Objectives Human embryonic stem cells (hESCs) and human induced pluripotent stem cells (hiPSCs) can generate any given cell type in the human body. One challenge for cell-replacement therapy is the efficient differentiation and expansion of large quantities of progenitor cells from pluripotent stem cells produced under good manufacturing practice (GMP). FOXA2 and SOX17 double positive definitive endoderm (DE) progenitor cells can give rise to all endoderm-derived cell types in the thymus, thyroid, lung, pancreas, liver, and gastrointestinal tract. FOXA2 is a pioneer transcription factor in DE differentiation that is also expressed and functionally required during pancreas development and islet cell homeostasis. Current differentiation protocols can successfully generate endoderm; however, generation of mature glucose-sensitive and insulin-secreting β-cells is still a challenge. As a result, it is of utmost importance to screen for small molecules that can improve DE and islet cell differentiation for cell-replacement therapy for diabetic patients. Methods The aim of this study was to identify and validate small molecules that can induce DE differentiation and further enhance pancreatic progenitor differentiation. Therefore, we developed a large scale, high-content screen for testing a chemical library of 23,406 small molecules to identify compounds that induce FoxA2 in mouse embryonic stem cells (mESCs). Results Based on our high-content screen algorithm, we selected 84 compounds that directed differentiation of mESCs towards the FoxA2 lineage. Strikingly, we identified ROCK inhibition (ROCKi) as a novel mechanism of endoderm induction in mESCs and hESCs. DE induced by the ROCK inhibitor Fasudil efficiently gives rise to PDX1+ pancreatic progenitors from hESCs. Conclusion Taken together, DE induction by ROCKi can simplify and improve current endoderm and pancreatic differentiation protocols towards a GMP-grade cell product for β-cell replacement.