Silicon Valley Innovation Leadership Program At UC Berkeley by Grace Sorongon

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I recently attended the Silicon Valley Innovation Leadership Program at the Sutardja Center for Entrepreneurship & Technology (SCET) of the University of California in Berkeley for close to a week. Sutardja Center is known for developing the Berkeley Method of Entrepreneurship & Berkeley Method of Innovation Leadership. The Center also offers known programs for undergraduates, PhD students, technology firms, and leadership programs for professionals and executives.

Here are several highlights of the program:

A. The speakers of the program were successful innovators and entrepreneurs themselves. They shared their challenges when they first started, how they managed to stay focused on the execution of their ideas, and how they were not deterred by the challenges around them. They succeeded because they wanted to solve human needs and pains. To mention a few, I met the following:

  1. Wayne Delker, former CIO of Clorox Corporation and the current Executive Director of UC Berkeley’s Fung Institute for Engineering Leadership. He was tasked by the Board to grow the business exponentially. He pivoted quickly whenever challenged by issues and was fearless in pursuing their target growth. He created a new business model for Clorox and managed to achieve exponential growth in 3 years.
  2. Wayne Crosby, co-founder of Humu with Lazslo Bock of Google. He felt that he could change the work environment and promote happiness and a bit of love using data science and machine learning. He said that there are undiscovered gems existing in every organization. How can we discover them? Machine Learning (ML) will allow HR to discover these gems, provided there is a great story to tell about them. Once there is a great story, ML will give HR signals and work on these to make the office a better place for everyone. He further cited that stress at work can be reduced by 75% if team mates trust each other, while energy can be raised by 45% if the same trust exists among team members.
  3. Marc Tarpening, co-founder of Tesla Motors and currently also a member of the advisory board at Clearpath Robotics. During the early days, the desire of Tesla founders, including himself, was to become the experts on electric mobility. Hence, they created the Roadster. This product became one of the biggest disruptors in the automobile business. Competitors were slow in responding to this product, since it normally takes 10 years to develop a product in the automotive industry. Tesla developed the Roadster in a very short period of time. What drove them to create this transportation model? In a way, they were solving the problem of CO2 emissions and making the world a better place to live in. They encountered a number of challenges when they built the model, not to mention negative comments from their competitors. Nevertheless, they were relentless in their pursuit to build the model and the ecosystem which can make the model work. Their competitors followed suit in building electric cars but Tesla already had a head start. From this day onward, their desire is to make the world a better place to live in, with the company now undertaking projects in the areas of food, environment, etc.
  4. Danny Lange- VP of AI and Machine Learning of Unity Technologies. He brought the wonders of AI and ML to another level, i.e. to augmented reality and virtual reality for gaming applications. It was amazing to see 3D becoming real scenarios created by machines which can figure out what the next scenes will be. This is an amazing innovation by start-ups that can change the landscape of entertainment. As AR/VR develops, the algorithm allows the personalization of experiences, and Danny is able to capture this to utilize in the entertainment world. He works with PIXAR to create these animated movies.

B. The 3 site visits made a huge impact on me, but I will say that the Innovation Labs of J&J, which houses 29 start-ups in the field of consumer, pharmaceutical and technology, made a lot of sense. The two other site visits involved technology and AI. These 2 site visits were about new frontiers which are driven by AI and machine learning.To scale and sustain business leadership, we should have the mindset of start-ups. This means that innovation must become a strategic imperative of every organization. It has no perfect plan, but new plans can be made as things move along. In terms of mindset, it is important to transform the executives from being supportive bystanders to becoming thought leaders. This means that they have to continue visualizing the future. If they don’t, the business may suffer and become irrelevant. These visits also gave me a lot of insights. For one, there is a need to partner with technology companies who will provide a solid technological foundation for innovation. Second, the innovation process should be simple and speedy. And third, innovation needs leaders who have organizational credibility.

C. The team of professors who were pooled together for this program were also innovators and entrepreneurs who possessed start-up mindsets. They were effective in sharing their knowledge and experiences with the audience. These professors were very impressive with their brilliant minds and relevant innovation experiences. To mention a few:

  1. Ikhlaq Sidhu- Chief Scientist and Founding Director of UC Berkeley’s Sutardja Center for Entrepreneurship & Technology. He also founded the Fung Institute for Engineering Leadership.
  2. Jocelyn Weber- Director for the Executive Program, who delivers a pedagogy that is unique to Berkeley and Silicon Valley.
  3. Gigi Wang- Chairwoman of Berkeley Method of Entrepreneurship. She is the Chair Emeritus of the Stanford Venture Lab, and sits in the advisory board of many companies.
  4. Dawn Song- Founder of Oasis Labs, and was able to raise $45M to build a “privacy-first” cloud computing platform with blockchain technology.
  5. Alex Ojala- Research Director, Data-X Lab of Sutardja Center. This Lab strives to bridge academia and industry. He also founded the Blockchain Lab.

We were also tasked to come up with an innovation project using ML, AI and other technologies. Our team worked on Machine learning powered recruitment. This project focused on how AI and machine learning can be applied in recruitment. Our project won the nod of 5 judges as the best project. I credit this award to the team members who helped make this happen, namely Umesh Chhatre, Senior Director of Software Dev Engineering, AOL/Oath Inc, Dulles VA; Liwen Sun, Partner at Idmed, China; Axel Tuchlenski, VP Product & Application Development at Lanxess, Germany; and Maria Lindstroem, lecturer and academic coordinator for Business Economics and Business Administration at Roskilde University, Copenhagen. Many thanks for their tireless efforts to solve a problem which was very close to my heart.

Overall, the program exceeded my expectations. This program opened a lot of possibilities not only for me but also for my company, John Clements, who sponsored this educational trip. Without any doubt, we can alter our destiny and change our course as a recruitment leader in the Philippines.

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About the author:

Grace C. Sorongon was the 2013 President of People Management Association of the Philippines. She has been working with John Clements Consultants for more than three decades now. She is a Senior Vice President and is in charge of various corporate projects, steering these projects towards completion. She also manages the operations of Professional Staffers, a business unit within the John Clements group.