JAN 16th 2013 (Recap): Innovation 2013 – New Year’s Party!

Happy 2013, Silicon Valley!

Yum!…Way to party!!

So…What is the state of innovation in 2013? Well, opinions differ on that point, but we at SVII are of the opinion that it is not nearly wide-spread enough. There are pockets of innovation, and there are people who produce a lot of innovation, but those places and people are still the exception, which is exactly the opposite of how things should be. Everyone should be an innovator, every company should be a producer of innovation, and everywhere should be a thriving home of innovation of one type or another.

But let us not get carried away with lofty generalities. Is this even possible? And, to ask an even more basic question, how would we even know if that is the case? This leads to a whole other set of questions: How do you know if innovation is happening? Is innovation something that you can measure (precisely or not)? We certainly did not answer all of these questions at our last SVII meeting, but we took a step. Also, if you want more thoughts on these prickly, tangled questions, come to our next event, where we will be exploring the value of intangible assets (hmm, that’s a bit like measuring innovation).

So how did we take a step toward answering these lofty questions? We stepped aside. Or, to describe it more precisely, our founder, Howard Lieberman, stepped aside. Starting out the year as SVII’s first speaker (at our event in the fabulous NestGSV incubator building in Redwood City), he promptly stepped out of the spotlight and shone it on others. His goal was to replace the “sage on the stage” with a “guide on the side,” which he believes is a key to unlocking so much more of the hidden innovative potential in every single person.

In other words, the world is full of people telling other people what to do (bosses and managers come to mind, but speakers and the various forms of advisers often do it too), instead of helping them to figure out for themselves how they can impact the world (or their company, or their community) in the best way possible. The guide on the side is like a miner, helping people to look within themselves for what they already have in them that can make the world a better place–what they know they can do, what hole they see that no one else sees.

Beginning from this place, Lieberman led the audience into a conversation about how collaboration and entrepreneurship are key to opening the doors of innovation to people who don’t think about it much. “Why do you run a company?”, he asked a few people. Because the pressure motivates me…because I hate other people being my boss…because there is no other way to do what I want to do. These conversations continued on a smaller scale after the event as people continued to mingle.

After Howard Lieberman gave the big picture introduction, we also had a very specific talk about a kind of innovation going on in the transportation space. Mike Lester, CEO of Taxi 2000 (taxi2000.com), talked to us about a product that his company is building, called Skyweb Express.

Skyweb Express is a new form of public transportation (so new that it has never been implemented outside of a test environment). The idea is that it is a network (or web) of elevated rail tracks that hold individualized rail cars that can hold one or two people. The network would ideally be in an urban environment with many small stations throughout the city. When a passenger gets in one of the rail cars, they tell the car where they want to go and it will take them to the closest station.

Among the reasons this system has a lot of innovative potential are the elevated tracks and the individualized cars. Because of the elevated track, the system will not be competing with local ground traffic, giving the system the possibility of significant time savings during peak traffic times. Because of the individualized cars, the potential is there for no wait times when you get to a station. I say potential because there is always the possibility that all of the rail cars are in use at a certain time, but according to Lester, the cost per trip of the Skyweb system is much less than conventional mass transit systems because of the smaller track required for the smaller cars and because of the lack of unused space that you get in trains and buses during non-peak hours. In the Skyweb system, if a car is not being used, it’s either going to a place of high demand or waiting until it’s needed, leading to a more efficient use of energy and money than other systems where space isn’t as granular. Think of how many times you’ve seen a bus drive by with only a few people in it; of course that has to be the case if a bus is going to keep a schedule, but in a personalized system like Skyweb, the supply is elastic, responding to demand to reduce waste.

Taxi 2000 has an uphill battle to get someone to implement their system. Since no one else has done it, the list of things that could go wrong is as long as anyone’s imagination wants to lead him. Their first system will be a major test for the rest of the world to look and and decide if it’s something that will be good for them as well. It will be a fork in the road to determine whether the company succeeds or fails. After Lester spoke to the SVII audience, they gave him a lot of feedback about who could possibly be his first customer (including local areas).

While appreciating the suggestions, Lester tried to give some perspective on the challenge in front of them by describing the typical politician attitude: “When it comes to trying new things,” he said, “everyone wants to be first to be second.” Well, it is hard to argue with that. We wish you the best of success, Taxi 2000. May you be an example of innovation to all of us. And when someone finally does decide to put one of your systems in, let us know what the key to that breakthrough is. It could be a key to unlocking many forms of innovation to come.

Don’t forget to join us next Tuesday 2/19 for a lively and semi-controversial discussion on the topic of valuating intangibles:  How Much is it?… How Much is… What? (7PM at Pillsbury Law, 2550 Hanover St., Palo Alto)

(Pre-Registration Tickets ($20)  – on SALE NOW!)

OCT 3rd 2012 (recap): Greased Lightning!

