Faces of Entrepreneurship: Zem Joaquin, Founder of Near Future Summit

Imagine a conference where everyone is different — and yet similar —  they are true futurists, peering over the edge of what’s possible for the world at largeImagine an action packed 3-day summit where big ideas coalesce in rooms filled with inventors, entrepreneurs, media and investors, all of whom have a passion for driving revolutionary change across disciplines, sectors, and entire industries.  That’s exactly what Near Future Summit is — the galvanizing brainchild of Zem Joaquin,  its founder.  She imagined a community that seeks to scale solutions to the world’s most pressing problems, so The NASDAQ Entrepreneurial Center sat down with Joaquin to catch up with her and to hear her entrepreneur story thus far. 

What does “entrepreneurship” mean to you?

ZJ: Entrepreneurship means being brave, bold and inventive.

Can you tell us how  Near Future Summit came to be? 

ZJ: I had been co-hosting conferences and chairing events for over a decade. Four things happened that made transforming Near Future Summit from concept to conference reality:

  1. People were getting tired of hearing what problems existed and were more interested in knowing how to fix them.
  2. My maximum capacity for convening people had been hit, so I needed a way to fast track carefully-conceived introductions.
  3. Keeley Locke, with whom I had been working on events with for a few years, was leaving her job, so her availability created some time pressure.
  4. Obvious Ventures had been formed and was able to provide insights and deal flow that fostered differentiation.

What is the biggest experience or lesson gained on your journey so far? 

ZJ: For this particular journey, it is like going back to school. I’ve been able to learn about biomed, blockchain, resilience, criminal justice and so much more. These are concepts you often hear about but don’t get to dive deeper into. I feel honored to learn more about these issues that are at the heart of shaping our future. I’ve also learned to advocate for myself while still protecting those that don’t have as loud of a voice.

How is Near Future changing the landscape?

ZJ: I get to share my passion for conservation and eco-design through activations and transformational presentations. Near Future Summit has quickly become THE place to go beyond the launchpad for disruption –  we are creating a pathway for scalable solutions. It is the “World Positive” business conference, with a focus on making the world a better place and tangible/actionable ways to do achieve that.What do you wish you knew when you started? 

I wish I trusted my gut more. I definitely would have worked harder on a distribution deal.

What advice/credo do you live by as you grow the business? What is your professional and personal mission statement?

ZJ: Go after what you want with abandon, but always be kind, fair and generous. Never forget who has helped you get where you are. Work hard, play hard and get shit done.

What’s it like to work alone/with your partners? What advice do you have for fellow entrepreneurs about building and leading teams?

ZJ: I rarely work alone. Keeley is an incredible producer who I rely upon for fresh ideas, path correction and stellar execution. The tireless Starch team brings my vision to physical life. The Happily team supports us all with logistics and domain expertise. I also have an incredible resource in Obvious Ventures. The creative culture there is exemplary and the companies that they invest in are profoundly exciting, so I lean on the team quite a bit. Additionally, my advisors rock my world. Lee Stein, Lyn Lear, Anna Lewis, Christiana Wyly, Kimbal Musk, Linda Stone, Dean Kamen, Marc Hodosh, Raina Gardener, Khaliya and Thomas Ermacora, Liz Heller, Ken Hertz, Richelle Parham, Joanne Bradford, Gina Pell and many more provide insights, guidance and unwavering support. Yeah, it takes a village to build this village.

My advice would be to take any help you can get from people with different skillsets than your own. Before you do though, be clear on your vision. Course-correction can be helpful, but can also take you off your path entirely.

Where do you find inspiration when faced with challenges?

ZJ: From my advisors, my team, my sister, and my husband.

What is your proudest and darkest moment so far? 

ZJ: My proudest accomplishment is probably seeing the partnership between the Anti-Recidivism Coalition and Guayaki percolate and coalesce. Together they are now committed to training 10,000 program graduates in the next 10 years. Near Future is all about partnering to maximize potency and here is one beautiful example. But the moment I saw my first full house for the inaugural Near Future, I was flabbergasted. It was astonishing to me that we pulled it off. And that we keep pulling it off.  

The biggest low was when we experienced technical difficulties for an entire capsule. Luckily the presenters and attendees were excellent sports.

What’s the dream for your business? What has helped/will help you achieve it?

ZJ: would like to have a media team as a major partner so that we can maximize the content produced at Near Future. I want to amplify the messages of the brilliant inventors, entrepreneurs, scientists and visionaries that make Near Future incredibly vital. Also, I want to continue to build a community of world positive doers who show up with gratitude and generosity. My goal is to scale solutions to systemic problems, so finding a way to share them with the rest of the world is next on the agenda.

What does “success” mean to you?

ZJ: I measure success based on positive impact and proximity to the goal set forth. Is what I’m doing making the world and the people I’m touching better? If the answer is yes, then that is success to me.

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