By Karen Kavanagh, Lori Keith and Lynda Taller-Wakter, Telfer EMBA participants
The trip’s purpose was to expose the future University of Ottawa Telfer School of Management Executive MBA graduating class of 2010 to innovation and entrepreneurship experiences in the Silicon Valley – and the week did not disappoint!
In the early hours of Saturday, May 2nd our class left Ottawa excited for the trip ahead. After arriving in Silicon Valley around midday local time, we drove to the Hilton San Jose to check-in and freshen up, and were off right away for a tour of one of the region’s famed independently owned wineries. Our destination was the Savannah-Chanelle Vineyards, which is nestled in the redwood forests of the Santa Cruz Mountains. A relaxing and rambling tour of the vineyard followed – paired with wonderful wines, spectacular views, and witty comments by our guide.
Early Sunday we found ourselves back to school! In preparation for the week ahead, we discussed The Silicon Valley Edge; a collection of chapters written by several eminent technology leaders of the time. Each team profiled one aspect that makes Silicon Valley unique; be it flexible and responsive business models or serendipity vs. strategy. These discussions set the tone for what was to become a theme of this trip – for innovation, there’s no place like Silicon Valley.
On Monday, we visited the San Jose BioCenter – an impressive facility that houses 30+ biotech and life sciences companies at early stages of growth. It includes separate suites for each company as well as 3 million dollars worth of common equipment shared by the occupants – and aims to give emerging companies a big company advantage. This unique business approach is one of the reasons it received 2009’s Randall M. Whaley Incubator of the Year Award, presented by the U.S.-based National Business Incubation Association.
Next, we were off to Stanford University, which truly is an incubator in itself as past students founded many of the most successful companies in the region. We had the honour of having William F. Miller, one of the co-writers of The Silicon Valley Edge, speak to us about the unique entrepreneurial and cooperative spirit of the region. This octogenarian legend believes that the strength of Silicon Valley is in turning technology into business and his inspirational talk truly prepped us for the hectic days ahead.
The first stop on Tuesday was a visit to the U.S. Market Access Center, followed by lunch and presentations at the IBM Almaden Research Center. The message? Innovation isn’t always about new ideas, but about refining or redefining existing ideas. That it takes creativity to foster innovation, and that incubators are excellent places to hatch both.
Meanwhile, at the quintessential San Francisco ‘mobile office’ (the coffee shop), we met with the President of Relevant Mind to discuss the inner workings of social marketing firms. Client engagement, segmentation, networks, geo-targeting, channel mix - now part of our vocabulary. Another meeting - L’Atelier, part of the BNP Paribas group - provocatively asked if Obama had reinvented branding. Comments?
Finally, we were honoured to visit with local and visiting University of Ottawa alumni - notably the President, Allan Rock, at an evening alumni event. Although weary, we were energized by the networking and excited about the opportunities.
Wednesday was Cisco day! After eight presentations in six hours it became evident that culture, or the way they do things around Cisco, is a key competitive strength that stems from strict adherence to their leadership philosophy CLEAD: Collaborate, Learn, Execute, Accelerate, Disrupt.
Cisco is a leader in acquiring companies. Cisco also acquires ideas and world-class management principle. For example, their strategic goal in an acquisition is to be #1 or #2 in that market. Didn’t Jack Welch preach the same mantra at GE? Their supply chain strategy is based on the SCORE model and their objective is to deliver the best end-to-end customer experience. Sound like Disney’s guest experience?
Visit www.cisco.com/newways to experience their latest thinking.
Our last official stop of the week was at IDEO (www.ideo.com), a human-centered design firm. Design Thinking, the IDEO philosophy, is a leading innovative philosophy in strategic marketing advantage.
Did you ever consider how the Palm V got its design? IDEO.
Or how Listerine became edible strips? IDEO.
Visited an emergency room lately, lying helpless on a gurney, staring at a ceiling for an hour? IDEO is in the midst of recreating the humanless patient experience for a hospital.
We were promised exposure to innovative organizations, to learn more about the history of the Valley, and to discover emerging technologies. Our trip proved to be successful as we experienced the region’s unique and dynamic business culture first hand – and the class as a whole is now looking forward to bringing what they have learned back to their own organizations. The trip is definitely not over for us!
This article discusses the University of Ottawa's Telfer School of Management Executive MBA class trip to the Silicon Valley. The trip is part of the EMBA curriculum on "Innovation and Entrepreneurship," which includes a consulting project and holding meetings with Valley firms on behalf of client organizations, as well as special events and discussions at key Valley innovation centres, such as the San Jose BioCenter, US Market Access Centre, IBM Almaden Research Center, Cisco and Stanford University.
Karen Kavanagh, Lori Keith and Lynda Taller-Wakter are EMBA participants.