As I dipped my sushi roll in soy sauce, I was struck by how remarkable the conversation was. Across the table sat a former star engineer of a leading US multinational technology firm. He had quit, cashed his options, and embarked on developing a breakthrough software product, on which I was advising him. He is Pakistani. His teams of engineers were not in a Silicon Valley garage. They were in Pakistan. As his eyes followed my chopsticks, he emphatically described the biggest threat to his aspirations: a fast-moving, equally-creative competitor. Out of Estonia, in Eastern Europe.
My mind wandered to another team of innovators that I was advising: a 19-year-old South Asian and a 21-year-old Arab. They were developing an internet technology that was so promising and unique that they eventually secured US investors to start a company. They are now seeking Middle Eastern investors to help them grow globally.
I also recalled a young Indian whose mobile technology startup in India was brought to my attention by a friend, a Middle Eastern investor. The growth of the Indian startup was exceeding that of a competitor in Silicon Valley.
I continue to run across an increasing number of bright-eyed, young disruptive innovators from less developed regions. The brilliant sparkles of their innovations are inspiring a growing wave of youth enthusiasm that favors colorful creativity over numb submission, unbridled ambition over self-defeating anger, inspiring determination over insidious, passive discontent. And it is working. What’s even more extraordinary is that many of these trailblazers are not only excelling in their own environments, but are sometimes surpassing those with more privilege in more developed regions.
A Silicon Valley venture capitalist was once asked if he favors a specific type of entrepreneur. He answered, “Those with hunger”. When asked who has that most? He said immigrants.
I believe hunger remains to be a differentiator. But from what I am seeing, immigration has ceased to be necessary for actualizing one’s dreams.
I do not find the world to be flat. But I do believe that there are flat pathways that cut across it. And they seem to appear only to those who believe in the presence and promise of the pathways and in their ability to traverse them with their innovations. Those young innovators believe.
And, in them, I believe.
I predict that those young innovators will defiantly change the world in magnificent and glorious ways. Their successes will inspire others and will lift the minds, spirits, and fortunes of many around them, and perhaps beyond.
In this, I believe.