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Archive for the ‘Innovative Company’ category

The Economist “Ideas Economy” Conference at UC Berkeley

March 25th, 2011

This week the Economist sponsored The IDEAS ECONOMY Conference at the Haas School of Business on the Berkeley campus.  I attended both days and enjoyed meeting many innovation experts from around the world.

A  look at Twitter:#ideaseconomy provides some short insights from the conference and here are a few of my favorite tweets:

  • H Chesbrough – Opening up processes to include the customer is even more important with services #ideaseconomy
  • Paul Kedrosky (Kauffman Foundation): We think of ourselves as economic virus hunters #ideaseconomy
  • Elon Musk: Success = talent x drive x opportunity. If any of those goes to zero, success is impossible #ideaseconomy
  • RT @govlab: Aneesh Chopra on stage showing that govt, innovation, and entrepreneurship can go together. #ideaseconomy
  • Fun at Economist Innovation Summit! IRS asking question of Scott Cook (Intuit) then NASA asking Elon Musk (SpaceX) #ideaseconom

What were the “big ideas” from the event?  Here are my top four:

1) The World is turning into an Idea Economy- we have entered a period where the Democratization of Ideas seems more potent in many ways than technology, leadership, and geography.  In this new economy, one’s location (Silicon Valley, New York City,  Cambridge UK, Beijing, or Finland) is not so important as the way in which ideas are shared and collaborated on.  The concept of  Open Service Innovation is taking hold (see my Haas colleague, Henry Chesbrough’s new book on this topic,) – and innovative companies are getting their ideas, as well as their execution from all corners of the world.

2) Education will be radically transformed in the next 10 years – lots of examples were presented at this conference that indicate that the global education system is about to be transformed by technologies such as cloud computing, virtual classrooms, video conferencing, and distance learning tools.  This transformation will bring affordable teaching to third world and developing countries, but also represents an opportunity for major “brands” like Harvard, Brown, Cal, Stanford to take a leadership in creating the “virtual” campus to extend their brand.

3) Government programs for entrepreneurship seem to be a priority of the current administration – for example, entrepreneurs have a tax break and angel investors have a break as well (through the end of 2012) for angel investing (perhaps partially explains the rush of angel capital investments moving into start-ups these days). Other programs like Start-up America (this is a good video – done YouTube style)…. Aneesh Chopra, CTO of the United States was interviewed at this conference.  He was praised for how worn out his shoes seem to be. Point of fact, he seems to intimately know many of the entrepreneurs, angels and VCs here in the Silicon Valley.  A good sign.

4) Think nimbly, make mistakes, fail often – this theme was stressed at the conference in many different forms and seems to capture the mindset of today’s most successful entrepreneurs.  Marc Zuckerberg , CEO of Facebook has been said (in an interview in 2010) “move fast and break things”.   This is a radical departure from 15 years ago, when companies carefully thought out and planned software development.  Given costs associated with cloud computing, open source programming, and other technologies, companies can afford to experiment and fail often – as long as they are tracking the results on their customers and changing course to reflect customer needs quickly

In contrast to TED, The Economist conference is smaller and more intimate.  So, it’s easier to talk with leading experts. Unlike TED, the conference was attended largely by a group of corporate executives and writers who are all intrigued by notions of

I’ve enjoyed attending both TED and The Economist events this Spring, but I still miss the intimacy and power of the early TED events in Monterey, when only 400 people attended and one could more easily kibitz with founders from Yahoo, Google, Amazon, MIT Media Labs, Microsoft and more.

Searching for Synthia – hottest innovation of the 21st century

August 22nd, 2010

Introducing Synthia

So popular is she, that 3 months after her birth, she already has her own Wikipedia page. Synthia may be the hottest innovation of the 21st Century.Yet, for many of us, we read about it casually on May 21st on our iPads  or home-delivered newspapers, next to stories about the latest Giants-A’s series showdown and local murder trials.  If you happened to miss the news that day, read on, as you might want to become familiar with this innovation.

“Synthia” is the nickname for a brand new bacterium developed by Craig Venter and his J. Craig Venter Institute.  You may recognize Venter’s name – he led a team at  TIGR (The Institute for Genomic Research) which in is credited as first to fully decode the genome sequence for a free living organism, Haemophilus influenzae in 1995;  in 2001, Venter and his team along with Celera Genomics decoded the first human genome entirely.  After leaving TIGR, Venter went on to form the the J. Craig Venter Institute and several related companies, such as Synthetic Genomics.  Bottom line:  Venter is among the leaders in understanding how to decode the basic building blocks of life and has a significant advantage in combining creative ideas on how to use this information commercially in the future.  It’s no wonder several investors and VCs like Steve Jurvetson kept close to him.

Her Story

The story of Synthia is truly something out of a Robin Cook novel – but in this case, the technology that has been perfected may truly have lasting effect on our lives and the lives of our progeny. It’s no simply science fiction.

Synthia was created by a synthetic genome. The team at Venter’s institute essentially pieced together from DNA fragments a modified version of a natural genome (mycoplasma mycoides - a chromosome with some 1.2 million base pairs) and implanted the hand-made genome into the shell of a  bacterium.  The new organism essentially came to live and is self-replicating.  That means that it essentially takes on a life of its own.

