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Also View "Silicon Valley 2015 through photographs"

On May 9th, candidates from the Class of 2016 will be travelling to Silicon Valley as a part of Telfer Executive MBA's Innovation and Entrepreneurship Trip and Consulting Project. 

Over the duration of the week, the teams of candidates will finalize their findings and will submit their final recommendations to their San Jose-based start-up client. The objective of the report is to address a business problem as well as to understand the challenges and opportunities of doing business in a highly innovative environment.

In addition, candidates will also visit several of the world's leading technology companies, attend private executive briefings with senior Silicon Valley leaders and see first-hand previews of the future technology and innovation. Technology companies on the agenda for this year include IBM, AVAYA Inc., Stanford University, Rocketspace, Google, Aruba Networks, and US Market Access Centre.

Teams will be contributing to a daily blog which will be featured on the Telfer Executive MBA webpage.

"Blogging from the Valley" 2015 Series:

By Salim Charabati, Telfer Executive MBA candidate

Map of California, highlighting silicon valley

Here we are, a cohort of Executive MBA candidates wrapping up our first year and packing for our first international trip to Silicon Valley, “where the future was born”.

For a few of us, this destination is simply the renowned world capital of high-tech. Mostly because of its pioneering role in the technological revolution and its impact on the development of the world we are living in today. And certainly, many of us have visited this land of opportunity for either business or leisure.

However, this time is different. We visit Silicon Valley equipped with new filters acquired through the first and second term of our program. We will evaluate what we see through the balanced score cards of strategy, marketing, finance and organizational behavior. This time, for all of us, visiting Silicon Valley is a pilgrimage to the lieu of enlightened leadership where failure is an integrated step towards success and where competitors collaborate to drive motivation and performance.

Our aspiration for this trip is to live for a few days in an environment that nurtures entrepreneurship. Learn about the business models adopted and priorities set by entrepreneurs. Appreciate the language of venture capitalism and the “elevator pitch”. Witness an open culture where companies stem and branch out from each other and where employees or collaborators, such as bees, cross-pollinate these companies. Witness how dream and science coexist. See for our own eyes that academia, research, innovation and business leadership can work hand in hand and flourish outside the established world of hierarchy and rigid structure.

Before our plane lands, we will take turn on tiny windows to see the mythological valley that Rob Noyce and his colleagues transformed its fruit orchards by cultivating the collaborative model of the future and seeding the valley with the one thousand and one startups, all the “fairchildren” of Fairchild Semiconductors. See the mythological land of integrated circuits, microprocessors and Intel of the fifties to the seamlessly integrated technology of Google and Apple of today.

Yet, we will preciously remember that we are also here to celebrate as a class the end of a great first year of hard work and collaboration, and to have memorable time together for a few days.

And therefore, before our plane lands, the spirit will be high and we will be humming Scott McKenzie’s famous words. “If you're going to San Francisco. Be sure to wear some flowers in your hair. If you're going to San Francisco, You're gonna meet some gentle people there”

By Deepali Bhatt, Telfer Executive MBA candidate

Ottawa enjoyed the title of Silicon Valley North with its robust tech communities in the tech-heavy days of the late 1990s and early 2000s.


However, in the mid-2000s, many high-tech names either sold, folded or left Ottawa. Now there are new companies emerging in the early stage of startup and expansion. Ottawa learned the hard way that Silicon Valley and technology are not eternal; companies come and go, and technologies change.

Silicon Valley symbolizes fast growth, high tech, innovation, daring, and billion-dollar companies. The unique culture of Silicon Valley is more than just a place; it is a state of mind, an idea, an approach to business that follows definite principles. It is also an area where entrepreneurs backed by venture capital have made millions.

Ottawa is definitely following this opportunity by welcoming Shopify’s initial public offer (IPO) of over $100 million. The prediction is with Shopify’s success; more IPOs are expected to be on their way. Ottawa is poised to attract more companies like Shopify, large social media and high-tech companies, and venture capital that mimics Silicon Valley.

In the 1990s and early 2000s, it was easy to start a tech company, to grow and grab wealth opportunities. The internet, email, and even social media was just starting and exploding in popularity and growth. Now it is easier than ever for an entrepreneur with great ideas to build their own world-changing business. High technology transformed the world and created extreme wealth. Now, Silicon Valley’s plan for the future is to build on these ideas with corporate strategies and the right mix of partners, employees and investors. Ottawa is on the cusp of using these principles.

