ElsaMarie D’Silva is the Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Safecity, a platform that crowdsources sexual harassment in public spaces. She attended GES 2016 in Silicon Valley, which helped her make the connections that facilitated the launch of her mobile app and introduced her to business leaders who mentored her. She is also a State Department Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs Fortune/U.S. State Department Global Women's Mentoring Partnership exchange program alumna. In this blog, Elsa writes about her experience at GES 2016 and gives several tips she thinks this year's delegates should know.
As the Founder and CEO of Safecity, which works to address sexual violence in public spaces, I know first-hand that the journey of an entrepreneur is both challenging and interesting. Sometimes you are lucky to receive opportunities that are life changing – you just may not know it at the time. Last year, I was fortunate to be selected to attend two of the United States’ prestigious programs -- The Fortune/U.S. State Department Global Women’s Mentoring Partnership and the 2016 Global Entrepreneurship Summit (GES).
The Fortune Program gave me an opportunity to be mentored by Ms. Sandi Peterson (Group World Wide Chair), Ms. Lauren Moore, and Ms. Michelle Goodridge from Johnson & Johnson, as well as connected me to my amazing cohort -- a group of 12 enterprising women from around the world. My biggest lesson from the program was that no matter how successful you are, do not forget to “pay it forward.” The program also reaffirmed for me that it’s always good to reach down and lend a helping hand to the next person behind you, preferably a woman. Finally, it emboldened me and encouraged me never to be afraid to reach for the stars. My couple of weeks at Johnson & Johnson honed in on the fact that a Founder must be able to articulate his/her vision so clearly that it will stand the test of time, have buy in from employees, and serve as a guiding light for the management team through good times and bad. My cohort and I met many amazing role models - women in government, business, and entrepreneurs. Their words of wisdom still inspire me.
As if this experience was not heady enough, I was immediately invited to attend the 2016 Global Entrepreneurship Summit at Stanford University. I was excited because I was part of the Women and Youth track, which meant we had an extra day of activities specially designed for us. The lead-up to GES was exciting. I was invited to write a blog, post a snap on SnapChat (my first time on the platform), and connect with my peers on WhatsApp and Facebook. By the time I landed in Silicon Valley, I felt I already knew quite a few people.
I was in for a surprise though. At the opening ceremony, my story was mentioned in the keynote address. It was totally unreal and I had to pinch myself; it was a great validation of my work at Safecity. I was invited to a Design Thinking session next, again chaired by important women business leaders, where I learned essential skills on designing interventions from the users’ perspective.
Finally, the highlight of my GES experience was being invited to a private roundtable discussion with the Secretary of Commerce. It was at Encina Hall and I got there early. It was there that I met Mr. Antonio Gracias -- Founder, Managing Partner, and Chief Investment Officer of Valor -- who seemed quite interested in my work.
When he realized I was looking for funding for my mobile app, he offered the money without any hesitation. I could not believe it, especially because prior to this meeting I had not met or heard of him. Subsequent to the meeting he introduced me to his colleague Brad Sheftel who worked with me for more than eight months and now I am very happy to share that our Mobile App is being launched for both androids and iPhones later this month. This would not have been possible without GES.
Following my excellent experience at last year’s summit, I would like to share a few tips to ensure this year’s entrepreneurs have a meaningful and successful time at GES 2017:
- First of all, attend the event with an open mind. You are going to meet amazing people, and you will hear about many new innovations and inspiring stories. Soak it all in.
- Try to connect with as many people prior to arriving at GES 2017 in Hyderabad. It is easy over social media and it will facilitate your networking whilst on the ground. You will also make many new friends from different parts of the world. My fellow GES 2016 delegates and I are still active on our GES group, constantly motivating and cheering each other on. We are friends for life.
- Share your experiences on social media by using the #GES2017 hashtag. You never know who might be reading the posts. They may want to get in touch with you. The opportunities that can arise from sharing your story on social media can be surprising.
- Treat everyone with respect because you never know who they might be. Just think of how I met Antonio Gracias without really knowing who he was and how our conversation resulted in the Safecity Mobile App becoming a reality.
- Finally, don't forget that your local United States Embassy or Consulate is a great resource for you. They offer programming and support year-round.
I wish you the best of luck and a wonderful time at GES 2017!
Editor’s Note: This entry is also published in the U.S. Department of State’s publication on Medium.com.