Uses and Abuses

One can only image the possible uses of this new approach to synthesizing life, as Synthia only represents the very beginning in a likely long exercise in creating new life forms.

Other areas that Venter and his team are apparently already exploring, and hoping to use their approaches on are:  fuel/energy, vaccination production, pollution control/clean-up,cell production,

Since genomes are the building blocks of heredity and proteins, and proteins are the building blocks of cells, and cells are the components of complex systems (organs, etc) within living organisms, the implication is that a synthetic self-replicating organism can become the basic building block to almost any change in life one can imagine.

Shades of “Singularity”

The question that many have had is whether biologists will soon be playing God with this new-found approach.  The new technology ultimately leads the way to new forms of genetically produced bacteria, viruses, plants and animals – and since they would be new to our world there would be no way of predicting how they might affect our global environment, ecosystem or biosphere.

What  might occur when eventually the recipe for synthetic life falls into naive or evil hands?

This is the essentially the first time that an artificially-created organism can self-replicate. It’s somewhat reminiscent of the predictions by author Ray Kurzweil who has written numerous books predicting new innovations that will explode from the intersection of biology/biotech/genetics, artificial intelligence and nanotechnology around the year 2030 (for more on this read The Singularity is Near by Kurzweil).

Love Her, Hate Her

So, that’s Synthia.  The bacterium you will come to love and hate.  Either we’ve unleashed a new “Manhattan Project” or we’ve got the beginning of a new Era in science.   Or, both.

I’d like to hear your impressions on this important innovation.

Keeping Innovation Simple – social entrepreneurship

July 19th, 2010

I get little argument when I suggest to entrepreneurs that they keep their businesses simple, that they focus on getting the simple steps done first, or that they focus on products that meet simple consumer needs.

But TALKING ABOUT simplicity and actually enabling it are two different things. It’s amazing how complex things can get when you hire a team of bright minds, create partnerships or define the functions of your product!

I was on the website Echoing Green (a early-stage social venture firm) and came across the video for one of their “Green Fellows” – a woman named Jodie Wu.  I love the innovations that she is creating with a somewhat mundane (by US standards) technology and transforming it into something of value to the poor villagers in other countries around the world.  This is simplicity in action.

What I see here is an entrepreneur who is taking a basic/antiquated technology – the bicycle – and looking at the world through the eyes of the social entrepreneur in Africa, South America, India, or China – and coming up with an innovative way of approaching this technology for alternative uses.

Will the organization itself get funding, grow successfully and launch? Perhaps? But they certainly are off to an innovative approach to social entrepreneurship that may re-purpose an old technology for the benefit of the Third World.

Have examples of simplicity that you can share? I’d love to hear from you…

Pepsi’s Innovative Business Model for Entrepreneurship

June 14th, 2010

I was intrigued to hear about the Pepsico 10 challenge, announced at InternetWeek NY in May.

The challenge involves four main components:

How it works

Contestants from around the world are invited to submit their companies for the contest. The only criteria is that require is that the company already have a product, be producing >$250,000 year in revenue, and (presumably, but it isn’t stated on the website) the company should be focused on the Internet (but who isn’t nowadays?).  Ten companies will be selected during a 2-day event at Pepsi headquarters as finalists and invited to pitch to a panel of VCs, Pepsi execs, and other participants.  The winner wins money, fame and a host of contacts for increasing the lifespan of their company.

More details available here.

What’s innovative about this?

It seems like a win-win-win for all parties involved. Entrepreneurs who submit plans presumably get feedback on what works and what doesn’t about their current business model – and what’s needed to scale their businesses.  Mashable is a big winner in associating itself with leading edge entrepreneurial ideas – particularly those that are related to social media. This helps steal the thunder from its competitors (like TechCrunch) by allowing Mashable to report on innovations in entrepreneurship AHEAD of the competition and track potential hot companies of tomorrow.  InternetWeek wins by associating itself with a new model for recognizing entrepreneurship – potentially increasing its readership and following (among those who want to be on the leading edge of technology).  Highland Capital wins by seeing some of the best plans on the planet.  Pepsi, who presumably is matching the largest monetary and time commitment to this experiment, is potentially the biggest winner (although it may be hard to measure this) by associating its most precious asset – it’s brand/name – with young, risk-taking, intelligent entrepreneurs who are trying to change the world. In the world of the Millenials, these young social media start-up execs represent the future leaders…so Pepsi is associating itself with a great group of people.

Wait, Where Have We Seen This Before (Welcome Back Kotter)?

For those of you old enough to remember, the word “challenge” has a rich history at Pepsi, and is in fact a major component of the Pepsi brand. In 1981, here is one of the early commercials released by Pepsi in a series of “Challenges”…which went on to win many advertising and branding awards:

So, creating a “challenge,” in this case to find leading edge social media companies and technologies is a smart fit for this particular company and brand.