Venture capital investments keep Silicon Valley’s startups going and Ottawa should look to venture capital companies for ideas on how to set up a pitch to get investment money. Delv Digs, a Silicon Valley/Palo Alto developer dug up $3.5 million for seed funding. New Enterprises Associated plus Ribbit Capital and Social Leverage and Vaizra Investments added $50M to Silicon’s Valley’s Robinhood which offers up commission free stock trading. Other companies in Silicon Valley who have received funding include CloudGenix with $25M, NatureBox picked up $30M and Wonder Workshop which found $6.9M.

If Ottawa is looking to regain its title of Silicon Valley North, there are several different tactics it needs to consider:

Create jobs and break barriers

The mindset that is needed is, you can do it. Failure is just one step toward success. Embrace failure and look to success.


Build a culture of taking risks

Silicon Valley has embraced risk and it has become second nature to the entrepreneurs. Ottawa must develop an attitude and provide an eco-system that a start-up needs to flourish.

Appreciate diverse talent

Every year thousands of talented and young people flock to Silicon Valley to fulfill their career dreams. In order to enable creativity and innovation, having a diverse talent pool is a must. Ottawa must consider attracting brash and bold talent!

Encourage innovation in the universities and schools

Silicon Valley benefits from having access to University of Stanford’s graduate and under- graduates. Ottawa must encourage technology innovation as a part of its curriculum for its various post-secondary institutions.


By Taylor Bildstein, Telfer Executive MBA candidate

Map of California, highlighting silicon valley

What do you call a scientific experiment that fails?

What do you call a business experiment that fails?

This was one of the key message from Day One of the Telfer Executive MBA Class of 2015 series of executive briefings in Silicon Valley. We visited two Silicon Valley based technology companies, which both compete with CISCO: Avaya Inc. and aruba Networks.


Avaya enables customers and teams to engage across multiple channels and devices, including on-premise and cloud deployment options that integrate with non-Avaya applications. It was formerly part of Lucent Technologies and before that, part of AT&T. Avaya was spun off by Lucent in in 2000 and Avaya became a privately-held company when it was acquired by two private equity firms, Silver Lake and TPG Capital, for $8.2 billion in 2007.

Today, it is grappling with the rapid pace of change and is now 17 months into its 36 month transformation to repositioning itself as a “built to last” company that is adaptable and customer-centric. Avaya took a radical decision to relocate its east coast headquarters and move to Silicon Valley to break away from its established company mentality and to be closer to strategic partners.

It has new leadership, is increasing its revenue in new strategic focus areas, is selling off legacy units, is decreasing spending, is reconnecting with customers and their needs and is creating more value to customers through consultancy selling and moving into the solutions space.

Avaya seeks to create a leadership position in the market by defining its own market, rather than allowing it to be defined for them. This requires constant innovation and a mentality of ‘failing fast and moving on’ that supports its focus toward new innovative business lines, over time, in order to maintain its relevance in the marketplace.

The executive briefing included a presentation from the chief marketing officer, who walked us through Avaya’s new brand and positioning. Similar to other technology companies, Avaya must continually reassess its position in the marketplace to ensure ongoing relevance with its customers and strategic partners. Good positioning is about sacrifice: which market segments is the business willing to sacrifice in order to focus its attention on the most strategic market segments?

aruba networks

Map of California, highlighting silicon valley

aruba networks is a networking vendor selling enterprise wireless LAN and edge access networking equipment that ensures a seamless user experience from one wireless zone to the next. It recently announced that it is being acquired by Hewlett Packard. aruba differentiates itself on value and not on price by quickly deploying professional services teams (“The Ace Team”) to any geographical jurisdiction to resolve customer problems on site. This gives aruba the agility to experiment with new applications on customer context that enables it to retain a leading position in that space.


Top four lessons from Day One:

  • Don’t be afraid to fail: Fail fast and move on
  • Constantly reassess your position in the marketplace. Let your customers be your guide.
  • Understand the value of strategic partnerships
  • Good positioning is about sacrifice: which market segments is the business willing to sacrifice in order to focus its attention on the most strategic market segments?

