Innovation and Silicon Valley go together like bits and bites. Another month another innovation competition. But Intel’s Global Challenge caught our attention for the breadth and quality of its innovators from around the world, who competed for $100,000 in prize money and the chance to pitch some of the valley’s top venture capitalists at UC Berkeley’s Haas School of Business.
Fresh Dialogues was delighted to see a good number of environmentally conscious innovators made the cut, including PolySol, a recyclable alternative to plastic, made from coconut husks; Nitrate Production System, a low-cost earth-friendly fertilizer and ValleyFeed, a wireless wildfire detection system. These innovative teams came from India, Jordan and Saudi Arabia/Lebanon respectively. Closer to home, NextDrop, a Berkeley based team demonstrated a ground breaking system that uses crowd-sourcing technology to monitor and facilitate efficient water use in India. The venture capital judges agreed and gave NextDrop the Social Innovation Award.
The award winning team includes National Science Foundation Fellow, Emily Kumpel (pictured) who is a PhD candidate in Civil and Environmental Engineering at the University of California at Berkeley. She brings her water management experience in Madagascar and Tanzania to NextDrop’s diverse team who include Ashish Jhina, Thejovardhana Kote, Anu Sridharan, Madhusadhan B, and Ari Almos.
We look forward to following their progress blog as they scale up NextDrop’s project in India.
Google’s infamous Don’t Be Evilmantra has inspired some remarkable projects, including the newly launched Google Ideas, but it’s Google’s Green Dream that caught my attention this week.
On Friday, I sat down with Parag Chokshi, Clean Energy Public Affairs Manager, at Google’s Mountain View Headquarters. We discussed Google’s recently published report, The Impact of Clean Energy Innovationwhich paints a picture of green nirvana in the US economy and energy market – if green investment and government incentives spur rapid innovation. And it’s a big IF, based on some rather optimistic assumptions, that’s why we’re calling it Google’s Green Dream.
Among the report’s predictions… By 2030, clean energy innovation will:
– boost US economic growth by $155-$244 Billion in GDP/year
– create over one million new jobs
– help electric vehicles command a 90% market share (small cars and trucks)
– save households almost $1000/year in energy bills
– reduce US oil consumption by over 1 B barrels/ year and greenhouse gases by 13-20%
The report concludes that if investment and incentives are delayed five years, the opportunity cost will be $2-3 Trillion.
Is this a realistic Green Dream by Google’s Green Czar Bill Weihl and his team? Or naive wishful thinking? Chokshi acknowledges that Google is examining some “aggressive scenarios” but underlines that the report’s purpose is to stimulate debate on how to get to this Green Dream; and to spur more investment by both the public and private sector. In this Fresh Dialogues VIDEO, Chokshi outlines the dramatic improvements in battery technology that are crucial to increasing the adoption of electric vehicles, but declined to confirm whether Google is investing its considerable financial and engineering muscle in the already crowded race to build a better EV battery. We can only speculate.
The Economist newspaper has a reputation for world-class reporting, with a sardonic British twist. Is the publication bullish about green innovation? I sat down with Martin Giles, the Economist’s US Technology Correspondent last week to get his global perspective on green innovation and the greening of Silicon Valley tech companies. Giles conducts interviews for the delicious Tea with the Economist series and other high profile conferences, but when the tables were turned, he didn’t disappoint. In this Fresh Dialogues interview, we talk GREEN, from data centers to smart grid; and green jobs to political bluster.
Is GREEN and sustainability important to tech companies today?
“It’s definitely on everybody’s agenda. It’s an opportunity to save money. If we can find ways of powering our server farms…our production lines more efficiently, we can save money and do a favor to the environment. That’s a win-win.”
What lasting green trends are happening today?
“E-waste is a big issue…How do we create products that don’t leave a massive footprint on the environment?”
“Smart grid… It’s classic Silicon Valley – it’s technology on the one hand and power on the other…let’s bring them together and create a whole new paradigm.”
There are countless Silicon Valley wannabes all over the world, from Silicon Wadi in Israel to Silicon Glen in Scotland, but none rival Silicon Valley’s track record. Why is Silicon Valley the premier center of innovation? What is the secret of Silicon Valley’s success?
I joined Morton Grosser, a Silicon Valley venture investor, consultant and inventor in his Menlo Park workshop to discuss the history of Silicon Valley and the key ingredients that allow innovation to flourish here. As a former director of eight high-tech companies and strategy advisor to such stalwarts as Hewlett-Packard, Apple, Kleiner Perkins and many Fortune 100 companies, Grosser (or Mort, as he prefers) provides a unique perspective on what makes Silicon Valley successful.
Why did Silicon Valley grow here?
“Silicon Valley has an extraordinary meritocracy culture…it’s an accident of time and place.”
What is the Vital Ingredient?
“We’ve had a unique surplus of the four things that are necessary for an entrepreneurial culture…a great university or universities, smart young entrepreneurs, a source of capital, but most leave out the most important part:
What you really need is a culture of meritocracy. You need horizontality.”
“He noticed that science and engineering seminars were taught by 23-year-old graduate students, because those are the people making the progress…this was anomalous for the industrial world… Terman noticed this 70 years ago and he wrote about it in “Steeples of Excellence.” He said, if you could move this principle out of academia into industry you would have an enormous advantage over many other companies.”
How to build innovation – the Silicon Valley Way
“It’s not just the capital…it’s the intellectual environment, the ambiance, the acceptance, it isn’t merely mentoring it’s accepting…To build a culture that is unique; in which industrial companies would have the same structure, where young people have a voice, where new and creative ideas … flourish.”
“You don’t have to teach children creativity, you just have to get out of their way.”
Want to learn more?
The book “Regional Advantage” by Berkeley’s Dean of the School of Information, AnnaLee Saxenian, compares Route 128 (the Boston innovation hub) with Route 280 (Silicon Valley) and explores the reasons, as Mort puts it, “Why Silicon Valley succeeded and Route 128 did not… It comes down to the difference between horizontality and verticality.” In summary: Boston developed a system dominated by independent, self-sufficient corporations, whereas Silicon Valley developed a decentralized but cooperative industrial system.
“We’ve received several awards… so it’s not really receiving the award… but the opportunity to network, to meet great minds in Silicon Valley… see people who’ve gone through the same as you’ve gone through…We’ve seen scientists and inventors, visited Microsoft and Intel..we’ve seen people doing some encouraging things…Sometimes you think you are crazy doing this type of stuff, but you see that people are as crazy as you. You have to be crazy to be creative….” (We agreed there were LOTS of crazy creative people in Silicon Valley)