Obama Commits to Tech, Making Entrepreneurship Summit Enduring

  • Ambassadors program wants entrepreneurs to spread the word
  • Airbnb co-founder CEO Chesky is one of the biggest fans

U.S. President Barack Obama told the Global Entrepreneurship Summit -- a hodgepodge of international investors, startup founders and technology executives gathered on Stanford University’s Palo Alto campus -- that he would make this annual conference endure beyond his presidency.

As Obama’s second term winds down, he has an eye towards locking in some of the programs created under his watch. The country’s Presidential Ambassadors for Global Entrepreneurship program would also live on, he said. The next president could change course, but the White House has already made commitments and begun to plan for a summit next year in India.

Members of the ambassadors program include Steve Case, the former chief executive officer at America Online, Tory Burch, the CEO of her eponymous fashion company, and Antonio Gracias, an investor in Tesla and SpaceX. Stephen Jurvetson partner at Draper Fisher Jurvetson and Spanx founder Sarah Blakely were among those joining the ambassador ranks. One of the most enthusiastic participants of the program, which is meant to put U.S. entrepreneurs to work evangelizing for the U.S. abroad, has been Brian Chesky, the co-founder and CEO of Airbnb.

Chesky’s company leaped at the chance to do business in Cuba, after the Obama administration began to open up relationships with the Communist stalwart. Executives from Airbnb have made multiple trips to the country and took great pride when Obama highlighted the company’s quick embrace of Cuba in a speech.

“I would not be here and have succeeded with Airbnb unless other entrepreneurs had helped me,” Chesky said during an interview Thursday at the entrepreneurship summit. “I do think it’s a lot harder outside of Silicon Valley to start companies. But we don’t want to live in a world where the only companies are originating in California, especially when most of the customers are outside California, so that’s why I liked it. It’s a way to really efficiently help entrepreneurs all over the world.”

Chesky said he would continue to participate in the program for at least another year and would remain longer if asked.

For Airbnb, the program has had particular significance. The home-sharing company last valued at $25.5 billion has had to negotiate with cities the world over. Even in the U.S., government officials in cities like San Francisco and New York have complained that Airbnb contributes to crowding residents out of their cities and skirts their laws.

While the U.S. federal government hasn’t brought any sweeping home-sharing legislation, inclusion in the ambassador’s program has provided some governmental legitimacy for Airbnb.

New York governor Andrew Cuomo is currently considering legislation that would severely restrict Airbnb’s ability to operate in the state -- one of the company’s largest markets.

"We’ve had challenges in New York for six years, we might still have challenges for a while," Chesky said. He said that he could see his company going public in New York City before coming to a happy truce with the state.

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