By Mathieu Leduc, Telfer Executive MBA candidate

Map of California, highlighting silicon valley

Starting the Day with a Proven Success

Beginning our second day in the valley we were treated to a fabulous scenic drive to IBM Almaden Research Centre. Located at the top of a mountain, it did not look as though we were traveling to visit a leading high- tech institution or a place developing significant innovations. In contrast to the other organizations we have visited during our trip, the maturity of IBM could be seen in the facilities they had built in the 1980s. The remote location was chosen in the 80’s as a security measure to protect their competitive advantage from corporate espionage. The security threats, like technology, have evolved over the last 30 years from physical security to cyber-threats.

The various presenters provided an overview of IBM history, current innovation projects and business strategies. Many of us were surprised to learn what IBM was working on given that IBM has often been perceived as a simple hardware manufacturer. We discovered that IBM is leading innovation in a wide variety of industries such as network, aerospace, health, government, chemistry and others.

Jim Sophrer, Director of Global University Programs provided an overview of IBM Research and how he aligns IBM and global partners such universities to driving innovation and T-shaped skills. Mary Roth introduced the Accelerated Discovery Lab and the research ideas that the lab is working on at this point. Nancy Zhang’s presentation on Polymer Chemistry for a Smarter Planet turn the tables on the software technology to focus on chemistry.

Rama Akkiraju’s presentation was an interesting insight into IBM’s Watson and showed us Watson’s personality, or at least Watson’s capabilities to identify personality and emotion. She provided examples of how Watson is able to analyze a piece of text and identify anger, compassion, narcissism, and other personality traits of the person writing the piece or use as little as 200 tweets to identify the tweeter’s personality. Leveraging on the analyser, the technology could further enhance communication by suggesting how writer could change the tone of their communication such as in emails.

Being one of the mature organizations in the Valley, IBM has certainly proved that it can reinvent itself regularly and remain at the forefront of technology through innovations by solving emerging complex problems.

And ending the day with how it can all begin.

After IBM, we proceeded to US Market Access Centre where we had the opportunity to learn of the characteristics of the venture market in the Valley, in the USA and abroad. The presentation by Bill Reichert, Managing Director of Garage Technology Ventures was truly captivating. He provided his insightful perspectives on what investors look for, especially his 10 do’s and don’ts when pitching to venture capitalists. Contrary to the general belief that VCs are only looking for facts, he stressed that it is important to engage the analytical ‘head’, the ‘heart’ (emotion/passion) and the ‘gut’ (perceived value proposition) of investors.

Following Bill’s presentation, a portion of the group attended a Silicon Valley Elevator Pitch event for the evening. The session had 11 entrepreneurs who had two minutes to pitch their companies to four investors. The session provided a ‘full-circle learning’ of seeing real-life examples and applying what we had heard earlier in the day. This was a valuable hands-on experience as we had the opportunity to see the minds of investors as they asked follow up questions and provided non-rebuttal advice back to the presenters. In particular, we observed some of the key rules mentioned earlier such as getting the numbers right, demonstrating the capacity of the team and the value proposition to the customers while delivering the pitch in the form of a clear, credible and compelling story. We left the event satisfied, bringing back many key takeaways which will be very useful in as we prepare for our own investor package and pitch as a part of the Technology Entrepreneurship course this Fall.

In parallel, our Executive MBA’s ‘Lean-In’ group engaged with the founder of Women’s Startup Lab, Ms Ari Horie over dinner. Ms. Horie provided insights on the daily challenges faced by women entrepreneurs in the Valley. The main learnings taken away from the dinner was to develop and follow a strategy for your own personal growth, to learn the language, be focused and to drive personal confidence.

Overall, the day ended up being full of many interesting surprises which ignited the inner entrepreneur fiber of many of us in the Executive MBA program.

By Daniel Thiruganaratnapathy and Winston Leung, Telfer Executive MBA candidates

We are finally at Stanford University and the day started with an enlightening tour of the well-recognized Stanford University. The campus was filled with history and culture as the architecture complimented the old with the new. We were hosted by the esteemed Dr. Richard Dasher, Director of the US-Asia Technology Management Centre at Stanford University, who delivered a lecture on ‘Silicon Valley as an Open Innovation System”. He provided an intriguing and informative talk that encapsulated the framework of Silicon Valley by dissecting the life cycle of start-ups, the symbiotic relationship of entrepreneurship and an ecosystem unique in Silicon Valley, innovation as a process and the impact of the execution versus market risks.

