Entrepreneurship@Cornell Celebration 2011
Global Problems Begging for Entrepreneurs
“What’s unique about trying to tackle a global problem in the context of a business organization?” Erik Simanis, PhD ’10 (Johnson), posed this opening question at a panel discussion on social entrepreneurship at Entrepreneurship@Cornell Celebration 2011.
Simanis, managing director of market creation strategies at Johnson’s Center for Sustainable Global Enterprise, served as the moderator for the discussion, “Global Problems Begging for Entrepreneurs,” April 15, 2011, at Sage Hall.
The panel featured three Cornell alumni, Frank Martinez, MEng ’91, Geraldo Moura, MBA ’08, and Dan Miller ’78, who have each confronted a specific world problem — the digital divide, ecosystem services, and climate change and energy, respectively — and have developed proven, effective business solutions that address specific aspects of them. Their discussion brought to light the immense value of employing entrepreneurial skills to develop and commercialize needed technologies, products, and services.
Martinez, director of digital inclusion and government PC programs at Intel Corp., spoke of the company’s “World Ahead” program and its efforts to provide access to computers and the Internet to those at the “bottom of the pyramid” (BoP) — the four billion people who live on $1500 a year or less.
“There is a digital divide that exacerbates itself over time,” Martinez said, citing the fact that many citizens of developing nations have little or no access to computers.
Martinez has traveled to over 50 countries in the course of his career, meeting with government and industry leaders to develop programs that increase the affordability and availability of information and communication technology (ICT). He believes that these programs will, in turn, create more social and economic development opportunities that empower students, small businesses, and many other groups and individuals.
One particular program he mentioned involves a, user-friendly laptop, designed for school children in developing communities to build awareness and understanding of the Internet. Martinez showed the audience that the computer was waterproof, extremely energy efficient, durable upon rough handling and dropping, and it would even “self-shut-down” if stolen away from the school campus.
Moura saw an opportunity to address climate change by capitalizing on the use of renewable charcoal from a sustainable eucalyptus plantation. He serves as the managing director of Plantar S.A., an iron production company founded by his family in Brazil. Plantar produces 100 percent-green pig iron by using renewable charcoal, a solid biofuel from sustainable eucalyptus plantations, instead of coal.
Miller co-founded and serves as managing director of the Roda Group, a venture capital group that focuses on companies that address the market opportunities associated with global climate change. He noted current environmental trends that call for entrepreneurial action, such as the increasing demand for low-carbon energy and the rapid depletion of the world’s natural resources.
Miller ended the panel discussion with a call to action, stating that we have to change the way we think.
“Why don’t we act?” Miller asked. “We respond most strongly to threats that are visible, immediate, with historical precedent and that have direct personal impacts. … We have to change the way we respond, because climate change is the global problem,” Miller said. “This global problem will be the dominant problem this century, starting now… And it will have major impacts, of biblical proportions.”