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October 8, 2015

Does it Matter Where The Next Bill Gates Comes From?

Eight years ago, as part of a survey testing people’s attitudes about technology and innovation, we asked Americans: “From what country will the next Bill Gates come from?” Only 1 in 5 thought the next global tech leader would come from the United States, with nearly a majority saying he or she would hail from China or Japan.

So this month Vrge Analytics posed a similar question – asking where will the next Steve Jobs comes from – it was surprising that 60 percent said the United States.

So, what’s changed in the last eight years? And does it really matter where the next tech leader comes from? Let’s start with the latter question.

Yes, it matters. But it doesn’t really matter where they are born, but where they are educated, choose to live and ultimately base their company. And this is why Donald Trump is dead wrong on immigration. When great companies are created in the United States, the world may benefit, but Americans benefit the most. Take the Apple iPhone as an example: much was made of the fact it’s manufactured in China, but in fact the United States realized 55 percent of the economic value of it. That’s because the design, engineering and marketing were based in Apple’s home country.

Those things translate to the high-value jobs. And that happens when entrepreneurs decide to build their future companies in the United States. It doesn’t matter where they are born, but where they choose to build. A 2011 study found that for every 100 foreign-born but U.S.-educated workers in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, they created 262 jobs for native-born Americans.

And it just doesn’t happen by accident. A Microsoft employee, A Microsoft employee, considering our question 8 years ago, put it best when pondering how Gates got his start: “One is to maximize the educational opportunities for everyone. Bill comes from a family with money and was attending a private school with access to a computer at a time when that was available to very few students.  So access to technology would seem to be important here. It was pretty easy for Bill Gates and Paul Allen to startup Microsoft because government regulations and red tape were not onerous. They had some access to start up capital as well.”

Which gets us to why Americans may be more bullish now than they were eight years ago. Since then, look what’s happened: a whole new generation of innovation – Facebook, Uber, Twitter and a slew of emerging financial and health companies that will leverage big data and platforms to transform our economy and society. And that matters because entrepreneurs vote with their feet and their checkbook. If they think America will be the center of innovation, then they build here and invest here.

And that is why Trump is wrong. America’s inherent strength is its openness – to new ideas, new people and new ways of doing things. If you build a physical wall to keep people out, be careful that you don’t build a psychological wall that prevents the best and brightest of people, ideas and innovations from coming in as well.

The next Bill Gates or Steve Jobs has already been born. He’s likely a 12-year-old boy or girl whose driving teachers crazy by doing things different. The only question is when that person grows up, where will he or she want to pursue their dream?

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