Beaver at TechCrunch Disrupt

A few weeks ago I traveled to San Francisco to take in 2 days of the TechCrunch Disrupt conference. TechCrunch is an online technology news and analysis site focusing on startup companies and their products. The conference features some of the most prominent venture capitalists from Silicon Valley and introduces hundreds of new companies.  This year’s speakers included Paul Graham of Y Combinator, Peter Thiel of Clarium Capital, Vinod Khosla of Khosla Ventures, and, yes, Ashton Kutcher, who is an angel investor.

Why did I go?
Sounds pretty interesting, but …what was I doing there?  My previous post covered where we go to find new ideas and get inspired; this conference was one of those stops.  Be assured I did not go just to catch Ashton Kutcher.

What did I learn here?
For starters, I saw some engaging presentation and discussion formats  that we can use for meetings and events here.

I also saw company founders making presentations that can inform the way our students can make “real world” presentations.  One of the features of the conference was Startup Battlefield.  30 companies each had 10 minutes (including tough Q&A) to present their idea to a panel of investors.  The winning company received $50,000 and gained some well deserved recognition and credibility in the startup community. High stakes, 10 minutes … the best of these presentations were highly focused and persuasive.

Another session was Office Hours.  Six companies from Startup Alley (the hall leading into the conference where hundreds of new companies display their products) were chosen at random to go up on stage and had to make a 6 minute pitch to Paul Graham.  Though these companies were chosen at random the best came prepared and stayed right on message.  One young entrepreneur began with, “First let me give you a little background” which prompted Graham to interject, “You have 6 minutes; are you sure you want to do that?”

Again, we can learn something about student presentations from this format.

I was also reminded that just because something is clever does not mean that it is innovative. Peter Thiel (the 20 under 20 guy) sees innovation today as “somewhere between dire straits and dead … People think solving simple problems is innovative. True innovation occurs when problems are hard and valuable” Technology as smoke and mirrors is a waste for all of us.

Vinod Kholsa was articulate about business leaders having (or needing to have) a self interest in the future of education as they look to recruit creative thinkers to their businesses.  He asserted that “education is going to be reinvented” and that sentiment was clearly in the air.  Often I have said that schools that continue to educate students only in conventional linear ways may produce good test scores, but in reality are under educating by preparing them for a world that no longer exists – in Silicon Valley or in Boston.

So … lots to take away … and lots we can apply to Beaver’s 2011-2014 Strategic Priorities.  More on that at the October 14 parent meeting.

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