The Four Minute Mile

It was called the greatest sporting achievement of the 20th century by many.  No one believed that a human can run a mile in under four minutes.  The belief was considered an ultimate barrier for generations.  This disbelief was until one fateful day in 1955 when the British medical student Roger Bannister broke the barrier by a hair.  He ran a mile in just under 4 minutes.  Unbelievable feat!  Never in the history of mankind had such had an accomplishment ever taken place.

But within one year the record was broken again.  By seventeen other people!
What does this tell us?  The clarity is profound for me as an entrepreneur.  The barriers are often mental.  We convince ourselves that it cannot be done.  It is not until we see others do it that we believe it  might  be possible after all.  Such was the turning point for the entrepreneurs in the Middle East and many Muslim majority countries when Maktoob, an Arabic language web portal and email service, was acquired by Yahoo for $160M last year.

“Tell the stories”   – telling simple stories about how somebody did it makes a huge difference in somebody’s life – some place far far away.  This was my main message as I attended and spoke at the TechWadi event at the presidential summit on entrepreneurship in Washington DC this week.  This was a follow up from President Obama’s historic speech in Cairo on June 2009 when he promised a new beginning on how US communicates with the muslin majority countries in the world.  Obama asserted that a new chapter in US foreign policy that is based on mutual respect and dialog will usher a new era.  Well this was the follow up and it was a great week. We had the opportunity to hear so many stories from entrepreneurs from 55 countries on how they innovated and created compelling companies.

I was moved by the story of Puni, an Indonesian entrepreneur who invented, sold and installed 60 micro power plans that can generate water if there is a water fall of 3 meters or more.  She told the story of how it brought electricity to remote villages and how that changed lives.  I was also moved by  the story of a Turkish entrepreneur who started a service to enable remote order taking and delivery of food from restaurants by signing up 4000 restaurants.  He is doing 22,000 transactions per day and is very profitable.

Several initiatives were created and the US State department is encouraging collaboration and providing the infrastructure now that should make America’s greatest strength and innovation (Entrepreneurship) its strategic piece of diplomacy.