What Pepsi, Highland Capital and Mashable May be Missing

A short-coming I see from this model is the lack of specificity in the type of business start-up that is being sought.  What area of consumer internet should the company be from?  What customer needs should the technology address?  By being open to a wide range of opportunities, I think the contest creators may get a lot of applicants who really do not fit the criteria for what Pepsi was initially looking for.  I also think a lot of companies will pass on the opportunity to submit applications because of their uncertainty as to what Pepsi is really seeking.  On the flip-side, by keeping the “scope” wide, presumably the challenge brings in a wider range of opportunities.
Another short-coming might be awareness. The best plans will come to this contest only if entrepreneurs are aware of the contest.  Among 10 entrepreneurs I personally spoke with, only one was aware of the “Challenge” and no one I spoke with planned to submit a business plan.  (yes I realize my sampling was small and random)  Some significant marketing dollars (and lots more PR) need to be applied to this contest in order for it to become known to the community.  Perhaps partnering with Universities, other online social media broadcasters (TechCrunch or Vator.tv, for example) will help in the long run. As a professor at UC Berkeley, I’d love to get my MBA and Engineering students thinking about the contest next year.  Hopefully, Pepsi realizes that it needs to commit to 4-5 years of this model in order to really reap the benefit.

Noth withstanding these things, I like the fact that a major brand who could have spent millions by throwing out more advertising, billboards, and magazine back covers, is devoting some attention to this (yes, I realize the budget for this contest was infinitesimlly small compared to Pepsi’s overall brand annual budget). Give them kudos for trying…and give Mashable and Highland high marks for assisting in an innovative new approach to partnering for entrepreneurship.

Y Combinator …look out! There’s a new innovative model on the block.

The Future of Virtual Puppeteering and Grandparenting

April 24th, 2010

OK, so I’m still (likely?) many years away from being a grandparent, but if you can’t apply Business Innovation and Creativity to the future grand-parenting skills, then you’re not really trying…

One of my students at UC Berkeley brought up an interesting experiment by Nokia with the artists from Sesame Street.  An article on this can be read here. The experiment has taken place at Nokia’s Palo Alto research center and at first seems far-fetched.

Are you a fan of the science-fiction writer, Neil Stephensen?  Have you read Snow Crash? (virtual reality and the internet at its best)  Cryptonomicom (long but mathematically pleasing)?

My favorite Stephensen book is The Diamond Age, written in 1995. In this story, Stephensen imagines devices not too far off from the iPad, but with a little more communications built in. In the story, a young girl Nell is given a special book by her father, which she becomes quite attached to. The book reads to her and has motion photos and video embedded in it (think iPad).

“Once upon a time,” said a woman’s voice [from the book], “there was a little girl named Elizabeth who liked to sit in the bower of her grandfather’s garden and read story-books.” The voice was soft, meant just for her, with an expensive Victorian accent.”

After some time, the book becomes personalized to Nell, using her name and the name of her belongings and life – and it interacts with her in strange and magical ways. It turns out that the book is animatronically controlled by an actor (or puppeteer) located in China and selected to be young Nell’s guide. The puppeteer does more than TEACH young Nell, by showing up in her life and revealing emotional stories and lessons she gets into the head of Nell and alters her persona.

A quick pause her, as Puppeteering is not all that new to me. As a teenager in Leonia, New Jersey, I created my own puppet show for the local schools and summer camp program, then took the show “on the road”, paying part of my education at Brown University as a puppeteer.  So, I’ve Bert-and-Ernied with the best of them. :>)  Let it not be said that I am ONE DIMENSIONAL entrepreneur-turned venture capitalist-turned-educator-turned-musician-turned-mentor –> there is of course the puppetry.  In 1990, as an Apple employee interested in advanced technologies I worked with Apple’s ATG (Advanced Technology Group) to prepare a speech on “Virtual Puppetry”for a conference on virtual reality.

The device created by Nokia and Sesame Street is an interesting technological combination of virtual puppeteering, distance learning and edu-tainment.  The device allows a child to learn a story, interact with a distant person (grandparent, parent, friend, Chinese puppeteer?), and interact with Sesame Street characters, like Elmo.   Although physically clumsy in its current format, Nokia has essentially brought the concept of Neil Stephensen’s Diamond Age living book to life.

This has several amazing consequences.  Picture, 5 years from now an advance book version of the colorful iPad that is more interactive – a reader can flip thin pages (each interactive, connected via internet and created in virtual ink) to simulate the experience of a real book. Built into the book is a camera that can read the facial expressions of the reader… built into the book is a virtual connection to live people and experts around the world. The book becomes a living communication and learning device that brings to the world literally to the reader and INTERACTS in real time with the needs of the reader.

Apply this to Wikipedia to create the worlds most interactive encyclopedia, apply this to early childhood learning, apply this to games, apply this to sports, entertainment, and research.

Technology is only a few years away from inexpensive paper-thin, computer screens combined with the power of global communication (think: Skype) over internet, we are now just a few short years away from Neil Stephensen’s seemingly incredible dream of virtual puppetry in 1995.

I’d like to her your thoughts on this vision. I’d like to hear Neal’s thoughts on this !

RH