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Blogging from Silicon Valley

On May 10th, 40 candidates from the Class of 2015 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, Apple, Google, Aruba Networks, Cisco Systems, YouNoodle and US Market Access Centre.

Teams will be contributing to a daily blog which will be featured on the Telfer Executive MBA webpage as well as the Ottawa Business Journal. 

"Blogging from the Valley" 2014 Series:

By Susan Munn, Telfer Executive MBA candidate

Map of California, highlighting silicon valleyWhere do new ideas come from? How do you tap into that spark of innovation? What would you do differently if you were not afraid?  These are questions that we do not often ask ourselves in many work environments. Sometimes it is taboo and sometimes we just become too caught up in the “busyness” of work, never taking the time to ask these questions. Some of these questions cut too close – What happens if we fail?  We have repeatedly been conditioned that “failure is not an option” and the only outcome of fear and failure are negative experiences. Is that true?

…But every day, entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley, California ask these very same questions.

…And conversely, they arrive at completely different conclusions.

Entrepreneurs and businesses in Silicon Valley embrace challenges and risks unlike any innovation centre in the world. This unique business microcosm of Silicon Valley cannot be replicated although many others have tried. Examining this is wildly contradictory environment is the focus of the highly anticipated mission of the Telfer Executive MBA class of 2013-2015  this week as we travel to Silicon Valley. 

Silicon Valley is a world-renowned innovation centre that operates on a completely different paradigm according to our class research, interviews and our own work within high-tech industries. We are hoping to gain greater insights that will help us understand the 'why' and 'how' and upon completion of the week and return to Canada to use these insights within our own work environments. How can 1% of the U.S.A. population continue to produce over 10% of its patents and attract 40% of total U.S.A. venture capital investment?  Through our Silicon Valley journey we are gaining unique access to the behind the scenes look at Silicon Valley.  

Now as part of our “Signature Series of Six Business Consulting Projects”, our Executive MBA class is working incessantly and remotely on the team-based Innovation and Entrepreneurship projects with our respective companies. We are examining multiple issues from marketing a new product to social media research. As we arrive in Silicon Valley this week, we are seeking answers to these questions.

Silicon Valley's working environment is exceptional in so many aspects. According to the research report 'Decoding the Contradictory Culture of Silicon Valley', the workplace culture has five seemingly contradictory characteristics which contribute to the region’s life-changing innovations of the world’s most successful companies:

1.       Laid back—yet driven for speed

2.       Committed—yet independent

3.       Competitive— yet cooperative

4.       Pragmatic—yet optimistic

5.       Extrinsically motivated—yet intrinsically fulfilling

Imagine a working environment like this within your own organization. Tapping into this spark of innovation means you need to draw on lessons in non-traditional ways - especially through experiential learning.  It means breaking the mold without fear of failure; staying innovative translates into openness; trying new things constantly, listening and surrounding oneself with the proper team. 

During our interview with Silicon Valley innovator Ms. Gigi Wang, she quickly quoted Thomas Edison: “I have not failed, I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” 

Tapping into the innovative spark is also about self-reflection; when failures occur, take those lessons and change tactics for your success in the next initiative.  So I ask you - what would you do differently if you were not afraid to fail? 


By Suzanne Grundy, Telfer Executive MBA candidate

Map of California, highlighting silicon valley

The second day in Silicon Valley for Telfer Executive MBA Class 2015 began with a warm California sunshine and blue sky.  On the agenda for the day were visits to IBM and Apple.  The trip to IBM Almaden Research Center saw the bus snaking up a private road towards a few well-placed campuses that rest atop of a mountain.  We were greeted warmly with a reception of refreshments by a most welcoming host.

