INNOVATE2016: The xenophobia on display in this election could hurt U.S. startups

There are few more globetrotting tech investors or entrepreneurs than Chris Schroeder.

The Washington-based Schroeder is the author of Start Up Rising, a book which takes an intriguingly optimistic view of entrepreneurial innovation in the Middle East.

And Schroeder – a pioneer of a new breed of global start-up investors – is not only a frequent visitor to the Middle East, but also Africa and South East Asia. So how, I asked him, is the rest of the world – particularly start-up entrepreneurs – reacting to the 2016 election?

The answer, like so much else about the election, is depressing. There’s a “collective disappointment”, Schroeder – who was a member of James Baker’s staff during the first George H.W. Bush administration – says, about the overt negativity and pettiness of the campaign.

In Egypt, for example, Schroeder says, young entrepreneurs are indifferent to American politics, but idolize Silicon Valley icons like Mark Zuckerberg, Elon Musk and Jack Dorsey.

So what? some might say. But Schroeder’s observations are important. The value of America – and Silicon Valley in particular – has always been premised on attracting overseas talent. But, as Schroeder notes, the anti-muslim, anti-hispanic and increasingly xenophobic tenor of the debate – especially on the Republican side — is bound to scare smart entrepreneurs from coming to America. Innovation depends on tolerance and openness.

If xenophobia becomes the norm in American politics, then startups will rise everywhere but in the United States. No wonder, then, that Dustin Moskovitz just donated $20 million to defeat Donald Trump. 

As always, many thanks to the innovative folks at CALinnovates for their support in the production of this interview.