March 3, 2007

As part of Stanford’s inaugural Entrepreneurship Week, some friends and I participated in the Innovation Challenge. The goal of the competition was to create as much value (defined however we saw fit—monetary, social, entertainment) from a simple object in exactly one week. This was not to be theoretical value, the judges actually expected teams to raise money if they chose to pursue monetary value, for example.

This year’s object was a pack of 100 Post-it notes.

Our team (which was largely a group of students in MS&E 175: Creativity, Innovation, and Change) decided that trying to create monetary value would not only be difficult in one week, but that using the Post-its to create a combination of social and entertainment value would probably be our best bet at winning the competition.

Since green-tech and energy conservation are an increasingly hot topic on campus, we decided to walk that line. With the two statistics below in mind, we set out to create an entertaining/educationl/motivational video:

1. If all students set their computers to sleep when inactive, it would save Stanford over $500,000 per year.
2. Plugged-in appliances that are not on account for nearly 5% of electricity consumption at Stanford.

Our final submission was a short stop-motion video called “Unplug-it.” The message of the clip is that students can conserve a significant amount of energy (and money) by unplugging their appliances when not in use over extended periods of time. Obvioulsy it’s not realistic to expect people to unplug their dorm-room appliances while they’re in class so we encouraged students to take action over their spring breaks while they are out of the dorms for about a week. Doing so would save hundreds of thousands of dollars or more in electricity costs.

Over 90 teams registered at Stanford. 50 submitted projects and 29 were chosen as semi-finalists. Of those teams, nine were chosen as finalists and winners. As you may have guessed, our team got to finals and won. 🙂

We are now sentenced to lunch and Deathball with the Draper Fisher Jurvetson team. I’m really curious to know what Deathball is…no one seems to know.


At the most recent ETL session which was part of Stanford’s eWeek we had quite a few big-name speakers, including KR Sidhar, the CEO of Bloom Energy. This is the second time I’ve seen him speak at Stanford and I was just as impressed as I was the first time.

I like him because he is able to articulate some of the subtler points and often takes a pseudo-contrarian stance on issues; he sees things and is willing to say things that other people aren’t. For example, a high-profile issue during yesterday’s session was the global energy problem—both the climate crisis/global warming and the lack of access to clean energy (or energy at all) that plagues the bottom third of the world’s population.

The session’s format was supposed to be that of a dinner conversation, so analogies were flying left and right about apetizers and main courses. Most of the speakers agreed that in order to solve the energy problem we need to pass on our apetizers. We need to share the wealth, so to speak, with those in other countries who do not have access to clean energy. KR was last to speak, and what he said was basically that he would NOT choose to skip his apetizer. Instead, he would find a way to have his apetizer AND give those people without access to clean energy a way to get it. He emphasized that THAT is this generation’s challenge—to find a way to create sustainable energy for all.

Along the same lines, he cited a very interesting and consequential statistic: three months worth of the Sun’s total energy is more than all the energy we’ve ever used on Earth from all other sources combined. In other words, if we can somehow find a way to efficiently harness the Sun’s power, the global energy crisis will effectively be solved.

It makes me wish I was more invovled in the energy field these days. It seems like the energy crisis is presenting our generation with the kind of opportunities that the Internet gave Silicon Valley’s entrepreneurs in the 90’s.

On a completely unrelated note, something else he said makes for a great soundbite:

“As an entrepreneur I’m not a Democrat or a Republican. I’m a capitalist.”

‘Equity is like shit’

February 22, 2007

Although I wasn’t there to see it, I was watching this video recently. Jerry Kaplan is the speaker (he’s the CEO of Winster) and one of his pieces of advice is don’t be greedy. He uses a great analogy to justify not hoarding equity as a founder:

Equity is like shit. If you pile it up, it just smells bad, but if you spread it around, wonderful things will grow.

A lot of what the ETL speakers have to say is often very similar. Usually it follows the pattern of great people make great teams, you have to take risks to succeed, market timing is important, etc. What’s interesting is that this isn’t necesarily a bad thing–it serves to reiterate some of the most important aspects of starting a company (which a lot of people obviously still don’t understand). One of those is equity. It surprises me when some people expect to get venture funding and still own 60, even 70% of the company. What surprises me even more is when they use that as an excuse not to pursue VC funding. As my mentor Joe told me once,

I’d rather own 1% of a multi-million dollar company than 100% of a zero-revenue company.

You Can Hardly Call It A Car

February 22, 2007

This year’s DARPA Urban Challenege (taking place in November) will showcase a handful of artificially intelligent cars that will–get this–drive themselves in a city environment. According to this article, though, we won’t be able to get our hands on one of these “future cars” until 2030.

It always astounds me that the technology developed today takes about 20 years to be adopted by mainstream consumers. In any case, this one is worth waiting for.

Just imagine a world in which you no longer drive around in a car, you are driven around in a mobile lounge, customized to your liking. You can just say “home” or enter your house’s address in the vehicle’s GPS system and off it goes in all its autonomous glory.

Stanford's Autonomous Vehicle: Junior

You don’t have to worry about anything, the thing drives itself, literally. It stays a safe distance away from the cars around you, follows the speed limit, stops at red lights and smoothly accelerates when they turn green. Stop signs? Not a problem, even when it’s a 4-way and there are cars all around you. The vehicle knows who has the right of way. It can also detect when the kid playing in his front yard loses his ball and runs out into the middle of street. It stops before it’s too late. Another life saved because of cutting-edge technology.

It’s the car of the future, but you can hardly call it a car.