Into the Heart of Europe (From Right Here in Washington, DC)

Networking at the Young Transatlantic Innovation Leaders Initiative


45 European entrepreneurs. 41 different countries. 2 days in DC. 1 marketing and communications intern (me).

Last week was my first week interning at Meridian, and I was immediately immersed in European culture and all its diversity with my first project: the Young Transatlantic Innovation Leaders Initiative.

I arrived at the State Department for day one of the program. A minute later, a large crowd of people came walking over and waited in line at the security check. Many looked over at me with curiosity, and some came right over, introduced themselves, and asked about my background. I expected to blend in with the surroundings and just be an observer, but the YTILI fellows wanted to learn from me even though I’m only an intern. I could tell that they all had a strong desire to learn from other cultures and were energized and excited to be in the United States.

We kicked off the program with a meeting with Ambassador Victoria Nuland, the Assistant Secretary for European and Eurasian Affairs. Though the meeting was off the record, I can attest that the YTILI fellows had no shortage of thoughtful questions covering topics ranging from European politics to the Sami people in Norway (fun fact: they herd reindeer).

Victoria Nuland answering some tough questions
Victoria Nuland answering some tough questions

Between meetings, I could already see relationships forming – both professional and personal. People with technology startups connected, people who were interested in classical music connected, and everyone could bonded over their shared passion for what they do.

The day of speakers continued with Mr. Tom Lersten, the Director of the Global Entrepreneurship Program. In this meeting, the questions mostly concerned the specifics of the Global Entrepreneurship Summit and the participants got some insider tips for how they can impress investors.

Jonathan Karl explaining what's happening with the US Presidential election
Jonathan Karl explaining what’s happening with the US Presidential election

We then moved to the Hamilton, where ABC’s Chief White House Correspondent, Jonathan Karl, answered some questions about the election that most Americans are also wondering. The YTILI fellow from Greece demanded to know why the media has given Donald Trump so much attention (I could certainly tell that she is the daughter of two politicians). The discussion was engaging and it was interesting for me to hear a global perspective on the US Presidential election.

After the much needed discussion of politics, we headed over to Google’s DC headquarters where the tech nerds were star struck during a talk with Vint Cerf, the Vice President and Chief Internet Evangelist of Google. I could see the tech-nerd YTILI fellows “fangirl” as they learned insider entrepreneurship tips from a man who played such a large role in the creation of the internet.

Vint Cerf discussion permissionless innovation
Vint Cerf’s discussion on permissionless innovation

The discussions continued with two panels where I learned more about some of the fellows and the intersection of government policy and entrepreneurship. It was a good opportunity to learn more about the specific backgrounds of some YTILI fellows who were eager to share their stories with the group.

Then the highly anticipated reception began, and I continued to watch these relationships form. It was only after speaking with these fellows when I truly realized the breadth of their areas of expertise. I discussed the future of the automotive industry with a fellow who is working on the production of electric in-wheel propulsion systems for electric vehicles. I learned more about the psychology of advertising from a fellow who owns a social media marketing agency. And I discovered that a fellow who is working on tackling climate change also has a background as a firefighter. The discussion topics were endless.

That was only the first day. I learned about the YTILI fellows’ countries (I got the British fellow’s take on the Brexit vote) and about their incredible backgrounds (like advising the Ukrainian Prime Minister), but the most valuable lesson I learned from them was about passion. All of these people felt strongly enough about what they’re doing to take risks to make it to where they are now. Their determination trumped the prospect of failure. It was inspiring to be around people who are so excited to learn from each other and eager to make the world a better place. I know we’ll be seeing more of their ideas in the coming years.