The MIT Sloan Fellows recently traveled to Silicon Valley to “live and breathe” the culture of the leading innovation center in the world. It was a fascinating few days focused on innovation in the startup ecosystem that accounts for one-third of all the venture capital investment in the U.S. Coming from another renowned area of innovation, this was a fantastic opportunity to learn from each other and to think about ways in which the culture of innovation can be spread throughout the world. I joined the trip as a faculty member, and wanted to share my experiences.
The MIT Sloan Fellows Program is a one year full-time MBA or MS program for executives with exceptional promise. The program focuses on three pillars – Leadership, Innovation and Global perspective. This year we have 121 MIT Sloan Fellows from 38 countries with an average of 14 years of work experience.
Our four days in Silicon Valley were jam-packed with learning experiences – visiting startups and established companies, venture capitalists and research facilities – all playing a role in the innovation ecosystem.
Throughout our trip the theme of innovation was a constant, and we learned from accomplished leaders. Their outstanding leadership skills enable them to embrace innovation while building for the future, taking risks, creating and fostering experimentation, and attracting, retaining and motivating talent. Each and every day they work toward their innovative missions while still tackling the day-to-day.
If our trip could be summed up in an equation, it would be:
Innovation = Invention x Commercialization
Here’s a recap of who we visited, and how their invention and commercialization is driving innovation:
Coupa is the leader eProcurement which improves visibility and control of indirect costs. The company focuses on Savings as a Service. CEO & President Rob Bernshteyn focused on the importance of people and aligning the core values of the company to employees, suppliers and customers as they all learn from each other.
His take was innovation is not just for the sake of innovation it is focused on results and a differentiated approach creating a unifying platform. Customers only stay if you provide value.
CTO Dave Bartlett discussed Predix which provides the technical foundation to power industrial applications that drive outcomes ranging from the reduction of unplanned down time to improved asset output and operational efficiency. He also discussed Ecomagination which is a focus on developing solutions to enable economic growth while avoiding emissions and reducing water consumption, committing to reduce environmental impact. The essence of his briefing was that GE is an analytics company and is partnering with companies to solve some of the toughest environmental challenges.
Intuitive Surgical is the global technology leader in minimally invasive robotic-assisted surgery. The company has a surgical system called da Vinci. The system features a magnified 3D HD vision systems and tiny wristed instruments that bend and rotate far greater than the human hand resulting in surgeon enhanced vision, precision and control.
stem is a company that creates innovative solutions of energy distribution and consumption through learning software and advanced energy storage. Chief Commercial Officer Karen Butterfield shared her experiences in building an energy company that focuses on software, control, analytics and is technology agnostic.
Karen shared her experiences as it relates to attracting, retaining and motivating talent. Her belief that transparency is key, alignment with mission and inspired R&D is how she was able to manage growth from 40 people to 110 in 8 months.
We met CEO and Founder Amy Buckner Chowdhry who bootstrapped her company which creates more engaging digital experiences based on user experience research and recommendations for Fortune 1000 clients. She recruits PhDs in cognitive science, cognitive psychology, human-computer interaction, and computer science that have done a lot of work in their academic field. Amy, co-founder Dan Clifford and their teams were able to provide the right research methodology to bring an objective view so organizations could focus on the voice of the customers.
We met Alejandro Resnik a graduate of MIT Sloan (2013) that started a company after purchasing a car that was a lemon. Resnik and his co-founder, Owen Savir, have raised close to $150M to create a transparent and easy way to buy and sell cars online and via your mobile phone. The car is fully detailed and wrapped in a big bow for delivery with a 10 day money back guarantee. The customer stories are posted as “Love Stories” on the website. Alejandro stated that innovation belongs to the disciplined, tough minded, relentless, optimistic entrepreneur.
Partner Peter Bell, who was an early employee at EMC, is focused on companies in the information security, e-commerce, cloud infrastructure, mobile, enterprise software, and communication industries. He talked to the students about what they should look for in an investor. The investor needs to be relevant to them, an expert in the sector, have a good network, access to customers in the segment, and someone who can systematically help build your team. The investors are looking for relevant, hungry and compelling teams. Innovation is the life blood of growth and change.
We met eBay’s Chief Product Officer RJ Pittman who is responsible for design, product, and engineering for eBay’s worldwide commerce experience. RJ is working on platform experiences for connecting customers to make the business more competitive and personalized service globally. The growth will be through mobile so the look and feel of the end to end user experience aligned with eBay’s brand. RJ is bringing the customer into the narrative and creating the eBay commerce experience through simple, engaging personalize and multi-screen. He pointed out that fast movers need to have grit. It is your job to swing the bat as many times as you can.
We met with Richard Rankin, Director of Industrial Partnerships Office and Economic Development Office. This was a different spin for the Fellows as they saw a broader focus on pure research versus commercialization. The mission of LLNL is to strengthen the United States security by developing and applying world class science, technology and engineering. The labs have history of developing, deploying and delivering innovative technology.
We concluded the week speaking with innovator Una Ryan. Una talked about her experience looking through an electron microscope, and how that set her path for science. She is a British-American biologist who was awarded the Albert Einstein prize for her development of new vaccines to combat global infectious diseases. She has worked on clean water solutions and inexpensive diagnostics test for developing countries. She has is now an angel investor as well as an artist. Una takes electron micrographs of living cells, including mitochondria, nuclei and vesicles and composes each image with colors of the earth viewed from space, bodies of water or land masses. This was fascinating to take the micro and match with the macro to create a connection and see the majesty yet fragile fundamentals of life. Una also spent considerable time taking questions from Sloan Fellows on how she negotiated her career, family, science and investment community.
We thank all of the innovators we visited! We are sure that this year’s MIT Sloan Fellows learned a lot that they will incorporate into their own future as innovators!