Small ideas can help you become a big cheese, Stanford president tells Crown Prince majlis

“My ‘aha’ moment was actually when I saw that the local pizza place in Palo Alto had a website and that you could order a pizza from it. That’s when I knew the internet was going to change the world,” Dr John Hennessy tells the Crown Prince Court.

ABU DHABI // A simple pizza advertisment provided the head of Stanford University with an epiphany about how the internet was going to change the world.

Speaking at the Crown Prince’s Court on Wednesday night, Dr John Hennessy, president of the California university, explained how small ideas turned into companies and industries with significant impact.

In his speech Building an Innovation Ecosystem: Lessons from Stanford and Silicon Valley, Dr Hennessy detailed the rise of the northern California tech hub and how new technology could become not only a single company, but an entire industry.

“My ‘aha’ moment was actually when I saw that the local pizza place in Palo Alto had a website and that you could order a pizza from it. That’s when I knew the internet was going to change the world.”

He stressed how economies needed to build energetic ecosystems backed by universities as the source of innovation.

“Twenty or 30 years ago, long-term research was industry funded. Now, however, we live in an age where we are looking for quarterly success. To fill in that gap, the long-term research happens in universities.”

He suggested that people were the epicentre of a successful industry, and that Stanford aimed to have three main types on its campus: visionaries, explorers and students.

“One of the things we try to do at university is we like living on the edge where our researchers look towards the future for solutions.

“It’s almost like they take a time machine into five years [ahead] then ask what are the opportunities.”

Dr Hennessy described a grass-roots company that bloomed into a worldwide brand.

He showed photos of modems installed across the campus and were capable of transferring information via a local intranet. Based on its success, he said, other universities were asking for the technology.

“Before we knew it, we were running a business from the basement of the computer-science lab in Stanford and that’s when Cisco was born. Dr Hennessy also revisited the theme of people as the single most important factor in innovation.

“Once you find great people you need to empower them,” he said. “Then give them the chance to change the world, encourage smart risk taking. Try to encourage people to do things that are extraordinary.”

nalwasmi@thenational.ae

Published: May 1, 2014 04:00 AM

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