A car can be sexy in the same way a person can be sexy — although the trait is a bit harder to define when you’re talking about sheet metal versus flesh. Part of a sexy car’s appeal is purely physical: proportions and curves, size and muscle. Humans have eyes, lips and hips; cars have headlights, grilles and fenders. But then there’s the truly intangible — the animal attraction that turns mere mortals into drooling buffoons. For this, a machine must be bold, distinctive and aggressively elegant. And there’s the sound, too — a car’s voice. A beautiful car you admire. A sexy one you desire.” – Marc Lachapelle

At SVII this month, we parted the curtains of Angelica’s Bell Theatre with an opening act by German “comedian”, Sven Beiker, also known as the Executive Director of CARS (Center for Automotive Research at Stanford):

Sven had started his illustrious career at BMW, stationed at a variety of locations including the BMW lab here in the Silicon Valley. The CARS institute currently deals with a lot of the electronics research, mechanical engineering, and even legal aspects of cars. Among the interesting tidbits that Sven shared are innovations in the area of secondary use for car parts (such as the battery), especially relevant in light of the relatively short 13-year lifespan cars have to their manufacturers; These folks seem to also be carving a space in the legal and governmental playgrounds as well. After an energetic Q&A, we lifted our glasses to Sven, as he waved goodbye to celebrate German reunification day.

Our intermission was provided by Jessie Chen and Roland Van der Veen – a swing dance showcase with a little bit of cheek and sass to the program’s namesake musical hit “Greased Lightning”:

Missed it? You can check out the original video here:

Next up was Peter Oliver of Switch Vehicles, located in Sebastapol (just across the Golden Gate Bridge):

From a background in software and hardware, Peter had decided to combine his passion for cars and his propensity to have fun into a new project involving electric power conversion. His aspiration? To make an automobile with a 100 mile range, that can carry 3 to 4 people, and cost only $15,000. And thus, “The Switch” was born.

The Switch is a three-wheel vehicle with 33% of the weight on each tire. (The decision to use 3 wheels was inspired by the desire to be classified by the FMVSS (Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards) as a motorcycle.) Putting his business sense to work, Peter also realized that the hardware industry could give him an edge by allowing him to buy standard parts, and farm out more specialized components to contract manufacturers. The audience was dazzled by the Switch’s many possible configurations… and even superhero qualities, such as one version’s ability to carry 600 lbs of hay. In addition, the building of the Switch also leaves its mark as the crux of various training programs for high schools and prisons.

Finally, Brad Templeton, Google’s car consultant and board member of the Electronic Frontier Foundation painted a vision of Robocars:

At first, he cited the many reasons why cars really should be automated and electronic. For example, humans are bad drivers and 34,000 people are killed in America and 1.2 million worldwide every year as a result, many useless hours are spent driving in traffic, 25% of CO2 emissions today are from cars, and 8 cents per mile is continuously being spent on accidents and even more on gas. He also demonstrated that 60% of the land area in LA is dedicated to cars from driveways to parking lots to highways. Brad suggested that if we had small electric robocars they could be called up whenever they are needed, they can also self park 3X tighter and in areas that are mostly out of sight. For this seemingly futuristic system to be implemented, the AI systems needed are not the omniscient ones of science fiction lure, but actually rather simple collision avoidance systems that are fairly attainable. Brad also showed a convincing video of a Google robocar picking up and driving a blind man to and from the store without any human intervention. The video was created by Google-hired Stanford students who had won the DARPA challenge for off road and urban driving, the day after Gov. Jerry Brown signed into law the legal ability to have robocars on the road.

We ended the evening with a lively panel discussion moderated by Max Sims (our auto-savvy presenter from the Images Speak event):

…and discussed issues ranging from the business models around car and battery ownership, to the Minority Report scenario of being betrayed by your robocar. (And can a Jewish man have a robocar drive him to the temple on the Sabbath?)

All in all, our impressive cast of speakers presented compelling perspectives on how the Silicon Valley is innovating in the area of transportation, and in the spirit of SVII, each broke out of conventional thinking in his own unique ways.

Be sure to join us on our next adventure: Design for Experience! (Innovations in User Experience and Product Design)

Pre-registration Tickets ($20) on SALE now!

OCT 3rd 2012: Greased Lightning! – SV Innovations in Transportation

“Fly to work, fly home.. instantaneously?”

Transportation is one of the most pivotal and under-noticed underpinnings of our society. It has inspired science fiction and scientists alike, and shapes life everyday by determining where you can go, and when you can get there.  Much like the river Nile sitting at the crux of whether a civilization can flourish, advancements in vehicles and systems of transportation can oftentimes be the bottleneck for whether or not other innovations are embraced by the culture at any point in time.  

Did you know that all of the major German, Japanese and American automotive companies have research labs here in the Silicon Valley?  
And did you know that Stanford University has one of the most revered Automotive Research programs in the world?

