Blogging from Silicon Valley: Surviving in an Innovative Playground

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On the sixth day our our innovation and intrepreneurship Trip to Silicon Valley, the cohort was back on the road for more exciting visits, group bonding and networking. This time we were off to TechShop and 500 Startups.

500 Startups partner Marvin Liao speaks to students from the Telfer School of Management Executive MBA Class of 2017 during their recent trip to Silicon Valley.

by Amanda Bernier, Scott Johnston, Matt Lundie, Kimberley Marr, Ryan Peatt, Sukri Sharbini

TechShop is a chain of member-based workshops providing clients with the the tools to design and build their own projects.

Its sales director, Andrew Clavo, gave a rundown on the company’s history, its services and the success stories of those who have walked through the doors of the company. The company essentially provides a playground for creative minds where entrepreneurs have access to over $1 million worth of professional tools and software.

Having people of different backgrounds, from material engineers to software developers, under one roof was also supportive to creating an innovative community. Their collaboration improves functionality and designs of prototypes. We saw many creative products, from innovative household gadgets to more sophisticated things like electrical motorcycles and origami kayaks.

Believing that more creative minds should have access to these services, the company set up their workshop in various cities across the United States and will soon go global with ventures in France, UAE, Malaysia and Singapore.

The co-founders predict that this could be the start of a new kind way of how we buy things. Consumer products will become more personalized, original and unique to individuals.

At 500 Startups, we met with one of the partners, Marvin Liao who is originally from Vancouver. Of all the meetings, this was probably the most dynamic, explosive and highly interactive session.

There were insightful views on what to expect in the Valley. He started off with a brief background of himself and the company. After that it was nonstop Q&A with the cohort. What intrigued the team was his delivery style. His responses were concise, precise and extremely frank, a good professional quality thanks to his years of working experience in the Valley. 

He shared his insights that startups are always in survival mode, and there is constant need to continuously learn, innovate and grow as fast as possible. Because slow innovators will sooner or later die, like many of those startups who failed to adopt the Valley culture.

Mr. Liao said finding the right balance in startup teams is very important. They have a better chance of surviving if at least one person is strong with technology and the other with business. This team configuration will ensure that a startup covers its grounds as it moves ahead.  

Mr. Liao's final piece of advice was to understand yourself and follow your passion. He said if you do what you love, money will somehow become part of the equation during your endless pursuit of perfection. Mr. Liao is living proof. In the Valley now for more than 17 years, he’s achieved success doing what he loves, and has done very well.

This article is part of a series on the University of Ottawa's Telfer School of Management Executive MBA annual class trip to the Silicon Valley. The recent trip was part of the EMBA curriculum on "Innovation and Entrepreneurship."


Organizations: Silicon Valley

Geographic location: United States, France, Malaysia Singapore Vancouver

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