There is no greater country on Earth for entrepreneurship than America. […], Americans are taking risks, embracing new ideas and — most importantly — creating jobs    - Eric Ries

To find out whether this is true, Aspire co-founder, Melanie, travelled together with 12 Europeans to the US -  from Washington, to Jacksonville, to Seattle and down to Los Angeles. She found out that it is not about the big risks but about the small ones people take everyday like speaking up.

What is the IVLP program and how were you chosen?

IVLP is short for International Visitor Leadership Program which is supported by the US State Department. I got nominated for this program thanks to Aspire and therefore, I would like to share my experiences with you here in this article as well as leverage the learnings for our community. While organizing the exhibition launch event back in May 2014 we were working with the US Embassy in Berne and thats when they nominated me. There are diverse programs ranging from journalism to politics among others, mine was about entrepreneurship & innovation.

Who did you meet at the IVLP?

We were a group of 12 from different European countries and Russia: from Norway, Finland, Belgium, Poland, Slovenia, Czech Republic, Albania, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Romania, Russia, Cyprus and me from Switzerland. Together we met with representatives from the government, non-profits, big corporations as well as startups in four very different US cities

  1. In Jacksonville, Florida, we went to a “Going Global Summit” at a Highschool. There we mentored high school kids about our countries and international careers.  When I had to present myself on the microphone in front of the 200 pupils, I have to admit, I was quite nervous. After the mentoring sessions were over, the teachers asked the kids to share their learnings on the mic. Several of them took the mic and just shared openly their thoughts and opinions. I was impressed. I pictured myself as a 17 year old shy girl who would have never dared to speak up in front of 200 people.

  2. In Washington, we met the assistant director of entrepreneurship at the White House. We came into the meeting room, prepared ourselves to listen to the presentation and took out our notebooks ready to start taking notes. Then, he entered and began the meeting by asking us what we wanted to know, what our backgrounds were and what he should talk about. First, I thought well this guy is not prepared at all and hence unprofessional. Nevertheless, we ended up having an interesting conversation about the exact topics that we were interested in. We were most interested in his background in playwriting and how this influenced his entrepreneurial career. Everybody was very eager to listen and ask questions. He could have never guessed and prepared for exactly this great conversation that we ended up having.

  3. In Seattle, we visited the innovation department at the Boeing corporation. When entering the huge office building we saw lots of pumpkins that were decorated and painted with black marker. Obviously, they did a pumpkin decoration competition. I was surprised to see something so playful in a professional environment. I would have been embarrassed to decorate pumpkins in my former job at a big international corporation.

There are many more moments like these. What these taught me is that

a) its all about taking small personal risks such as to speak up in front of a group

b) not prepare a presentation but ask for expectations and encourage questions

c) never stop being playful!

How will Aspire use the the benefits of the IVLP going forward?

Thanks to the program we gained plenty of insights into the startup ecosystem in the USA. These will help us to better understand the Swiss ecosystem and how to connect the dots. Besides that, some ideas and community initiatives inspired us to take some of their ingredients and add it to our sauce here. Last but not least, we got to know some interesting speakers whom we might be able to bring to Switzerland for the Aspire community.