Our first briefing was Jeff Welser, VP and Lab Director of IBM Research. The major areas of research in Almaden are Science and Technology and Jeff presented IBM’s 2014 research priorities including Cloud 3.0, Cloud-based networks, Cognitive Computing, Managed Data Services, Biospace Revolution, the Internet of Things 1.0, and Millennial Enterprise.  IBM is leading research areas that are 10 to 20 years out.  How do they know how technology would advance over this time period?  They know because they are creating the evolution.  IBM is further pioneering the design of business applications across industry sectors and effectively influencing the new business needs of the future.

Our second briefing spoke to the importance of innovation in a business context by Dr. Deborah Magid, Director of IBM Venture Capital Group.  Her group invests in building IBM mind share in the innovative community along with investing in compelling technology companies. She stressed the need of addressing all aspects of a business instead of just the product when it comes to innovation.  Deborah explained many companies failed because they do not look at the big picture and fail to see how marketing, business models and competitors affect the business. She further emphasized the importance of quickly articulating the product’s purposes and target market before explaining its business models. She recommends a pitch needs to include the company’s competitors, both direct and indirect competitors. These key learnings would prove to be helpful as we enter into our second year with a course on Technology Entrepreneurship.

The next three speakers focused on specific research including the evolution of IBM Watson.  You might recall Watson was a competitor of human contestants on the game show Jeopardy.  Currently, IBM is working on the next generation of Watson, improving the computer’s ability memory, perception, conceptual learning, conceptual logic, problem solving and actuation.  Following this fascinating presentation, the class learned about SyNAPSE Cognitive Computing.  The design goal is to mimic the human ability of cognition and to create the “best approximation to function, power, size and real-time operation of the organic 3D brain within inorganic 2D technology.”  Lastly, we were introduced to the concept of smarter planet applications, in particular the area of creating greener materials for manufacturing such as water bottles. 

We further stretched our thinking while enjoying a lovely lunch on the director’s patio at the Research Center with a fabulous view of the surrounding hillside.

The second half of the day was spent with Apple at the well-known address of 1 Infinite Loop along with a visit to the Apple Company Store!  What an absolutely exciting day of learning from two of the most dynamic leaders in Silicon Valley and two of the top five most valued brands in the world!


By David Fraser, Telfer Executive MBA candidate

Map of California, highlighting silicon valley

Today the Telfer Executive MBA class visited Google’s main campus in Mountain View to experience first-hand a glimpse at the culture of the most prominent Internet technology company in the world. 

Google rose to prominence with their lean and fast search engine that always seemed to come up with a suggestion for any word or phrase you entered into their system.  Over the years, they followed up on this success with the Android mobile OS, Google Maps with street view, and continue to innovate with wearable Google Glass computer and their self-driving car.

The Silicon Valley area is host a hugely competitive environment for attracting and recruiting the brightest technical minds in an industry. It is where the creativity and drive of your employees is a company’s most important asset.  In the Silicon Valley, a culture defined by small, agile, and driven startups, Google competes for employees with not only small start ups but with other large employers such as Apple, Oracle, and IBM as well. Google employs over 20,000 people in the Bay area alone.

In our tour of the Google campus we saw the tangible, measurable perks such as the free food, micro-kitchens, colourful bicycles, plentiful outdoor seating areas and eclectic art works around the campus.  We also learned about their inclusive hiring practices and generous benefits.  The Telfer Executive MBA course on Organizational Behavior and Human Resource Management emphasized how these measurable benefits allow a company to compete and attract top talent.  However, we also learned that it is the intangible benefits and culture that maintain job satisfaction as a way to retain people over the long run.  Google maintains and encourages risk taking.  “It is easier to ask for forgiveness than it is to ask for permission,” is one of their unofficial mottos to allow for free flow of ideas that fuel their corporate growth and bring satisfaction to their inquisitive work force.  It promotes a healthy workforce and encourages people to spend more time at work with a good supply of free healthy food located within 150 feet of anywhere on campus.  Google also promotes social activities to foster interactions amongst co-workers and to encourage a true team environment.  These extracurricular interactions serve as avenues to continue generating new ideas. Employee training on new technologies and topics of interest occurs often and are plentiful as a vehicle to prevent complacency and boredom from sapping ambition and drive.

