Beyond the Financial Crisis: Optimistic Entrepreneurs Look Ahead

At an Oxford conference, entrepreneurs look beyond today's hard times.

ByABC News
September 11, 2008, 4:36 PM

Nov. 28, 2008, 2008 — -- White-tied teenagers and tycoons in tennis shoes were the order of the day at this year's annual Silicon Valley Comes to Oxford event.

As I've noted in past years' columns about this event -- which began with a solo speech of mine back at the turn of the century -- SVCO has grown to become not only one of the most important events of the school year for the university's Said Graduate School of Business, but also begun to turn Oxford into perhaps the entrepreneurial center of Europe.

At the university itself, the impact has been astounding. That first year, I polled the audience to ask how many of the 500 in attendance thought of themselves as entrepreneurs. About 20 percent raised their hands.

This year the number was 90 percent . . . and nearly the same number had already started their own companies. Meanwhile, the Oxford Entrepreneurs Club, created by undergraduates, now has an astonishing 4,000 members -- the largest club on campus, and the second only to Stanford University.

SVCO has taken place in good years and bad, at the peak of the boom and the bottom of the bust, in the weeks after 9/11 -- and, this week, in the midst of the global uncertainty about the credit crunch.

On Sunday night, for the first time, we participated in a debate at the legendary Oxford Union, the great Gothic wooden hall (built in 1823) that has served as the training ground of generations of future British MPs and prime ministers.

It was a bit intimidating, after warm Winter Pimms in the lounge, to tour the Union's hallways and look at photographs of participants in past debates, including Albert Einstein, Mother Theresa, Malcolm X and Benazir Bhutto (the last a former Union president).