Spring has finally arrived in Charlottesville! After a winter of surplus snow that quickly wore out its welcome, followed by lots of clouds and rain, the sun is here to stay (I’m keeping a positive attitude!). Exactly two weeks ago, I finished off my last Q3 exam and (with a big smile of course) got ready to give my tired brain a rest for the next week and a half. I had originally thought of going on a Darden Global Business Experience (GBE)—where Darden students can spend 1-2 weeks exploring the business environment and practices of another country as a substitute for an elective—but since I’m planning to spend next fall semester on a Darden-facilitated exchange in China, I decided to stay back and spend some time with my family.
After three busy quarters I definitely made the correct choice. Though I spent the first few days do pretty much nothing (it was a nice way to decompress from school), I enjoyed sleeping in and spending most of the day with my wife and son taking a walk around the little lake at our apartment complex or visiting the playground. Two of my wife’s cousins from Chile flew in and stayed with us for part of the break so I did get out to enjoy the sunshine. We visited Jamestown and did the tourist thing around Washington, D.C. for a couple of days and spent the rest of the time in Charlottesville where we introduced the cousins to ice skating and hitting golf balls at the driving range. Of course I absolutely had to take play a round of golf with one of my classmates on the last day of super cheap winter rates at Birdwood—I was six inches away from my first hole-in-one on the signature 14th and, notwithstanding a few bad holes, actually played well for not having swung a club in a few months. All-in-all it was a very relaxing and enjoyable spring break, and just when I was starting to get used to it we started Q4 this past Tuesday.
Q4 is the first quarter that we are able to take electives here at Darden (while I chose to build on the finance, economics, and decision analysis courses we had during the first three quarters by selecting those electives, I chose not to start at 8am every day!). To be perfectly honest, before I came to Darden this was one of the things I had reservations about. Lots of other B-schools let you choose your classes from the beginning, or at least starting with the second semester, so I wondered this last of customization would be a negative. After experiencing the first three quarters I can resoundingly say that is not the case. I really think part of the Darden is found in the dynamic of the first-year core in the form of Learning Teams and our section environments. While obviously a small part of the core material may be basic for those who have specialized expertise in certain areas, not only does the material scale very quickly (getting more advanced as time moves on), but the case method allows even those ‘experts’ to derive value for themselves and contribute to the learning of their classmates through active participation in the case discussions. The Darden administration does a really good job of designing a great first-year experience and giving students opportunities to interface with a wide range of faculty and classmates, while working together (case method) to advance learning and synthesis of the material; they are also constantly innovating to improve the already spectacular first-year experience—as we found this year and the class of 2012 will see in the way their first-year program differs from ours. At the end of the day, I have absolutely loved the first year experience so far… it was everything I expected and hoped for!
San Jose BioCenter & Genia Technologies
I know I should have written about this a long time ago, but I really haven’t had much free time since leaving the Bay Area at the end of July and moving all the way across the country to begin my MBA studies at the Darden School. So, in an effort to get up to date, my post today is going to summarize a bit about my time working with Genia Technologies out of the San Jose BioCenter incubator.
First off, my experience at the San Jose BioCenter was very positive. If you don’t know anything about the incubator, it is basically a venture by the City of San Jose (CA) and a few sponsoring corporations aimed at supporting entrepreneurs in the biotech arena. The BioCenter recently faced-off against business incubators all over the world and was selected as the best incubator by the National Business Incubator Association (NBIA), winning two of the association’s premier awards. Whether the location was chosen on purpose or incidentally, it turns out the building is right across the street from Stryker (a well-known medical device company) in south San Jose. The facilities are designed to promote collaboration among the start-ups housed there, yet still provide the privacy, space, and facilities needed to protect and grow the ideas of its budding businesses. Along with common break areas, the BioCenter has installed a wide range of pricey biology equipment that can be scheduled and used by any of the start-ups—a huge benefit to seed companies that require use of the expensive equipment but don’t have the capital necessary to make such a big investment. The BioCenter also puts together regular seminars, workshops (see previous post), and other opportunities for the start-ups to network with capital partners, meet companies interested in licensing their technologies, and learn how best to position themselves for acquisition. In addition to these benefits, the City of San Jose actually subsidizes the rent of the companies it houses. If you want to move-in to the BioCenter, take a look at their application process here.
Working for Genia was another very positive experience. Though I can’t go into much detail about what exactly I did, I can comment on a few things. It was wonderful to be able to work with people that share my vision of the part that technology will play in biological advancement in the near future. Genia’s core product is, in essence, a hybridization of electrical engineering technologies and “wet-lab” biology. The main R&D scientists have formal training in both electrical engineering and life sciences, and they have used their intimate knowledge of both to create a marriage that will allow us to both sequence DNA and perform many wet-lab processes, all with greater accuracy and at a fraction of the cost and time of all currently known technologies. Technicians will no longer have to wait for gels or run ladders using hazardous materials and carcinogenic equipment; instead they will be able to receive comprehensive sample data and genomic information within minutes of using our technology. Along with vast increases to accuracy and productivity, our technology will make it possible for advanced life sciences experiments to be done as early as grade school.
Silicon Valley still matters
Yes, Sarah, Silicon Valley still matters. BusinessWeek’s Sarah Lacy wrote a few things last week that I completely disagree with in her post Does Silicon Valley Still Matter?. While the thesis of her article seems to be a question, upon reading it you know right away what she thinks the answer is… no. She bills the Valley as a has-been of tech innovation, and leads readers to believe that since “the information superhighway is [already] built” and the computing and networking sectors are slowing down, there isn’t much more innovation that can come out of the Valley.
The common theme of her article is that the Valley has become more of a place for those who want to play it safe—investors and entrepreneurs alike—than for the truly innovative and risky start-ups. While I disagree with her billing of Facebook and Twitter as ‘truly innovative’ (let’s be honest, while social networking is an interesting concept you really can’t have a “business” without a viable business model), I agree that many new companies have been started and funded here over the last few years that focus on small markets (like iPhone apps) and there has been less investment in breakthrough technologies that provide innovative leaps forward. Why is this? Well, I think that alongside those with innovative ideas and business models the Valley has attracted those who want to make a ‘quick buck’. Software and web have always had very low overhead and high margins (for those companies with viable business models), and I think its natural for investors and entrepreneurs to minimize risk. Other investors are looking for opportunities and innovation overseas in BRIC markets, but the fact remains that a huge majority of venture funding is centered in the Valley. In many cases, those innovations around which strong, lasting companies can be built will be ported over to the Valley where it is very easy from a regulatory standpoint (state and federal) to build and profit from a business. There are opportunities to use exisiting technology to beneifts foreign markets, but true innovation will flow through Silicon Valley for a good while longer… the Valley is far from giving up its crown as the world’s epicenter of innovation.
It is very easy to say that the Silicon Valley edge in innovation will continue to wane as technology shifts away from computing and networking. Those that believe that though, are missing out on the big picture; they forget that Valley-born innovation made computing and networking what it is today. Let me put it another way, the success of computing was born out of the Valley’s innovative culture, computing did not make the innovative mindset. This mindset is not limited to one industry and it never will be. Those who have lived even a couple of years in the Valley know that innovation runs through the veins of almost every company and industry here. I have personally been involved or apprised of some very innovative startups in cleantech, biotech, and devices in emerging industries. During the next decade there will be a true merger between biology and electronics, and Silicon Valley will undoubtedly emerge as the innovation leader of this new biotronics industry.
New Microsoft Xbox technology leaps far ahead of the Wii.