Google has held this corporate culture from the beginning of their existence and realized that they must continuously and actively instill this culture to their employees, especially in the days as it grew from a startup to tens of thousands of employees.  A company culture isn’t something you can create with speeches from management and posters plastered on the wall.  The whole company from the top management down has to live and breathe the culture.  From our short tour of the Google campus we were able to see and feel their culture permeating the company.  For an Internet technology company such as Google, I felt that this has been key to their success and the key to their success in the future.


By Quasim Chaudry and Arelis Medina-Recio, Telfer Executive MBA candidates

Class of 2015 on bus enroute

Today our journey in Silicon Valley revolved around the entities that represent the future of Silicon Valley: the start-ups. We followed the full-circle of the cycle of these organizations - from birth, adolescence to the growth of new companies- while visiting an incubator as well as an investor.

Trend-Setters: The Importance of Start-Ups

Start-ups are also trendsetters within the industry. The larger and more affluent organizations within Silicon Valley look at start-ups as input to their strategy because start-ups have the agility, due to their smaller size,  to change rapidly to capture market changes.

The incubator we visited today has a team of 18 people representing 10 nationalities speaking 18 different languages.  Together, they have an understanding of the various cultures and regulations within several regions. This incubator in particular is a bootstrap organization. Investors and advisors volunteer their time to support and encourage competitions. The reward for start-ups to participate and succeed in these competitions more often than not is the value of feedback - although cash is also available as a reward from time to time.  For new entrepreneurs the feedback from these advisors that serve as competition judges is the most valuable asset they could receive in order to grow their company.  The technical work at YouNoodle is done in-house which is a growing trend within Silicon Valley as opposed to the more traditional method of out –sourcing.

Another noteworthy fact from Silicon Valley is former employees of  corporations initiate most start-ups.

Money Tree

In our second visit of the day we learned about the Money Tree report as well as the structure and evolution of venture capital. The Money Tree report is a quarterly study of venture capital investment within the United States outlining top industries, and funding allocated within these industries. The recent report shows that the current top five industries are: software, biotech, IT services, Media and entertainment, and medical services. It also provides information that around 50% of all of the investment in these various industries is invested within Silicon Valley.

Angel Investors

We also learned the importance of angel investors as a critical source of funding for early stage start-ups. Among this group of angels are the ‘super angels’. Super angels are informal networks who specialize within a particular industry and have a special sixth sense of ‘picking winners’ from the multitude of start-ups seeking funding within that industry.  Angel investment is growing in size compared to the growth venture capital because of venture capitalists tend to invest more often on later staged start-ups.

Five factors drive Venture Capital investment decisions: people, opportunity, context (e.g., technology), fund fit and financial opportunity.

The Future of Technology

Four technologies stood out as ‘hot’ investments and represent a major shift or change in the current method of how we work. These technologies are:

•         IoT (Internet of things)

•         Enterprise SaaS

•         Wearables (clothing and accessories that incorporate computer and advanced electronic technologies)

•         Security authentication (technology ensuring that an individual is what s/he claims to be)

Final Reflections

Two concepts which we found extraordinary were that market size is critical and value creation is essential for a true entrepreneur. This is true for all stages of an organization–from seed/start-up to early/sustainable growth.

Our final key take away from today’s sessions is that Silicon Valley favours people with passion, personality, focus and strong value proposition and those who are willing to take risks. This is why Silicon Valley is a hotbed for entrepreneurs that ultimately create jobs and wealth for the economy.


By Ron MacEachern, Telfer Executive MBA candidate

It is my personal belief that the Telfer Executive MBA Program saved the best of the briefings for the last day of the trip. Today we visited two companies who are best known for their networks. While the networks were certainly part of the discussion, networking and the value of people, of customers and of relationships and reputation became the dominant theme of the conversation. These conversations were rich, insightful and inspiring.

