Innovations & Inspirations

Just another site

Posts Tagged ‘Cuba

The Year of the Monkey

leave a comment »

“You can tell the people of the need to struggle, but when the powerless start to see that they really can make a difference, nothing can quench the fire.” – Leymah Gbowee

What a curious year.  Tomorrow, I’ll give my predictions for 2017, but for now, I’ll reminisce on my lowlights and highlights, with their applicable learnings.

2016 Lowlights

  • The passing of NEA General Partner Harry Weller.  He was one of my first mentors when I joined NEA in 2012, and his advice on venture capital (and life) is one of my guiding principles: “The goal in our business isn’t to be liked, it’s to be respected.”  To him, that meant prioritizing, and making, hard decisions, even though they may not be easy to swallow.
  • The questioning of our values.  The questioning of what makes America, America.  I thought we were a place whose fundament tenet can be summed up by “treat thy neighbor as thyself”.  A place where justice, equality, and liberty prevail.  But in a political season marked by brutality and disparagement, those ideals may not be as sacred as I had hoped.  And, unfortunately, this message seemed to have resonated globally.

2016 Highlights

  • President Obama’s historic Cuba trip, the first by a sitting US President since 1928, and being a part of the delegation.  Since then, direct flights have now started on most commercial airlines between Houston, Newark, Miami, and other cities to Havana and elsewhere in Cuba.  It isn’t a felony to spend US dollars, joint medical research partnership are beginning, bank accounts can be opened by certain Americans, Fidel Castro is dead, and we can now import Cuban cigars freely.  And to think that just 9 months ago, none of this had happened.  Change came, and it came quickly.
  • Visiting Georgia, Sri Lanka and Vietnam to help promote job creation and innovation policy.  Each country faces a radically different challenge: Russian influence and aggression (Georgia), IMF bailout and recently coming out of a civil war (Sri Lanka), and a communist government (Vietnam).  But each country is thriving and is eager to be a beacon for entrepreneurship, with the priority coming from the top.  It will be the difference between their future livelihood and descending into chaos, and I am optimistic on all three.
  • Getting to sit for 15 minutes with Leymah Gbowee, a Liberian peace activist who led movements that helped end the Second Liberian Civil War.  She’s rambunctious, motherly, and fiercely brilliant.  And although she has 10 kids of her own, she somehow adopted me as her 11th in those 15 minutes.  Auntie Leymah is the embodiment of a modern Gandhi, and in the depths of darkness she was able to prevail.

Looking back on 2016, I’m disheartened, invigorated, and inspired–all at the same time.  And looking forward to 2017, I’m ready to crow.  Bring on the rooster.


A 2 month wrap

leave a comment »

The past two months have been special.  Each experience could be the subject of a post, but I’ll attempt to capture my learnings (or lack of) succinctly from the 3 highlights:

  • I spent a week in Israel and then a day in the West Bank meeting entrepreneurs.  Never before have I heard two sides of an argument and felt so equally compelled by emotion, logic, and passion.  Tel Aviv and Jerusalem are stunning, and Ramallah could not be more different despite being so close.  The longer I stayed, the more I realized how little I knew about one of the most complex issues globally.  Religion has extraordinary power to unite.  It also has extraordinary power to divide.
  • I left Cuba deeply honored to be part of such a historic trip, but with a heavy heart. The hospitality, warmth, and drive of the Cuban people made me fall in love with our neighbors.  The locals, for the most part, embrace America.  But entrenched interests (i.e. the Communist Party) don’t.  The country is behind (there are only a handful of wifi hotspots in the whole country, doctors make less than a $1/day…), but the people are looking forward.  I hope change is coming.
  • I sat at the dinner table of President Jimmy Carter last night at the We Are Family Foundation Gala, my first time ever dining at the same table as an American President.  We talked about his health, the issue he is most passionate about (eradicating Guinea worm – he is close), and his mentee (and my hero) Mattie Stepanek.  He didn’t just inspire me with his words, but also his energy.  At 91, he has a vibrancy for life and a zest for change that is invigorating.  His legacy will live on far longer than him.

“We must adjust to changing times and still hold to unchanging principles.” – President Jimmy Carter

ST April Blogpost


Written by sheeltyle

April 30, 2016 at 12:41 pm

The Forgotten Neighbor

leave a comment »

It is perhaps the greatest honor of my professional career to be embarking on my current trip. Less than 2 weeks ago, I was invited by the White House to attend a series of events in Cuba.  It is the first trip by a sitting US President since Calvin Coolidge in 1928.

I will be leading a roundtable Monday with Cuban entrepreneurs, all of whom are hungry to access investments from a country that has blocked them off since the embargo signed by JFK.  They have asked me to speak on accessing capital and the importance of entrepreneurship for Cuba, but I’m pretty sure they already know that the companies they create will have an impact not just on the future of their families, but on the future of their country.

With every passing day as a venture capitalist, my awe, respect, and appreciation for entrepreneurs grows.  Often everything is against them: incumbents, families, capital, employees and, in some cases, governments.  In fact, Snapdeal, the first investment of my VC career, was founded by entrepreneurs who wanted to stay in America but we denied them a visa.  Those who proceed, perspire, and ultimately prevail should be celebrated.  What they create can, in some cases, touch more lives than any government.

Thanks to my partners at New Enterprise Associates who come to work every day trying to fight the status quo to make the world just a little bit better.  And most importantly, thanks to all the entrepreneurs I get the privilege of working with for teaching me far more about failure, courage, and tenacity than they will ever know.

I’ll try and impart some of their collective teachings in Havana, but what will likely happen is what always happens: I will learn far more from the Cubans than they will from me.

Written by sheeltyle

March 19, 2016 at 11:44 am