Education and Innovation Key to Silicon Valley’s Competitive Edge

Apr262011

Repeated over and over during the 8th Annual CEO Business Climate Summit were two important topics for the future success of high tech companies in California — an educated workforce and innovation.

Applied Materials chairman and CEO, Mike Splinter (left), Facebook chief operating officer, Sheryl Sandberg (second from left), Governor of the State of California, Jerry Brown (center), and SunPower CEO, Tom Werner (second from right), joined a panel discussion moderated by Barbara Marshman (right), editorial page editor at the San Jose Mercury News, to exchange ideas on how to strengthen California’s economy and business climate.

The conversation was part of a half-day summit held at IBM Research Center and organized by the Silicon Valley Leadership Group. The event brought together the region’s top CEOs, senior officials and elected officials for an in-depth analysis and discussion on ways to work together to strengthen California and the nation’s competitiveness in a global economy.

Education

The Silicon Valley has always been reliant on an educated workforce, including people recruited from other areas, but what the state needs is a homegrown workforce. Facebook COO, Sheryl Sandberg agreed, “In order to turn out the engineers that companies like mind need… we have to have basic math and science in the schools from the beginning. So that when people get to the university, they are prepared not just to study, but to study the advanced technology we need them to know.”

Applied Materials invests in innovative solutions to increase access of students to high-quality education opportunities and experiences. We focus on core academic subjects and provide resources to aid in teacher and student achievement. As part of this effort, we support a charter school in San Jose, Calif., and we see our approach working. We see the scores going up, we can see the results. A well educated workforce in math, science and engineering will get the high paying jobs in Silicon Valley at companies like Facebook and Applied Materials.

Innovation

Jon Iwata, executive vice president at IBM kicked-off the summit with opening remarks reflecting on the company’s 100 years of innovation, bold risks and transformative breakthroughs.

The early IBM Company built its foundation in part by the punch card. In its day, the punch card was a radical innovation. In fact, at one time, one third of the company’s profits came from the production of the cards.

In 1937 IBM’s customers were consuming 5-10 million paper cards every day. As much as they needed this technology, they were becoming very unhappy with it. The innovation that radically changed this industry didn’t come from IBM or its competitors; it came from a very unlikely place – Bing Crosby.

In 1947 Crosby broadcasted the first pre-recorded radio program using magnetic tape. Soon after, IBM brought to market the first commercially successful magnetic drive. Though great technology, customers were reluctant to adopt it because it was so innovative and different.

There is a big difference between introducing even obviously superior technology and the additional work of building up the confidence and trust with stakeholders. This is a critical lesson that IBM has learned over the course of 100 years that they’ve been in business.

The moral of the story: It’s one thing to enter a market and a very different thing to make a market. It is necessary to capture and stimulate economic opportunity and invest in the education of the market itself to have a successful product.

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