Aruba was the first scheduled visit for today. We felt privileged to speak with Dominic Orr, President and CEO and with Greg Murphy, their Chief of staff. As leader in wireless networks, Aruba believes that mobility will fundamentally change the way networks will be designed. Aruba focuses on the areas where wireless is 'mission critical' so that can they maintain their differentiation from the competition. Dominic's vision for Aruba is to be the 'biggest' small company within Silicon Valley: big enough to conduct world-class R&D and small enough to be personal. He believes that people want to work where they can have an impact on the organization while having  fun and being recognized for their work. Aruba believes that trust is the basis for a partnership – that people buy from people. While Aruba is passionate about technology, it is clear that their focus is all about their customers.

Following our stay Aruba we ventured to Cisco Systems. It was here that the often mentioned, but little understood ‘Internet of things’ was explained to us by Tony Shakib. When we fully realized the concept of the “Internet of things’ we quickly concluded that a world where everything is connected to everything else will open up incredible global opportunities. Next on the speaking agenda was Inder Sidhu, Cisco’s Senior Vice President of Strategy, Worldwide Operations, who spoke to the group about Cisco’s philosophy. This gentleman is truly a world-class speaker and if he has yet to give a Ted Talk, he should do so at the next available opportunity. He spoke about the choice many companies face – to innovate or to sustain – and argues that you can find a way to do both within a company. Although Cisco is a large company it places a premium on leading edge innovation. Cisco will acquire companies with disruptive technology or invest within these technologies using a concept they call spin-in. To cap off the day, Rob Lloyd, President of Development and Sales at Cisco continued the cultural theme which has been present in all of presentations this week. He said that culture is often what 'makes' the company. Cisco actively evaluates the impact on culture when considering potential acquisitions. He stressed that Cisco often resists the temptation to ‘Ciscoise’ a company after it an acquisition and therefore intentionally leaves the original culture intact in order to retain their secret sauce.

As we end our last day within Silicon Valley I think back on something that one of our classmates said today. Claude said 'MBAs give a good grounding in the thoughts and theories of business'. Trips like these let us see first-hand and feel the realities of business. I was awestruck by the level and caliber of our speakers today and humbled that they devoted so much of their time to us. That I think is part of the magic that makes up the Telfer Executive MBA program. Through our work with our Silicon Valley client on our Innovation and Entrepreneurship Business Consulting Project in additional to our interaction with businesses from one end of the spectrum to the other, the Telfer Executive MBA's brand of “Global, Practical, Relevant” has truly become real.


Catch up on Last Year's Experience through the 2013 Series of Blogging from the Valley

By Nisha Cairo, Telfer Executive MBA Candidate

Cisco, one of the largest IT companies on the globe, has coined the term “The Internet of Everything” (IoE) to mean “… bringing together people, process, data, and things to make networked connections more relevant and valuable than ever before”. Not to be confused, of course, with the Internet of Things, which is just the connect-ability of your iphone, ipad or “i - insert-cute-word-here” device. The IoE is a fascinating concept whose limits are defined only by your imagination. As we listened to the highly engaging and entertaining Joseph Bradley of Cisco deliver an enticing pitch of IoE, I found my mind wandering to some of the possible benefits of this idea. As much as connecting cows or trees together would be super, (Maple syrup production, perhaps? Personally, I took this as a clever shot at us Canadians) my mind wandered to more practical applications. 

Consider your average closet.  I would say that although my own collection is not excessive, a connected closet would still be a fantastic asset. Blouses to tell you they are out of style, suits that exclaim “Dry cleaning time!”, shoes that text you “I clash with that purse” or even a full-length mirror that snaps a quick photo, saves it in a tasteful Instagram style and then posts the selfie on Twitter and Facebook (with appropriate, humble-but-funny, hashtags, of course). In all seriousness, IoE claims to be capable of unlocking an additional $14 trillion (yes, with a “T”) in corporate profits by improving asset utilization, employee productivity, supply-chain logistics, customer experience and innovation. The connections become the value; the ‘things’ just the tools at hand. The skeptic in me thinks this is all very great, but the sheer scale and cost of connecting everything can’t possibly be easily overcome. And does ‘Everything’ mean ‘Anything’?  Are your children going to be connected to your iphone via implanted chip so you can monitor whether they brushed their teeth, went to homeroom or have enough vitamin D? Further, is being connected only awesome if you can choose when to unplug?

