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We had a key lesson in leadership today: agility and change management. Consistent to the pulse of Silicon Valley, schedules and plans can change quickly and that means a quick pivot in a new direction.  This was never as evident as in the events leading to today’s presentations.  Our scheduled visits to two prominent companies was disrupted due to travel of our presenters who were delayed in Europe.  Aligning with the saying “it is not the strongest or the smartest but the most adaptable that will survive”, we swiftly changed gears and made the best of the situation.

Enter David Chang and Cliel Schachter who quickly took up the call from Executive Director, Sophia Leong, to share their experiences in Silicon Valley with the cohort. 

David is the Engineering Manager at NerdWallet, a personal finance website helping people to assess options through multiple banking/financial instrument and to manage personal financial decisions.  David shared his experience with the 2016 merger between his previous employer, aboutLife, and NerdWallet along with his comfort in switching jobs within a seven-year timeframe.

David’s experience with start-ups was insightful especially his experience in the financial sector given that it is one of the current sectors to experience disruptive innovations. 

The discussion provided insights on the contrast between the financial sector in the US and Canada. Companies like NerdWallet operate as a third party to provide financial advice to the end-user whereas in Canada most applications and products providing such services are created and managed by banks/financial institutions.  David shared the need for startups to actively refine its business models until it finds a scalable model that works.  NerdWallet’s current business model is generating revenue through cost per click (CPC) and cost per acquisition (CPA). David offered interesting insights on how start-ups work with venture capital (VC) firms to successfully attract capital investment while preserving equity of their company. 

Cliel offered a personal approach to his presentation as an alumnus of the University of Ottawa MBA program.  After working for a few years in Ottawa and Toronto, Cliel moved to Silicon Valley because of his entrepreneurial aspiration and his thirst to work in an innovative environment.  He shared the importance of networking in Silicon Valley and how quickly he was able to land a role in a startup by showing up.  The cohort enjoyed hearing about his experience in his early years in the Valley and about the culture that he has experienced.  He had since exited from his startup and is looking at opportunities in venture capital firms.   There was a robust and lively discussion on current trends in startups and in particular the gamification platform.   In closing, Cliel provided a David Letterman style top ten list of his own take on the Silicon Valley ecosystem with some comparisons to Ottawa. 

The cohort travelled to Stanford University in the afternoon for a panel discussion led by Professor Richard Dasher, Director of Stanford’s US-Asia Technology Management Center.  The discussion is on “Evolution of the Ecosystem for Blockchain in Internet of Thing (IoT) systems” with three panellist – Steven Pu, founder of, Julie Wang, Co-founder CarBlock and James Miller, Senior Attorney Advisor US Federal Communications Commission (FCC).

Steven provided an enlightening presentation on blockchain protocol specifically designed to facilitate IoT data transactions.  He addressed the gap that is currently present and how his company would democratize IoT data with fast concurrent smart contracts.  Julie, who is also Head of Ecosystem at CarBlock, shared how blockchain is disrupting transportation and how driving data generated by smart devices could be leveraged for transportation solution.  She also presented a novel idea on how to monetize the ownership of the generated data.

The session at Stanford University is a great book-end of an insightful and enlightening week in Silicon Valley.  The cohort started the week with wine in the Napa Valley that has an ecosystem of soil, climate and winemakers that makes it one of the best wine growing region in the world.  The cohort ended the week with Stanford University that continues to play a significant role in shaping Silicon Valley’s ecosystem that fuels entrepreneurship and a culture of openness and collaboration that drives the highest value and wealth creation in the world.

The cohort celebrated a great week in the Valley by challenging each other at a karaoke bar.  Some sang surprisingly well and there were quite a few hidden talents in the cohort.  Equally, there were also a few that were best kept to singing in the shower and the cohort was thankful the social event was limited to a private room.



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