U.S. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker – Address to Nigerian Entrepreneurs and U.S. Business Leaders at Tony Elumelu Foundation Entrepreneurs

(Remarks as Prepared for Delivery)

Thank you, Tony, for that lovely introduction and congratulations again on the launch of the Tony Eleumelu  Entrepreneurship Programme.

Tony has been one of our foremost team players in supporting entrepreneurs, particularly here on the African continent. I am so grateful for the leadership and creativity that he has brought into the many initiatives on which we have worked together, including most recently, the Global Entrepreneurship Summit in Kenya.

Tony, thanks to your vision and extraordinary generosity, many young African entrepreneurs across the continent – like the ones here today – will have access to the mentorship, training and support they need to build the businesses they dream of. They will be the leading edge of Africa’s next wave of economic growth.

Supporting entrepreneurs across Africa, and indeed around the world, is a top priority for President Obama. He recognizes, as I do, that opportunity for business creators to thrive around the world is the foundation for a rising middle class, for security and stability, and for broad-based prosperity.

I am proud to lead the Administration’s effort to support and empower aspiring entrepreneurs, both in the United States and across the globe. As “America’s Innovation Agency,” my Department connects the world’s next generation of entrepreneurs with the networks, mentors and investors they need to make their businesses successful.

Our initiatives and programs include our annual Global Entrepreneurship Summits, held most recently in Kenya, where we convene entrepreneurs with investors and other key figures in their constellation of support. Another example is Our Presidential Ambassadors for Global Entrepreneurship initiative, known as Page. President Obama asked me to chair the initiative where we work with celebrated business creators like Daymond John to harness their energy, ideas and experience to help develop young entrepreneurs.

I am always inspired by the entrepreneurs I meet during my travels throughout this continent. A year and a half ago, in Ghana, I met Eyram Tawia and Wesley Kirinya, two young men who are creating mobile video games with storylines and characters re-imagined as superheroes from African folklore. In a continent where more people use data enabled mobile phones than computers, they have been enormously successful.

And last July at the GES Summit in Kenya, I met Jehil Oliver, an American entrepreneur who grew up in the States but has made Nigeria his business base and his home. He created Hello Tractor, a startup that makes smart, low-cost tractors available for small farmers like an “Uber” taxi service. This has been a cost-cutting breakthrough for many of Nigeria’s small farmers, and the market potential is huge. There are 35 million of them!

I am delighted to visit Nigeria on behalf of President Obama, who has long appreciated that Africa being home to many of the  21st century’s fastest growing economies means there are enormous mutually beneficial opportunities for us to explore.

President Obama believes, as I do, that the American private sector, working in partnership with the African business community, and entrepreneurs like all of you, can help address many of the continent’s most pressing challenges, including creating jobs and opportunity for young people across the continent.

Recognizing the enormous, long-term potential of enhanced private sector cooperation, the President directed me to establish the the President’s Advisory Council on Doing Business in Africa – or PAC-DBIA – to deepen our commercial ties across Africa.

In support of that mission, this delegation of carefully chosen business leaders has come to Nigeria to listen, to engage, and to gather facts. We are not here to close particular business deals but to report back to the President with strong and actionable recommendations that will benefit both our countries by raising our commercial relationship to the next level.

Of the many countries aspiring to lead Africa into a more prosperous future, Nigeria is the undisputed rising star. It recently surpassed South Africa as Africa’s biggest economy. And it is widely projected to grow into one of the top-10 global economies with a top-four population by the year 2050.

As Africa’s largest and fastest growing economy, Nigeria’s potential is huge. But with President Buhari’s election and the changing nature of global oil markets, this is a genuine moment of truth for the nation. President Buhari has assembled a capable and experienced economic team that is committed to making sure Nigeria remains “open for business.” And we are encouraged by his commitment to create a diversified economy and business friendly environment in Nigeria that enables Nigerian companies to grow and thrive, while also attracting foreign investment.

Reforms to the business climate are welcome in a nation, which, while boasting the largest economy and population in Sub-Saharan Africa, has not yet reached its potential. And American companies stand ready to be partners moving forward. We are here because we believe we can do more together.

Accordingly, the PAC-DBIA has focused its efforts around key sectors where we think the greatest potential lies for creating jobs in both Africa – especially Nigeria – and the United States. Those sectors, which include power, services, ICT, transportation, agriculture and health care, are the ones in which members of the PAC-DBIA have deep expertise. They will be looking for ways to expand our commercial ties by reviewing with American and Nigerian business leaders what works and does not work, and share their observations with the Nigerian government and President Obama.

In our meetings and conversations, we will also be discussing how entrepreneurs – like you – can be even more successful through partnerships and business opportunities with other entrepreneurs and companies in the United States.

We recognize that few players are more pivotal to Nigeria’s economic growth – or will benefit more from government-led reforms – than entrepreneurs like you.

President Obama put it very well at the Kenya GES Summit when he said –and I quote: “Entrepreneurship creates new jobs and new businesses, new ways to deliver basic services, new ways of seeing the world. It’s the spark of prosperity.”

As entrepreneurs who have already started businesses, you have already experienced that spark. But now you know how hard it is to keep thatfire going.

You know the challenges of growing and maintaining your businesses. You have seen how hard it can be to access capital – or to get training and the skills to run a business professionally and be competitive.
You may have encountered problems trying to find networks to join, or meeting mentors whose advice could be the difference between your venture taking off or falling flat.

The PAC-DBIA members are here to listen to those experiences and hear your thoughts on the business climate in Nigeria, and what the U.S. government and American companies can do to support you. It is important to them to get a sense of the challenges faced by entrepreneurs, not only across the Nigerian economy but the region. These sessions will be very much a two-way street, in terms of mutual benefit!

As we move to these breakout discussions, please consider them a unique opportunity to test out your ideas, to ask strategic questions, and to build relationships. All of these elements are key to the success of any entrepreneur – and the future of your businesses.

I know that we do not have much time, so please do not be shy. Pin these business leaders down.  Get their advice.  Pitch them your idea.  Above all, do not be discouraged if they say, “I’m not sure that is going to work,” and they ask you very tough follow-up questions. They will ask you because every one of these business leaders has experienced setbacks as well as successes. What makes them successful is that they learned from them.

Before I moderate today’s panel, I want to invite all of you to join us on “The Road to GES,” which leads all the way to the Global Entrepreneurship Summit this summer in Silicon Valley. I am proud that this “Road to GES” goes through Lagos, and I hope some of you will apply to participate in the Silicon Valley Summit. You can find the applications on the web at www.GES2016.org.

But whether you apply or not, I want to wish you the best of luck with your businesses. And I hope you will benefit from the sessions you have today – and the contacts you can develop.

Finally, I would like to express my appreciation once again to Tony – who recognizes the importance of taking the long view, and of planting seeds.  He is helping economies grow across Africa by investing in the people who will make them grow – entrepreneurs like the people in this room.

Thank you, Tony. And to all the entrepreneurs, let me say: Keep growing, keep expanding and keep connecting!

Thank you.