The Telfer School of Management class of 2014 had the great honor of asking ourselves these thought-provoking questions after a fascinating afternoon session at Cisco. Although we only arrived in Silicon Valley (SV) on Saturday afternoon, having come prepared with research on the culture of SV, we landed bright-eyed and eager to decipher the secret sauce.  Prior to heading to Cisco, we spent the morning at USMAC, hosted graciously by Alfredo Coppola, where we received a few tips on shaking some capital out of the VC money tree. Steve Bengston of PWC and Abhas Gupta of Mohr Davidow Ventures had some of us drafting our Letters of Resignation as they opened a small window into the realm of startups, raising capital and the very real possibility, or rather, probability of failure. Although the typical SV startup is still described as 20-somethings straight out of college, coding until the wee hours of the mornings and eating day-old pizza, our adrenaline couldn’t help but start racing at the mention of working on something with passion-beyond-reason. 

Do we know the secret sauce? Not yet and maybe never. But whatever magic the Valley is running on is more intriguing now than ever.


By Annu Vaidya, Telfer Executive MBA Candidate

Today, we had the privilege of visiting the IBM Almaden Research Center where we learned that IBM invests 1% of total revenues in research. We all remember IBM’s WATSON, a product of few millions of source line of code (SLOC) in Java that had tremendous success on the Jeopardy! quiz show. Would it be a far-fetched idea that a few more million SLOCs now could replace the human brain? Global Technology Outlook scientist researchers at IBM are creating the disruptive technology that is building industry-changing products and analytic applications.

The latest wave of technology is the confluence of social, mobile and cloud technologies. If the “Internet of Everything” tells you that your wardrobe is “not in style” anymore, cognitive computing will probably adjust the warmth of your fabric based on the temperature change (now, that’s a far-fetched idea!).

Our Telfer Executive MBA class were treated to three keynote speakers, Jeffrey Welser, Jeffrey Kreulen and William Risk, moderated by Carolyn Wallace, client relationship manager, who all spoke about “big data” analytics revolutionizing the way companies deliver their software and services to their customers. Jeffrey Welser elaborated on the confluence of various trends and initiatives, such as “Mobile First”, “Scalable Services Ecosystem” and “Multimedia and Visual Analytics”.

The shear impact of these disruptive technologies is revolutionizing, while privacy and IP protection is still an unresolved, concerning issue. When William Risk demonstrated cognitive computation with an example of a game using 256 neurons, the equivalent one an earthworm’s brain, it makes you wonder what humans would do if their brains were replicated, when on average they use only 10% of them?

We were all impressed with the beautiful location of the Almaden facility. There were no visits scheduled for the afternoon as all teams dedicatedly worked on the reports for their respective consulting project clients.

The day ended with a dinner reception with the Silicon Valley Alumni University of Ottawa alumni held at the Sheraton Hotel, Palo Alto. We were joined by the alumni members residing in bay area and our clients. Guest speaker and Telfer School alumnus Lee Fraser, Vice President, Business & Marketing Partnerships at Warner Bros. Worldwide Television Marketing, talked to us about fostering Canada-California connections and linkages.

The true culture in Silicon Valley is reflected in IBM where it fosters the ecosystem and enhances the relationships among the universities, innovative technology and culture.


By Marc Pandi, Telfer Executive MBA Candidate

University of Ottawa’s Telfer School of Management Executive MBA candidates visited Younoodle, Genentech, and Stanford University today. By visiting these places, candidates were exposed to companies that are diverse and far more ambitious such as Facebook, Google, and YouTube.

