Recently, it was my privilege to speak at the Haiti Tech Summit, where 500+ leaders from throughout the western hemisphere shared a remarkable conversation about technology, entrepreneurship, innovation, and ecosystems. The summit attracted executives from Google, Facebook, Uber, LinkedIn, Airbnb, PayPal, and many other leading tech companies — but for me, a highlight was the keynote address by Ben Horowitz, co-founder and partner of top VC firm Andreessen Horowitz.
I’ve heard hundreds of keynotes. Based on that experience, I didn’t expect to learn much. I was wrong. Horowitz shared a fascinating history lesson about Toussaint L’Ouverture, the leader of Haiti’s slave rebellion — the era’s only successful slave rebellion. L’Ouverture not only won: he built an independent country that earned the world’s respect, and negotiated as an equal with foreign leaders including John Adams. Under L’Ouverture’s leadership, Haiti built a larger export market than the U.S.
How did he do it? Horowitz distilled four lessons that are powerfully relevant to the challenges faced by entrepreneurs who need to build a robust culture that can scale:
After L’Ouverture’s era, of course, Haiti has often struggled. Most Americans know it’s one of the world’s poorest countries. But many don’t realize that it has a remarkably entrepreneurial and resilient populace: a legacy of L’Ouverture himself.
A key goal of the Haiti Tech Summit was to promote collaboration between American and Haitian companies, and to deploy technologies in Haiti as a test bed. Based on what’s learned there, entrepreneurs can successfully scale their services and products throughout the developing world.
This model works. I saw it first hand while visiting the Haiti Business Incubator run by Silicon Valley entrepreneur Jim Chu. He’s rapidly deploying a clean water technology franchise which will offer inexpensive clean water and create more entrepreneurs at the same time.
On behalf of the Tech Council, I participated to deepen our collaboration with Haiti: both an important market and a new source of entrepreneurial and technical talent for our regional tech hub. Our region also boasts one of the world’s largest Haitian communities. We have a powerful stake in helping Haiti’s economy succeed, and direct financial opportunities in promoting our own services and products there. These are the same motivations that led the Council to our pioneering 2015 Cuba trade mission.
Seeing Haiti’s tech community first-hand, I’m convinced of the country’s immense potential — and the crucial importance of deep, long-term collaboration to actualize it.
James C. Barrood is the CEO and president of the New Jersey Tech Council.