Ambassador Richard Mills, International Conference of Women Entrepreneurs, Opening Remarks

Thank you for that warm welcome, Lilit.  Mr. Prime Minister, distinguished guests, it’s an honor to join you here this morning to celebrate the contribution women entrepreneurs have made to Armenia’s economic progress and explore ways to expand that contribution.

Events like these enable business people, startups, and academics to establish the strong working relationships that generate new ideas and collaboration.  Entrepreneurship is essential to stimulate economic growth and employment opportunities in all societies.  The U.S. experience provides an excellent example of the importance of entrepreneurship.  Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) are the backbone of the U.S. economy and create the majority of new jobs.  Small businesses provide approximately 75 percent of the new jobs that are added to the American economy each year and represent 99 percent of all U.S. employers.

These small businesses are also the primary drivers of innovation and economic equality.  In the United States, more than half of the jobs created by SMEs by 2018 will be in SMEs owned by women. Women entrepreneurs in the United States, in Armenia, and around the world bring new ideas and services to the market.

This shouldn’t surprise anyone.  In a study published by the Harvard Business Review, women outscored men on taking initiative and results-based management.  Moreover, supporting women business leaders is a smart investment.  Dow Jones Venture Source recently published a study of start-ups backed by venture capitalists.  They found that companies with women as senior executives were more likely to succeed than those with only men in charge.  Citing another study, Forbes magazine reported that organizations that have the most women in top management achieve a 35 percent higher return on equity investment.

And as Secretary Kerry has said, no country can live up to its economic potential when it disadvantages half of its population.  That means ensuring that women have equal opportunities to innovate, access to capital, and access to markets.  The United States is committed to supporting entrepreneurs around the world, especially young and women entrepreneurs.  Last month, President Obama announced the launch of the Spark Global Initiative, which brings together some of the most successful entrepreneurship programs across the U.S. government and links them with the private sector in ways that allow for long-term sustainable success.  We have set a goal of generating $1 billion in new investments for emerging entrepreneurs worldwide by 2017.  Half of that money is going to support young entrepreneurs and women entrepreneurs.

It is in the interest of all governments to implement policies that foster entrepreneurship so they can reap the benefits of its activity.  This means creating an environment that encourages people to try to turn their ideas into something marketable and profitable.  There need to be clear, simple rules, and those rules need to be applied equally and consistently to everyone.  Rule of law is crucial for creating a climate that fosters entrepreneurship and innovation.

As business owners and citizens, you have a responsibility to speak out when government policies hold back growth or are not implemented fairly.  Entrepreneurs should themselves be a model of transparency and accountability for Armenian society and government.  As entrepreneurs, you aren’t just drivers of economic growth, but agents for change.

I hope your success will encourage other women, and give them the confidence to take the risks that you have taken for your businesses, and become the agents of change that Armenia – and the world – need.

Thank you and I hope you each have a productive conference.