Come hear and join in on the conversation with our three uniquely selected speakers, and see what the Silicon Valley is doing to change the world via innovations in transportation!
Sven Armin Beiker
As the director of the CARS program, Sven is dedicated to re-envisioning the automobile; His motivation is to bring academia and industry together to shape the automotive future. Since 2008 he has been taking care of the program’s strategic planning, resources management, and internal / external communications. Since Spring 2009 he has been lecturing the Stanford class “The Future of the Automobile” to educate students in interdisciplinary automotive thinking and to get students involved with the industry early on. Before joining Stanford University, Sven used to work at the BMW Group for more than 13 years. Between 1995 and 2008 he pursued responsibilities in technology scouting, innovation management, systems design, and series development. He primarily applied his expertise to chassis and powertrain projects, which also provided him with profound insights into the industry’s processes and best practices. In addition, he worked in three major automotive and technology locations: Germany, Silicon Valley, and Detroit.
Brad Templeton
Brad Templeton is Canadian born software engineer and entrepreneur who first made an impact to the online world with his involvement in USENET. As one of the most widely read moderated newsgroups in existence, Brad originated rec.humor.funny over 20 years ago which attracted an estimated half a million readers each day. Brad Templeton also sits as a chairman of the Electronic Frontier Foundation. The EFF has long defended free speech, privacy, innovation and consumer rights for the online world. Since his involvement, Brad has been a part of a series of victories the EFF has achieved. He currently is also on the board of BitTorrent, Inc. and is an active artist at Burning Man and photographer. He maintains a blog called Brad Ideas.
Peter Oliver
After doing electric car conversions for many years, Peter Oliver co-founded Switch Vehicles three years ago. At that time, their goal was to develop a vehicle that costs less than $15,000 and weighed less than 1350 pounds. They were successful in this mission, creating the Switch, a vehicle that can travel for 100 miles per charge. The street legal vehicles can reach up to 70 miles per hour and the three wheeled, wide body design makes for a very stable ride.  In their preproduction phase, Switch Vehicles have already sold 11 cars to schools and private citizens located as far away as Australia. The company’s new goal is to produce 100 vehicles a month and find up to 25 resellers.
Moderated by:
Max Sims
Principal, Technolution
Max Sims has been teaching 3d design at the Academy of Art in San Francisco since 1994. He worked for Alias servicing industrial design and animation clients and started his own entertainment design and design visualization firm, which boasts clients such as PDI, ILM, Pixar, frogdesign, Apple Industrial Design Group.  Max is the  lead author of Inside Maya 5, and has a passion for combining his diverse knowledge based from experience with clients in various fields of manufacturing, including car design, SW development, game design, visual effects and animation;  His goal is to add a deeper level of design understanding to his proven success as a leading technologist in order to advance the state of the arts. He also enjoy international business, having worked extensively for foreign firms, and advisory board positions with like-minded people. To Max, business, legal and financial models require as much creativity as a museum quality design.
6:30 – Registration (Networking)
7:00 – Dinner Commences
7:15 – Program Begins
7:45 – Intermission (Dance Showcase)
8:00 – Panel Discussion
9:30 – Wrap-Up (Networking till close at 10:30)

JULY 18th 2012 (Recap): Innovator’s Showcase (Happy Birthday in Style!)

Thank you to all who participated and attended our 7th Year Anniversary Celebration!


Here is a little recap of the evening by our own Adam Kauk:


It was a pot-luck of talent from around the SVII community; We had a schedule of presentations and performances that were so varied, it looked like a microcosm of SVII’s history. (The delightful setting and delicious food were provided by Angelica’s Bistro in Redwood City, and the soup within that bowl was provided by the SVII community…)


We started with creative and engaging melodies from Neubop, the duo of Howard Lieberman (founder of SVII) and David Solhaug.
Then there was a tantalizing presentation on dark matter by Thomas Buckholtz.




This was followed by three different presentations of visual art. First, Elzbieta Holsztynska talked about how her own art teaches her different things about science..



Then, Jason Marsh played a video taken by an iPhone on a bunch of helium balloons (and dazzled us with some out-of-this-world violin looping)..



Finally, Geri McGilvray did an animated live portrait painting demo… 



…with Jessie Chen as the model.



The final third of the night came around with Adam Kauk transferring a guitar song onto the piano (Signe, by Eric Clapton).



Next, Birgitte Rasine transported us to a hot day in Rome with a reading from her own book.



Finally, the evening ended with a bang as Andy Markham and the Polyglot Quartet played their unique blend of various genres and took us to the finish line.


A good time was had by all–especially me (Adam).

Join us next time (After the summer fiesta, we will be back to our first Wed of the month schedule!) on Wednesday, September 5th, 2012!  We will be discussing how to engage your clients and audience through emotional relevancy in media (graphics, photos, and film).


Mark you calendars!