Last Friday I had the privilege to attend the dedication event of the new Rice Center for Engineering Leadership. What an exciting new center, dedicated to helping engineering students identify and solve the world’s most pressing problems. How I wish something like this had existed back when I was a Rice engineering student! The event was an excellent opportunity to reconnect with the engineering school, former professors, and other alumni.
Perhaps most exciting was the address by legendary venture capitalist John Doerr. After beginning his talk by asking the audience what we wanted him to address (a tactic I love), he used that feedback to focus 45 minutes on his thoughts regarding Rice, engineering, careers, the environment, and technology.
At several points during his talk, I couldn’t help but feel like Doerr’s words were meant specifically for me. To start with, the talk took place in the McMurtry Auditorium of Duncan Hall, the very room in which Nobel Laureate Richard Smalley‘s “Be a Scientist; Save the World” talk inspired me to quest for ways to use IT entrepreneurship to work toward a better energy future. Also, Doerr was an Electrical Engineering major from Lovett College, just as I was. After a brief stint as an engineer, Doerr branched into sales, finance, and other aspects of business, just as I did. These similarities combined to create a feeling of connection for me.
Doerr addressed emphatic evidence of man-made climate change and warned of the massive gap between the developed and population-booming developing world. He talked of healthcare, water, and democracy but he contended that ultimately energy is the keystone that must be addressed. I agree.
He challenged the audience–especially the students–to come up with innovative ways to produce, transmit, and use energy. Again, I agree–I have devoted my professional career to it. He espoused the Silicon Valley mantra of “shots on goal,” an admission that many such ventures will probably fail to induce massive change but we have to take those shots to ensure that eventually some of them score.
This mentality is part of what motivates me every morning: even if Smart Office Energy Solutions were to fail spectacularly, we would have helped advance the state of the art such that the next shot has an even greater chance of reaching its mark. Of course I believe that Smart OES will succeed, rather than fail, spectacularly but it is encouraging to hear words of encouragement from someone older, cleverer, and much more successful than I. More pointedly it is encouraging when such words come from a really “big deal” investor while we are in the midst of our new capital raise!
Of course Doerr’s words weren’t meant for me per se, but everything in them seemed to say to me, “Keep at it; you’re on the right track!” Being an entrepreneur can sometimes be a lonely, frustrating exercise–especially when you are as extroverted and impatient as I am! “Success,” however you define it, always seems to be just an inch further than you can reach or just a step further on the path than is illuminated. As such, Doerr’s words fell on receptive, re-encouraged ears.