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NEW YORK -- Eager-to-network entrepreneurs who can't be here this week for the 7th Annual World Summit of Young Entrepreneurs can still participate in the summit.
For the first time, the World Summit is accessible at the event's website and at mirror sites through Internet portals strategically located in developing countries around the world.
Even as the 319 registered participants convene through Friday for the conference -- organized by Toronto's non-profit Institute for Leadership Development (ILD) -- the e-summit should allow hundreds more to learn from bigshots and, they hope, make deals.
The live and virtual summits are expected to bring at least 1,000 entrepreneurs together with several United Nations agencies, various governments, and a cornucopia of multinational corporations.
U.N. Secretary General H.E. Kofi Annan, New York Stock Exchange Chairman Richard A. Grasso, and New York Governor George E. Pataki are scheduled to speak at the week-long event.
The summit stands at the intersection of many recent trends: globalization, the decreasing age of the exponentially increasing world population, the idea embraced by the Clinton Administration that investing in small enterprises can ameliorate poverty in Third World countries, and the Internet's business-facilitating ability to lower overhead costs -- most significantly for startups without much capital.
"Entrepreneurs are constantly seeking new markets. In order to profit from this global growth, we need to understand the dynamics and multicultural aspects," said Kerry Adler, president and CEO of Webhelp, a Toronto provider of online customer service.
Adler's firm will launch branch offices in France and Romania on Friday; next up, he said, are Germany, Korea, and Japan.
"Part of our globalization strategy is to build joint-venture relationships with other entrepreneurs in non-English-speaking countries, who may not have had the same opportunities," Adler continued. "Let's face it, you don't have the equivalent of Silicon Valley in Beijing. So being able to meet different people and share knowledge is important."
Because technology development and access varies greatly from region to region, the summit organizers chose to rely on foolproof, tested technologies so that as many participants as possible could play, said Martin Best, vice president of interactive at Poptronik, an entertainment-oriented multimedia firm in Toronto.
"It's very easy to program the latest technologies that cater to the North American world, where everyone has access. But as an international, not-for-profit agency, it's the role of the ILD to help everyone," Best said.
The e-summit consists mainly of a basic webcast and ongoing, scrolling-text interaction built upon a stripped-down, multi-user domain game.
The multiple-user and text-based qualities of MUDs, which have been around for 20 years, may not make for flashy game-playing. But they seem oddly suited to real-time business communication between many people in far-flung, inconsistently wired locations, since fast Internet connections aren't necessary.
"I've done a lot of business over text media," said Matthew Mihaly, CEO of Achaea, in San Francisco.
Mihaly donated the skeleton of his established indie MUD, "Achaea: Dreams of Divine Lands," to the e-summit cause. "For the Hong Kong investors for Achaea, all the conversation was over email. I never spoke to them," Mihaly said.
Entrepreneurs in less-developed regions can access the e-summit in places such as Nairobi, New Delhi, Amman, and Lima, through mirror sites run by various agencies including the U.N. Development Fund for Women.
Some key components of the summit also have their own simple but effective virtual counterparts.
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