A bunch of prominent folks in the tech community gathered this past Friday in an edgy San Francisco studio space to talk about something pretty serious: Have entrepreneurs lost the will to innovate?
This handful of people comprised Virgin Group founder Richard Branson, Canva chief evangeliest Guy Kawasaki, Nest chief executive Tony Fadell, Google X vice president Megan Smith, Samasource founder and chief executive Leila Janah, and Cisco vice president of emerging technologies Jim Grubb. They were brought together as part of the Virgin’s “Virgin Disruptors” series of talks.
Along with a few moments of comedy (such as Guy Kawasaki describing the Maker Faire as “Burning Man for geeks”) the conversation was overall a combination of genuine belief in and support of things like local entrepreneurs, social entrepreneurship, and creating environments that foster these things, and a sense that this may just be a feel-good discussion that will remain just that — a discussion.
Although the conversation lasted over an hour and half, a few comments did stand out, such as Branson’s thought that innovation can’t really happen “if you don’t have really good regulations for startups to enable them to do it,” and Janah adding that “smartly designed regulation can actually help innovation.”
On topics relating to social issues, they also shared some surprising viewpoints.
“Drugs should be treated as a health problem, not a criminal problem,” said Branson. He also pointed out, “If you are wealthy and you have a problem and you go to court … you can pay the bail, and you’re free,” though that’s not a given for people with little money at all.
“If we really believe that [everyone has an inherent worth] then so many of the institutions we’ve built out in the last centuries need to be completely demolished,” said Janah, whose company connects people, especially women and youth, with tech-related jobs such as data entry that can help them attain a higher standard of living.
“I think of it as a responsibility. Once you’ve attained a certain level [of success], you have to go back and try to help,” Fadell added.
While Smith passionately spoke about women multiple times throughout the conversation, she also reminded everyone, “The first computer scientists in America were six women.”
But it was Grubb who delivered the most subtle yet striking point of the morning when he said, “As the entrepreneurs, we have the responsibility to do the right thing with … data.” Ironically, he was sitting right next to Fadell, whose company Google acquired in January, raising a lot of questions as to whether Google would gain access to Nest’s customer data.
Below is the video of the entire discussion, which we highly recommend you watch: