The Stanford Turn

There was a somewhat cheeky piece in the New Yorker on Stanford recently, which suggested it was now just a tech incubator with a football team, and not a true university anymore. Last week, I spent a heady couple of days there. After this little visit, I’m thinking Stanford is just the place to rethink the logic of the modern university and how it relates with the private sector.

I had an incredible schedule of back-to-back-to-back meetings with students, faculty and administrators, and gave a small talk. Every student and faculty member I met was involved in some kind of start-up activity, or was looking to disrupt and change the way things were being done in one or another sector. Professors told me about major new companies they were involved in building — not minor side consulting gigs, but serious start-up projects. One professor told me about a class in user-experience design he’d been teaching where each set of student teams had to build an actual website. One team had begun earning revenues of fifty thousand dollars by the fifth week of the course. At that point he advised them to drop out, incorporate, run with the new entity or then cash out and come back to Stanford at some point in the future. That’s the kind of entrepreneurial energy this school gives off, all connected with and feeding off the backdrop of Silicon Valley, no doubt.

I met a bunch of people for different purposes, cross-cutting the Adianta School and the Bihar Innovation Lab and to a lesser extent CKS. After the fold, I offer an account of those meetings and conversations.

Before heading out to Stanford, I had a conversation with Anurag Mairal over the phone. We talked about the possibility of offering an internship or fellowship to the BIL for Stanford-India Biodesign Fellowship applicants who failed to win. We also discussed the Adianta School Global Summer Program.

My first meeting on campus was lunch with Michele Barry of the Center for Innovation in Global Health. We talked about student internship opportunities at the Bihar Innovation Lab: 3 months, 9 months. She has since checked around and has written me saying there was some interest, and i should more specifically describe the entailments of such an internship program and the kinds of affiliation we might need to set up in order to make that happen.

James Patell and i had an interesting encounter. After a wide ranging conversation he invited us to get back to him once the Bihar Innovation Lab was completely set up in order that we might see if we can become a partner for his course. This was somewhat unexpected for me, but could be a good opportunity. We will get back to him once BIL is completely set up and incorporated.

in the corridors I met briefly Yossi Feinberg of the GSB who is running a short program in Bangalore beginning in August. We had an interesting chat about the Adianta School and how we might learn from some of the touchy-feely stuff that the GSB has gotten good at. He invited me to visit his cohort out in Bangalore.

That evening I met with Riku Makela of the Finnish sci-tech agency Tekes. He has a Bay Area background and is working behind the scenes with CKS and the Worldbank Institute on our proposed Summer School on Innovation for Emerging Economies. This was not a Stanford meeting per se, but it dovetailed with other conversations I had while I was there. Riku is a big fan of the valley and its energy, which he channels and embodies even when he is in New Delhi, where he is usually located.

On my second day i met with Raj Doshi of Stanford Biodesign, perhaps one of the highlights of the two days. He has a killer sense of humor, and we spent our time talking about the ecosystem deficiencies of the Indian context and how that inhibits medtech innovation. We will meet up again in July when he’s over and we’ll try to find ways to loop Stanford India Biodesign into the BIL-Adianta nexus. There were many ideas that we bounced around, all to be continued in Delhi.

I then met with Ritu Kamal, also of Stanford India Biodesign and talked about the limn between health services innovation and medical devices innovation, and the prospect that a BIL-SIB kind of alliance on that topic could be interesting. She was open to finding ways to open out the BIL fellowships to Stanford students, perhaps particularly undergraduates. I think we need to specify more precisely what we can offer them and what we’re expecting of them, perhaps for example a peer-reviewed publication or at least a paper that comes out of their time in india.

Viji Jagannathan hosted me for a talk at the Venture Studio, a cool interactive space situated within the GSB. An interesting assortment of folks showed up, mostly B-schoolers with an India focus or a health innovation connection. They were very easy to talk with at a very high level, i found. Every person there was thinking about a startup idea, many folks were trying to change the ecology in a large and critical way.

I met with Lesley Sept over lunch to talk about SEED, the Stanford Institute for Innovation in Developing Economies. Her take was that there are interesting alignments with what we’ve got going on, but perhaps we need to be further along before we consider a formal alignment with that outfit. Perhaps SEED also needs to better understand what it can and cannot do in a region like ghana before it begins thinking about India.

Banny Bannerjee and i have known each other since at least 2007, but we’ve had little opportunity to actually sit down and talk. We got that time here, but we didn’t maybe get to a clear point at which we know how we might collaborate further in future. There’s a Design Public Conclave we’re planning to do in early February in New Delhi, which could be a means for us to connect with his Changelabs concept.

That night i caught the redeye to New York for a morning meeting with Adianta School advisor and NYU provost Arjun Appadurai. I’ve been on the go since, with meetings at Rockefeller and Acumen, all focused on our Summer School in New Delhi on Innovation for Emerging Economies. But through the week, I haven’t stopped talking about Stanford and how it has up-ended the traditional model and operational style of the american university. My sense is that it will serve as the paradigm for the future transformation of every other business and professional school in the country and the rest of the world.

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