Bob Metcalfe would like to see more student “startupers.”
The inventor of Ethernet, founder of 3COM and a professor of innovation at UT-Austin is on a mission to promote the term “startupery” as a better alternative to entrepreneurship. In a Friday talk here at Texas Tech University, titled “Startupery out of Research Universities,” Metcalfe argued that research universities are better outlets for research and innovation than traditional government labs.
After noting that the Internet was built by startups and not incumbent businesses, Metcalfe described seven components to his model for fostering technological entrepreneurial innovation (which at scale looks like Google, General Electric and IBM). Metcalfe calls the model the Doriot Ecology, which he named after late Gen. Georges Doriot, a Harvard Business professor who is known as the “father of venture capitalism.”
The seven components to the “Doriot model” include:
1)government funding agencies , which fund
2)research professors, who teach
3)students, who are the key vehicles to innovation for they carry new knowledge into the world and connect with or become
4)scaling entrepreneurs, people who know how to build companies (a principal asset of Silicon Valley)
6)strategic partners (established companies that help grow the business and reach of the startup) and
7)early adopters of the technology
While the major U.S. research labs were all established by monopoly businesses, with the Bell Lab held up as the pinnacle of American research and innovation, Metcalfe argues that we should expand the efforts at research universities and not try to recreate the Bell Lab experience.
Universities are better outlets for funding research innovation, according to Metcalfe, because universities are going to compete with each other (as they already do for funding from RFPs) and that they graduate students, who then serve as vehicles of innovation.
Metcalfe also noted the importance of developing technology to serve future customers and not to satsify present trends. He said that “time machines” allowed 3COM to beat its competitors.
“We had been to the future and our competitors had not,” he said. “We knew what to build. Our competitors did not.”
Metcalfe’s company was focused on developing Ethernet to connect personal computers in the early 1980s before personal computers were prevalent and mainstream because he saw future trends from working in the Xerox PARC lab.
Metcalfe also spoke of the travails from taking a product from idea to marketplace, pivoting along the way to meet consumer demands in order to avoid a “valley of death.”
“If you see a valley of death, you are not obligated to go charging into it,” he said. “If you see a valley of death, don’t (go).”
Jodey Arrington, vice chancellor for Research, Commercialization and Federal Relations for the Texas Tech University System said that his office (which sponsored Metcalfe’s talk) would like to create “Silicon Prairie” here in West Texas.
“Our ideas are every bit as good as Stanford and MIT … it’s just a matter of creating a culture (here).”
Of course, several research universities have begun to recognize the importance of “startupery” in the areas of media, journalism and mass communication by offering undergraduate and graduate courses on media entrepreneurship and innovation and developing media incubators, accelerators and hackathons.
Student “startupers” are becoming more commonplace, as evident by the Student Startup Madness competition held annually in conjunction with SXSW. The Student Startup Madness concept was developed by Sean Branagan, director of the Center for Digital Media Entrepreneurship at the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University.
Here at Texas Tech, I’m fortunate to teach a course on Media Entrepreneurship, which is the capstone course among undergraduate Media Strategies majors, here in the College of Media and Communication. My college is committed to fostering “media startupery” and interdisciplinary collaboration and we’ve been buoyed by early student successes.
My university likes to say “from here, it’s possible.” Because he has the benefit of a “time machine,” Metcalfe must know that his vision of “startupery” will certainly become a reality.
Student “startupers” should and will emerge and continue to foster innovation, from Silicon Valley to Silicon Prairie, from coast to coast and points in between.