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Silicon Valley is an open innovation system that promotes knowledge and network sharing to further solidify Silicon Valley’s premier position of an innovative business model and wealth creation.  The cohort had a front row seat to three ‘veterans’ that shared their insights and perspectives on how Silicon Valley nurtures an innovative environment that spurs disruptive technologies and companies.

Leah Edwards, currently a lecturer in entrepreneurship and innovation at UC Berkley, Stanford and Northwestern University, co-founded Post Communications and was our first speaker of the morning.   Post Communications was sold for $ 388M in less than two years after it was launched. Edwards continues to lead/coach numerous technology companies on sustainability and on successful exits.  She also shared nuggets of wisdom on how to be a successful innovator and how to nurture a ‘winning’ culture.

Her tips on how to position oneself for the “best possible role” in innovation are for each member of a startup to think like an investor and to focus on solving business problems and not technical problems. As with any industry, entrepreneurs need to understand what is going on in the market today, what are the drivers of innovation and what are the possible disruptions of tomorrow since investors are only guided by finding the best opportunities to invest their money, time and their sector of focus. 

One fundamental thing that all entrepreneurs need to know for sure is to solve the right problem and to solve it quickly. Effective innovation means designing the question while designing the solution to the right business problem.  Edwards acknowledged that could be a challenge when seeking senior executive (C suites)  or founders’ support.   The end-user is ultimately the authority on the relevance of startups’ products or services.  The success of a startup depends on the appropriate understanding of the targeted market’s ‘pain-points’.  Edward shared the best way to fully embrace the ‘pain points’ is to apply empathy-based user inquiries and to co-create solutions with targeted companies to meet their needs.  This collaboration de-risked the startup’s ability to provide relevant solutions to real business problem.

Edward emphasized all startups need to create an atmosphere of emotional safety and empathy amongst its founders and employees in order to enable innovation. One unique aspect of the Silicon Valley environment/ecosystem that helps to nurture innovation is the removal of the shame surrounding failure. Failure in Silicon Valley is not to be viewed as a personal failure. The ecosystem matured to a level that sees failure as a learning opportunity toward the entrepreneurs’ next venture and where the ‘fail-fast and move on’ culture is evident.

Bill Reichert, Managing Director at Garage Technology Ventures, continued the discussion on lessons learned in Silicon Valley. Riechert has spent most of his thirty-year career as an investor, entrepreneur and operating executive.

Riechert reminded the cohort the nature of innovation is constantly changing from the creation of the wheel, to the television, to the artificial intelligence.  Garage Technologies Ventures objective is to identify these game-changing ideas and to attract entrepreneurs worldwide to Silicon Valley through their seed-stage and early-stage venture capital fund. 

Garage’s most successful startups include Pandora, Tripwire, LeftHand Networks, Coremetrics, Hoku Scientific, Kaboodle, WhiteHat Security and Simply Hired.

Reichert shared his top ten lessons from Silicon Valley and how to detect the future of innovation.

  • Focus on innovation, rather than invention. The majority of successful start-ups in Silicon Valley have transformed existing technologies, rather than look to create new inventions.
  • Embrace diverse teams and tap into creative conflict. Different perspectives and diversity are the bedrock of high performing teams.
  • Winning through collaboration. Bill advocates that competition creates enemies while collaboration fosters creativity.
  • Celebrate innovators and make entrepreneurs and innovative cultures prestigious.
  • Adopt a new attitude towards failure, and embrace failure rather than punish shortcomings.
  • Adopting the perception that start-ups should assume there is an increasing abundance of opportunity, rather than scarcity.
  • Take advantage of open innovation and collaboration, rather than remain protective of internal ideas.
  • Acknowledging that the government are not fosters of innovation. Start-ups should look to engage the private industry and research and development centers.
  • Understanding that innovation has become a global phenomenon, and the copying of ideas has become widespread.
  • People will always be more valuable than technology, and that although technology is a predominant component of innovation, people will always trump technology.

Reichert also provided a valuable bonus lesson. Similar to Edwards, Reichert emphasized that founders and employees of start-ups need to be attuned to the need of markets/end-users and to figure out how to bring value to the start-ups’ targeted market and/or end-users. The bonus lesson is the importance of entrepreneurs/founders to always focus on creating value rather than just making money.  

The final speaker of the morning was Richard Horning, Senior Counsel at ReedSmith LLP. Horning has spent over 40 years representing technology companies in Silicon Valley, and globally, as an active participant in the Silicon Valley ecosystem. He echoed similar viewpoints and added the following why Silicon Valley’s ecosystem works:

  • Empowering  and partnering  with startups instead of competing with them
  • Outsource everything except IDEA
  • There are no non-compete agreements since it t protects the movement of labor (employees quick change to other companies)
  • Open innovation system that promotes informal knowledge transfer
  • Network and ‘paying it forward’ as evident by ‘Paypal Mafia’ that continues to help nurture and grow technology companies.

The cohort attended an executive briefing at DocuSign in the afternoon.  DocuSign was in the news recently its initial public offering (IPO) and its shares were traded on the NASDAQ for the first time on April 27, 2018.  DocuSign, a pioneer in the electronic signatures market, has designed their business around accelerating the process of doing business through the use of collaborative technology and binding electronic signatures in the agreement stage of business. DocuSign offers one of the best eSignature solution in an estimated $25 billion market, as the core platform for automating the agreement process.

Julianne Wu, Director of Project Management presented to the cohort interesting insights and facts about the e-signature market and where its services meet the needs of the users.

It is estimated that every 0.4 of a second, a document is signed by someone; resulting in 216,000 legal agreements in a 24-hour period. Transferring the physical signature to it's intuitive, electronic and encrypted technology platform, DocuSign currently has 200 million users of their product including approximately 300,000 companies worldwide.

The Software as a Service (SAAS) has provided financial benefits to organizations that have been leveraging the platform with 13% increase in revenue, 50% increase in profit, and 19% increase in market value. This is on average a value of about $36 per document.

DocuSign, in partnership with Salesforce, is building a platform that makes the application exchange easier for its users.  The partnership would provide a platform where all the interim conversations during the negotiation/agreement process can happen within the tool. Documenting the proceedings and embedding it within the document revision history is one of the efficacies with all the additional conversations during negotiations are self-documented.

The day wrapped up with “San Francisco Reception with uOttawa’s 2018 Top Start-up winners” at the Museum of Craft and Design.  In its fourth year, uOttawa’s Top Start-ups initiative announced three finalists in February 2018 in their annual search for the top start-ups on Ottawa’s campus. The co-founders of these three start-ups accompanied the Telfer Executive MBA’s Class of 2019 to Silicon Valley for the week. The reception was a milestone of the trip for them as they pitched their companies to University of Ottawa alumni in Silicon Valley to develop relationships, to network and to garner support from members of their Alma Mater working Silicon Valley.


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