Over the past weekend, I trekked down Highway 101 to Palo Alto to attend the “Roads to Innovation” conference at Stanford Graduate School of Business. The conference is the main annual event organized by NOVA, the Italian Association of American MBAs. This year also marked a major public milestone for Urania, Italian Association for Life Sciences, which co-hosted the event.
The official announcement recites:
“Hosted in the heart
of Silicon Valley at Stanford University, the
Conference aims to disentangle the drivers of innovation in the economy and the
role of universities, venture capitalists, entrepreneurs and corporations in
promoting new ideas and technologies.
Open to MBA students, PhD students, GSB alumni, Stanford students and alumni, and professionals, the event engages distinctive policy makers, businesspersons, and scholars in the debate on the enablers of innovation in both technology-intensive and traditional sectors.”
Overall, the promise was kept. The organizers put together a great series of panels (5) and, with only some exceptions, panelists and moderators were able to keep the conversation lively throughout two long weekend days. Speakers included Guerrino de Luca, CEO of Logitech, Enzo Torresi, venture capitalist, serial entrepreneur and 30-year veteran of the high-tech industry, Paul Romer, the leading US economist, Jeff Jordan of Paypal pedigree, Diego Piacentini, SVP at Amazon, Marco Milani, CEO of Indesit, Roberto Crea, biotech pioneer and serial entrepreneur, and as the keynote speaker, Eric Schmidt of Google.
I have to admit I was a tad underwhelmed by Mr. Schmidt’s address, though it touched upon some very interesting trends such as reputation systems and personal data portability. I found the talk engaging but certainly not earth-shattering, especially the Q&A that followed. You have the top man from what is arguably the most influential and powerful company in technology today and 50% of the questions focus on the mechanics of one M&A deal? Sure, the YouTube acquisition is important, but is it as important as issues such net neutrality or the inadequacy of copyright law on the web, or government regulation of access to information?
While day 1 was mostly centered on software and internet innovation, day 2 switched to innovation in “traditional” industries and biotech. The two Sunday panels were probably the most interesting. Kudos to organizers and the panelists for taking a non-obvious angle on innovation.
A few random tidbits from the two days of conversations:
- “Don’t bet against the internet”, Eric Schmidt, CEO, Google
- “Entrepreneurship can be taught”, Tom Byers, Professor, Stanford
- “Entrepreneurs are born”, Enzo Torresi, VC
- “I am the most unemployable person here”, Greg Waldorf, CEO, eHarmony
- “Innovation is how to maintain margins with a 5% year-on-year price erosion”, Marco Milani, CEO, Indesit
See you next year.