The prevailing takeaway emphasized a predominant focus for start-up companies to aim for maximum rapid growth with a universal goal of a successful “EXIT’ through mergers/acquisitions or initial public offerings (IPO). It was surprising to hear that most Silicon Valley entrepreneurs do not stay with the companies they founded after a successful exit. An exit, most of the time, brings forward a cultural and management change which at times run against the strength of the founding entrepreneurs.

The innovation process was first revealed at the IBM visit, however Dr. Dasher dissected the process of innovation into key stages. Large companies play an important role on the survival and sustainability of start-ups by providing resources and capital. It became clear there is an established eco-system that is specifically unique in Silicon Valley that fuels the rapid creation and growth of companies.

The visit to Goggle’s campus revealed a tangible evidence of their massive market cap, as well as their emphasis on privacy. A brief tour of the new visitor’s lounge, along with a trip to the Goggle store encompassed our anticipated encounter at Google.

By Nadine Clement, Telfer Executive MBA candidate

This week in Silicon Valley has quickly passed by us.


We travelled back to downtown San Francisco for our last day in Silicon Valley. It was well worth the drive for a session with the Duncan Logan, CEO of RocketSpace. RocketSpace is an ‘office as a service’ business model, leasing office space to technology start-ups who have obtained a form of Series A funding

RocketSpace is Duncan’s fifth business venture. In addition to providing office space and operating on the belief that you are a product of your environment, the company aims to create a high-performing co-working environment for entrepreneurs. RocketSpace has hosted hundreds of start-ups in its first five years- seven of which have gone on to reach $1 billion dollar valuations, including Uber.

Visiting one floor of RocketSpace’s Sansome St. location the cohort saw first-hand the co-working environment leased by independent entrepreneurs where working spaces were in close proximately to each other – often within a few feet. These spaces retail for approximately $900 a month per desk.

It was a surprise to a few of us who are accustomed to the confidentiality and security surrounding intellectual property that despite working within the close quarters of RocketSpace, these entrepreneurs were not concerned with the formality of NDA’s or with peers stealing their ideas. They did not have the time or the interest in monopolizing another idea; everyone is intensely focused on developing their own ideas.

Of specific interest was the Government of Canada section on the floor. This portion of the floor is leased by the Canadian Consulate for use by Canadian expatriates looking to get started in the Silicon Valley and San Francisco areas. Through the Consulate a Canadian entrepreneur can apply for use of this space for a period of three months courtesy of the Government of Canada.


Duncan educated us about the infamous ‘unicorn’; a start-up that soars to a $1 billion valuation or more. A unicorn, which was once by its name sake almost a mythical occurrence in the market, has become more common in recent years but still consists of only a small group of start-ups in the overall market – Fortune Magazine assessed more than 80 in the market as of 2015.

Four key factors have been identified as common themes within the unicorn start-ups:

  • Product market fit
  • Operational excellence
  • Attracting, securing and retaining talent
Although the list may read like common-sense it is a difficult balancing act to master. The talent portion alone is difficult as we learned that there is a shortage of talent in the Silicon Valley and San Francisco area. RocketSpace identified this gap in talent and pursued a business opportunity where they created RocketU- a mini training university. RocketU offers programs such as a one-month programming training course (e.g. Java, HTML) that are not typically offered in the San Francisco area.


The cadence of change will continue to grow at an exceeding faster pace as technologies build on top of existing technologies – no one starts scratch anymore. The pace at which one can ‘disrupt’ the market quickly with these latest technologies are becoming a threat to large corporations who are unable to keep pace. This has already resulted in large corporations seeking assistance from RocketSpace in order to leverage access to the entrepreneurs co-working in their space.

Start-up Conference

Our next stop was in Redwood City for the 2015 Startup Conference, one of the largest conferences in Silicon Valley with over 2,000 entrepreneurs present. We arrived just in time for a 30-minute talk by Ben Parr, author of Captivology. Captivology addresses attention – immediate, short and long – and what triggers people’s attention. The book sells ideas of how to capture the attention of investors, customers and users using insights into the human psychology. Mr. Parr, like his book, captured our attention through his animated and entertaining talk. He certainly left the audience wanting to learn more about captivating their own audience.

When it comes to ‘automaticity’, in relation to grabbing people’s immediate attention, he spoke of two sense: sound and sight- especially colour. Using websites as an example, while colours of yellow and orange are great for drawing people’s attention to your website, interestingly, when it comes to clothes yellow and orange have the lowest correlation with competence. Blue and teal however have the highest correlation to competence – a mental note for your next job interview or if you ever want to pitch an idea!

