MIT Sloan Executive Education Blog

EmTechMIT 2013, day 2: Not all genius is simplicity

Guest Blogger: Doña Keating is President and CEO of Professional Options, a prominent innovator in the leadership, policy and management consulting industry which provides solutions for businesses, organizations and governmental agencies.

Steve Case, Chairman and CEO of Revolution, Cofounder of America Online, and Chairman of the Case Foundation, set the tone for day two of EmTech 2013 with a dynamic, informative, and savvy discussion about public policy and the intrinsic role it plays in a burgeoning and technologically innovative economy. Unlike the sometimes brash Silicon Valley titans who believed they could rocket to success without being beholden to Big Brother, Case encouraged constructive engagement with what is typically a successful startup's biggest customer: the government. Quoting an African proverb, "If you want to go quickly, go alone; but if you want to go farther, go together," Steve further emphasized policy's value in setting ground rules that allow entrepreneurship and innovation to flourish.

His fireside chat with Joi Ito, Director of the MIT Media Lab, also explored Case’s investment in "second internet revolution" companies in locations other than the usual New York, Chicago, Boston, or Silicon Valley. His belief is that centers of innovation gravity will give way to new companies across the country, presenting opportunities for investment at lower valuation points. This, in turn, would create network density, a flywheel component sparking regional entrepreneurial success at its core. Startup Weekend is an example of his efforts to create robust industries and regional entrepreneurial ecosystems.

Case also took issue with US immigration policy, terming it a hindrance and citing a ten point drop in the percentage of Silicon Valley companies started by immigrants (down from 52%) as a result. In order to maximize its lead as world innovators, American policy regarding immigration and research needed vast improvements and increased advocacy from relevant stakeholders.

Though the Emerging Technologies for Connected Cities segment was about infrastructure, cities actuating data to help us make better decisions, and how utterly inane it is to steal from MIT (you had to be there), the theme returned full circle to smart partnerships, balancing tradeoffs between privacy and benefit, and the question of how cities can use mined data to ultimately benefit the economy whilst driving entrepreneurship.

The day's program was seasoned with the usual round robin of inspiring and brilliant Innovators Under 35, mesmerizing us with peel and stick solar cells, biomimetic toxic nano-sponges, gesture keyboards, and phone printing (CallDNA) to offset the rise of phone-number spoofing. As I watched Bright Simon's presentation about mPedigree Network's projects from EmTech's Connections Lounge, a collective exclamation of shock was heard round the room when he indicated there was a 1 in 2 chance of getting counterfeit medicine in parts of Asia or Africa which could cause irreparable harm...and even some of the proffered solutions were themselves counterfeit.  Quite a sobering thought with the potential to temper the oft unfettered exuberance of inventors among us. Is nothing sacred?

Speaking of exuberance, Mary Lou Jepsen, Head of Display Division for Google[x], lived up to her description as a global thought leader by urging us to push the envelope, go beyond the predictable path, aim for impact via the creation of novelty, even sleep on the floor of international factories to learn and understand how things are truly built if one can. Just for grins, she threw up a video clip constructed from brain activity. But don't press her for details or she might have to kill you....working for the [x] and all.

Jepsen's presentation was preceded by Lee Forster, Commercial Strategy Practice Lead and Technology Advisory at Sagentia, who spoke of when it made sense to kill projects and redirect time, money, and intellectual energies into new or alternative opportunities. Since all ideas don't make it to market, knowing one's target market and having a technology evaluation framework in place (including, but not limited to, stakeholder analysis and technical review), can also help one to meet stakeholder needs.

Typically, the word "insurance" sends The Inspired off in the opposite direction, skid marks in the wake. This afternoon, however, Joe Coray - Vice President of Technology & Life Science, Renewable Energy and International Business at The Hartford, laid out a spot on case for the challenges and risks which come with disruptive innovation. Rather than discouraging or stifling the process, he suggested risk management and innovation be seen as a dialogue between friends. In his autonomous vehicles example, the requisite safeguards protect the interests of all concerned - leading to safe drivers and even safer vehicles. Regarding medical devices, many which store and can transmit extremely private an invaluable information, encryption and shielding would protect inventors, vendors, and patients alike.

To backtrack a bit, we also had the distinct pleasure of listening to Craig Mundie, Senior Advisor to the CEO of Microsoft, on cybersecurity and the importance of protecting your personal identity online. As he walked us through the five categories—hacking, crime, espionage, warfare, terrorism, and actors (amateurs, professionals, and governments)—he urged a new model wherein permissions are attached to data release within a strengthened legal and policy framework. Creators of apps would be required to register intended use of data, and a policy regime with substantial legal penalties (felony!) would be instituted along with more cryptographic wrappers to control the release and transmission of data. The goal: mitigate fiduciary and technological breaches. Though many of us would have loved him to remain longer, he was shuttled off to New York to receive the BENS Eisenhower Award.

Per the BENS website, the Eisenhower Award was first presented in 1986 on the 25th Anniversary of President Eisenhower’s Farewell Address, and recognizes outstanding Americans whose contributions best represent his definition of security as “...the total product of our economic, intellectual, moral and military strength.” Citizens and public servants have been honorees, and prior recipients include President Jimmy Carter; Secretaries of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Condoleezza Rice; Generals David Petraeus, James Jones, John Abizaid, and Michael Hayden, as well as business leaders, such as Thomas Watson, Jr., Tom Peters, Norm Augustine, Denis Bovin, Mary and David Boies, among many other. Suffice to say, Mundie is in great company, as were EmTechMIT attendees.

The Advanced Manufacturing segment kicked 3D printing up a notch to 4D, and a new era where intuition is part of the creation process and printed items also self-assemble. Stephen Hoover, CEO of PARC (a Xerox company) was also jazzed about how 3D printing democratized technology and the entire value chain, by giving on-demand access to the products being created to those who wouldn't otherwise have it. As I prepared to depart for my flight, a video demonstration (of an object being shaken apart inside of a flask and coming together on its own into a circular shape) was the perfect pièce de résistance before rushing off.

Another successful and inspiring day for EmTech MIT 2013.


Doña Keating is President and CEO of Professional Options, a prominent innovator in the leadership, policy and management consulting industry which provides solutions for businesses, organizations and governmental agencies.

This entry was posted in Guest Blogger on Mon Oct 14, 2013 by MIT Sloan Executive Education