In March 2018, as young entrepreneur and co-founder of the Wonderrkid initiative, I was selected as a fellow for the Young Transatlantic Innovation Leaders Initiative (#YTILI), the flagship program funded by the U.S. Department of State and implemented by the German Marshall Fund of the United States (GMF).
The YTILI Fellowship Program gathers 70 young European and Eurasian leaders and 30 American mentors from 8 U.S. cities for a series of professional development and leadership activities designed to support fellows as entrepreneurs, innovators, and change-makers. Over the course of one year, the program provides us the tools, networks, and resources we need to turn ideas into action and grow successful enterprises.
The goal of the program is twofold: first, to connect young European entrepreneurs and innovators, and provide us with the tools, networks, and resources to grow our enterprises; and second, to build a transatlantic network of innovators that contributes to an ongoing policy dialogue that strengthens the transatlantic relationship.
Firstly, we (the YTILI Fellows) gathered in Lisbon in June for an orientation into the program. We met our American mentors and learned from experts about the U.S. entrepreneurship ecosystem, venture capital, and how to pitch their business ideas. We also visited the Lisbon Investment Summit, the conference that brings together seasoned investors, daring entrepreneurs and innovative executives.
At the second part of the program, I had opportunity to visit Boston and explore its startup and sportech ecosystem. I talked with many high level officials in the sport industry including Brian Bilello, the President of the New England Revolution, Peter Roby, the Athletics Director of the Northeastern University, Christian Heidelberger, a Co-founder and CEO of the Drivn and Brian Ainscough, the Coaching Head of the Boston Bolts. I was given an extremely positive feedback from those people for what we have been trying to do for the last 12 months and got assured that there is perfect market fit for the Wonderrkid in the USA.
Finally, the YTILI experience concluded with a three-day training at GMF headquarters in Washington, DC, on subjects including: leadership, networking, and media training, as well as discussions with local investors and entrepreneurs to better understand the U.S. and European startup ecosystems. The highlight was a visit to the State Department where we spoke with officials and discussed similarities and differences between the entrepreneurial ecosystems in the U.S. and Europe, as well as the programs currently strengthening the transatlantic relationship.
It was really an once-in-a-lifetime experience because it empowered me to make my next career step. To expand outside academia and to pursue also my entrepreneurial endeavors. In my opinion, the most valuable part of the whole program is people you get to meet there, and not only the mentors and successful US entrepreneurs, but also, the fellows. Being an entrepreneur is not easy. You live and breathe your work, and often put your personal finances on the line. It was very important to me, to meet people with the same interests, but from totally different backgrounds and industries, such as robotics, data privacy, healthcare and others, and hear their experiences and stories behind their ventures.
The people I met there, after the discussions we had, the knowledge I acquired, and the experience of living and working in the United States, I now understand better how the different components work together to create a thriving environment. I am committed to use this knowledge to contribute more fully to the local ecosystem by engaging with its stakeholders. This proves how the U.S. engagement with countries around the world and cultivation lasting relationships by connecting current and emerging foreign leaders with their American counterparts is important to young people.