Some of the other triggers regarding attention as explained in Mr. Parr’s book related to:

  • Framing - you much either adapt to your audiences frame of reference or reframe the conversation;
  • Disruption - we have stronger memory of the things that are ‘out of place’, but to be useful in your marketing, the disruption must match your brand’s value;
  • Rewards-both extrinsic (for short-term attention) and intrinsic (for long-term attention) can be a powerful tool; and
  • Reputation the power of leveraging experts
Due to lack of time, Mr. Parr could not reveal his last two triggers; for these, we will need to read his book Captivology.


The scheduled event of our trip to Silicon Valley was a University of Ottawa Alumni social networking event: Defying the conventional: The campaign for uOttawa launch in Palo Alto. It was intimate group of University of Ottawa alumni within the valley area who joined us for the evening along with Ottawa entrepreneur and keynote speaker Lee Silverstone, Co-Founder and Co-CEO of Gymtrack Inc. and President of the University, Mr. Allan Rock.

The event was an opportunity for conversations with Canadians and fellow Gee-Gees about the differences and uniqueness in doing business back in Ottawa vs. California. This finale to our trip provided a full circle of learning for Executive MBA candidates as we spent the week in Silicon Valley to learn about its unique environment and we closed off the week discussing how Canadian’s adapt to working within the region and how we can help to bring this culture back to the once known as Silicon Valley North- Ottawa.

By Mia Batchelor and Wendell Brown, Telfer Executive MBA candidates

One of the funniest lessons learned was literally presented to us in the form of a sign very early on our journey to Silicon Valley. This sign was noticed as we were walking down the ramp about to board our plane at 6:56 am in Ottawa. Needless to say, this guidance was completely ignored.

Sign Stating: Please ensure MBA is chained and Secured when not in use

Silicon Valley: epicenter of technology start-ups, beautiful scenery, lovely wine, amazing people and our home for one short week. It’s remarkable what we learned throughout the week can be summarized by these highly regarded, peer reviewed equations:

1. Formula for spontaneous dancing:

Formula1 Winery+ sunset_ wine tasting+ mountain lion+rock band+mystery dancing lady-stress =  crazy dance party

2. Formula for taking over San Francisco was based on a divide and conquer approach:

Formula 2: unsuspecting city over the sum 35 people excaping acatraz + sailing + SF Giant's game + exploring the streets yields a city that will never be the same

3. Formula for the best class dinner (and a thank you to Kim and Pino for organizing this dinner!): 

formula 3: the sum of great restaurant times consulting project clients times laughter all to the power of 10 equals one enlightening evening!

We were spoiled by executive briefings that complimented our in-class instructions that shed lights on new areas. Let’s start with the unexpected:

  • The difference between an “inventor” and an “innovator” is both subtle and significant. The inventor cares much more about her or his idea/invention whereas an innovator cares only about what has value to a potential customer.
  • Entrepreneurship is about taking risks, embracing failure. There is almost a culture of “if you aren’t failing then you aren’t trying” in Silicon Valley.
  • The culture of the Silicon Valley ecosystem is very much about innovation, thinking differently, and seeking out disruptive technologies.
  • Uber, which our team used with great satisfaction on two separate occasions during our time in the Silicon Valley, is a perfect example of a disruptive use of technology in a non-technology industry.

Let’s look at the lessons which complemented and supported some of our course learnings:

  • Diversity in a team is essential. The Silicon Valley twist on this team truism was that successful teams are to be “unbalanced” with respect to individual skills and behavioural tendencies. The importance of this message was reinforced by more than one of our speakers.
  • To obtain financial commitment from a Venture Capitalist you need to appeal to their heart first and then capture their minds and finally their “gut”. The pitch needs to be clear, credible and compelling in order to create the desired financial commitment.
  • It is essential to have a “crucial” conversation with your business founding partners at the outset to properly allocate company shares based on each individual’s real value to the company.

Before we end this blog, we would like to thank the amazing, brilliant, world-class super heroes who run our Executive MBA program: Sophia Leong our fearless Director, Dale Potter our forward looking Professor, Jami Manion and Jessie Adamson our stellar ground crew and Shirley Wong, the controller of the Silicon Valley trip. Thank you for this wonderful experience.

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