global implications of it. Clark noted that as China's three largest Internet firms—search engine Baidu, instant-messaging service Tencent, and e-commerce portal Taobao—expand, domestic competition will not only intensify, but move further into the global economic arena. The "big three" firms are already ranked among the top 20 Internet sites in the world based on site traffic. According to Clark, the key question in the future for U.S. companies will be how to partner with Chinese companies in order to insure their own growth.

Riding the global wave of innovation and entrepreneurship, Jonathan Ross Shriftman, co-founder of Solé Bicycle Company, and Ryder Fyrwald, vice president of global operations at the Kairos Society, have discovered opportunities to effect positive change despite a global climate of intense economic competition. Shriftman, a recent University of Southern California (USC) graduate, described the lessons that he has learned through his company's quest to manufacture low-cost, quality fixed-gear bicycles that provide a stylish, alternate form of transportation. Despite funding and language challenges, Shriftman and his partner succeeded in connecting with a manufacturer in China through, and have sold nearly 800 bicycles to date. Fyrwald, who is still an undergraduate at USC's Marshall School of Business, explained the philosophy behind the Kairos Society, an international network of student entrepreneurs who seek to solve world issues through entrepreneurship and innovation. He cited the example of WaterWalla, a company that has developed, among other technologies, a low-cost water purification device for use by urban slum dwellers.

From the perspective of seasoned venture capitalists Draper and Tung and emerging entrepreneurs Shriftman and Fyrwald, the message at Entrepreneurship in the Global Marketplace was clear: the way to succeed in a rapidly changing world is to react promptly—and creatively—to global trends. And, as Shriftman suggested, it is possible to "do well by doing good," and change the world in a positive way.