Started in 2007, Younoodle helps start-ups grow their businesses by assisting companies trying to engage with people to share their ideas online. Through online collaboration, companies have the ability to share their ideas, and since people look to Silicon Valley to see what emerging ideas are happening, Younoodle has already achieved a global reputation. Christine Hug, Canadian and uOttawa alumna, is also the Director of Marketing at Younoodle. “There are people willing to work in the basement,” she explains as she greeted students while escorting them to the conference room where she talked warmly and comfortably about moving to California, enlisting to help anyone willing to make the move with advice.

Christine also talked about “Start-up Chile”, a recent venture with the government of Chile which allows Younoodle to send out worldwide applications to start-ups, and successful applicants receive funding to start-up a business in Chile for up to six months. This venture is a partnership between the government of Chile and Younoodle to boost entrepreneurship in that country.

Later we visited Genentech Inc., a bio-pharmaceutical company focusing on oncological drugs for the treatment of cancer patients. To reduce any cross contamination, students were asked to wear lab coats before touring the multimillion dollar lab. This tour gave candidates the opportunity to understand the complex cycle of drug development and to get a sneak peak into the world of cell culture and gene splitting.

Finally, candidates visited Stanford University where the splendid campus numbs you into acquiescence as you trek through its sculptures, gardens, and buildings. The Memorial Church stimulates the mind with its ancient paintings. The tour ended with candidates invading the Stanford bookstore where they purchased souvenirs to remember the beautiful campus they once trekked.

Understanding that technology can help us keep up with the pace of change is a great start. Silicon Valley covers so much ground — from innovation in action to attracting talent, that the answer becomes obvious almost immediately upon arrival — that it is the epicenter of innovation. From Cisco, to IBM, to Stanford University, the secret sauce of Silicon Valley leaves almost everybody mulling over its inventive ability that many hope to replicate this success in their organizations and countries. That is why the uOttawa Telfer School of Management brings its candidates to Silicon Valley every year. This is a great way to prepare students into understanding that the world is an ecosystem and therefore more complicated.


By Melissa Olegario, Telfer Executive MBA Candidate

Without a doubt, every member of the Telfer Executive MBA class of 2014 was impressed by the visit to Google.  Unlike previous years where this was limited to receiving some timed briefing in some conference room, we had two enthusiastic tour guides (one Spaniard and one Canadian) take us through the main campus, which was vibrant with colour, organic gardens, pet-friendly zones, Google bicycles, food stations and restaurants.

One of the company representatives even spent an extra hour with us to answer even more questions and accompany us to the Google Souvenir Store.  In some ways, it reminded me of the Megaplex (Canadian Forces Base St-Jean) where you had everything under one roof.  Issued with MacBook Pros, as long as Google employees were on campus, they had access to complimentary food either from well-stocked food stations or catered food in a number of cafeterias.

They are encouraged to participate in team-building intramural sports like beach volleyball and laser-tag.  They are encouraged to bike to work.  They are encouraged to grow organic food on campus, much of which actually makes its way back into the cafeteria supply.  They have awesome employee/family benefits.  They have global TGIFs held on Thursdays.  One of my fellow classmates asked me what I thought about such perks and the environment in general.  I think it is like the Canadian Armed Forces with the luxury of fun that is affordable when lives are not at stake.  Google has a dress-of-the-day (Jeans, shirt and casual shoes); the Canadian Armed Forces also has a dress-of-the-day (uniform).  Our military also has quarterly employee evaluations that also assess employees in comparison to their respective team members.  The Canadian Armed Forces came up with its Employee Assistance Program before Google employees’ grandparents were born and they have been conducting TGIFs for generations, moving it to Thursday some decades ago to accommodate the changing reality of society.

In short, these are old concepts made effective with the purpose of inspiring the best in productivity.  Nevertheless, I think it is cool that Google does it so well.  As our tour guides often said, “Why would I ever want to leave?”

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