LET’S NOT FORGET THE “HARD BUT ESSENTIAL” ENTREPRENEURIAL INITIATIVES!

I have been frustrated for some time with the high level of “noise-hype” in Silicon Valley about social media and the so-called ”disruptive technology” start-ups. The noise has abated a little – but only a little – since the Facebook IPO debacle. Yet one still opens the Business Section of the San Jose Mercury News to find one story or another of “wunderkinden,” aged 25 or less, unleashing “earth-shaking” startups with enormous growth prospects and stratospheric potential valuations. And this phenomenon is not limited only to the local press. The New York Times seems to have a similar tendency to regularly “feature” such up-and-coming high tech companies.

To be fair, I acknowledge that I tend to be somewhat “old school” and am therefore struggling to be “in the flow” with the social media revolution. I am, however, starting to appreciate social media’s significance as a powerful vehicle for communication, marketing and connectivity, as well as the remarkable flexibility represented by interlinking technologies such as cloud computing being implemented by many of the companies with which I am involved. I certainly do not want to discourage any entrepreneurial efforts, as they are the life-blood both of the young and of our economy.

But I am concerned by a seeming lack of balance. Our world’s population is growing at a frightening pace. We need an injection of innovation to produce enough food, clean water, energy and health services to survive. These industries require entrepreneurship just as much as do our pure-play high tech efforts. I want to see as much enthusiasm about starting (and financing!) a new solar photovoltaic cell concept or a novel targeted disease therapy as I want to see another clever App – maybe even more, especially when it comes to game Apps. Our young university graduates must be encouraged to deploy their creative juices in new ventures in the engineering and science-based industries in spite of the fact that they will take years to develop and millions of dollars to commercialize. The motivation should be to make a significant impact in the world, not merely near-term financial gratification.

This is one reason that I have agreed to put together an entrepreneurship course with biotech executive Howie Rosen for this Fall at Stanford University. The course will focus on capital-intensive, long-development/lead-time industries with high intellectual property content, such as biotech, bio-engineering, material science and energy. It will be offered to senior and graduate level Engineering students and to participants in the Stanford Center for Professional Development. It is intended to complement the many excellent “high tech” courses that Stanford offers in both the Engineering and Business Schools.

The need for innovation in the “hard but essential” industries has come home very clearly to me during these last few weeks. I had the privilege to serve as a mentor to an outstanding and inspirational group of Third World entrepreneurs in the 10th Anniversary Class of the Santa Clara University Global Social Benefit Incubator (GSBI.) I wrote about this critical initiative in my August 26, 2011 post titled “The Pleasure of Combining Entrepreneurial Experience with Social Impact.” The current cohort of 20 entrepreneurs comes from a broad range of nations in Asia, Africa and Latin America. They serve the poorest four billion citizens of this earth, the “Base of the Pyramid.” Their initiatives are characterized by a deep social purpose coupled with a drive to be self-sustaining and scalable. They spent nine months in an often grueling qualifying effort to be considered for the in-residence program just completed a few weeks ago. Once the cohort has been reduced from 180 applicants to 20 winners (a process that takes about four months), each winner is paired with two Silicon Valley executives who serve as mentors. Mentors and social entrepreneurs are then engaged in a series of tasks to build and refine their business plans. The effort culminates in a two-week, in-residence boot camp comprised of classes and working sessions that produce a business plan good enough to pitch to potential investors. The description of the “Class of 2012” makes for inspiring reading.

What struck me about this year’s group is that innovation does not pertain only to new products. Some does, to be sure, in particular as designs are tailored to the true needs of the local customer base, needs which are seldom met by our more advanced and complex products in the developed world. But more impressive to me was to see the innovations in other aspects of the product life cycle, such as in creative distribution approaches to serve the market. This is especially important in the very difficult last mile, where our social entrepreneurs labor under political and logistical circumstances that would challenge the best among us!

So I want to encourage our eager young university students, when they consider their careers, to tackle the exciting and essential initiatives needed to create potable water, clean energy, plentiful food and better health care for this world. And if the entrepreneurial spirit calls, take the plunge – even if the journey to success takes years, not just months, and requires Malcolm Gladwell’s ”10,000 hours”, not just a flash of an idea and a quick 12-month development cycle. (See my Dec 1, 2010 post “Are Your Start-up Ideas Good Enough?)

THE STEVE JOBS PARADOX

On October 5, 2011 Steve Jobs died. When hearing the news I was deeply saddened. Tears came to my eyes, even though I had never met the man. So what caused this emotional response? What touched me to impart such a sense of loss? It was clearly not the loss of a personal relationship, nor the news of a sudden, unexpected tragedy that befell a fellow human being. So what thoughts triggered my sadness? In the end it boils down to the close connection between a person and a product. I love my MacBook Air, my iPhone, my iPad. I also love my Audi, my Bose sound system, my sailboat – yet I cannot imagine “grieving” for their progenitors. And yet I grieve for the person I associate with the Apple products that I cherish.

So I immediately dove into Isaacson’s biography of Steve. I wanted to get closer to the man behind my emotional response. And I came out quite troubled.

I knew something of Steve’s life, of course. It could not be helped having lived in Silicon Valley for the last four decades. In fact, the more I read the more I was struck by how closely “our” paths had touched: my children went to the same middle school and high school as Steve, though a few years later. My professional life as an entrepreneur was impacted by some of the same people that influenced Steve:  Regis McKenna, who in the 70s spent many days with me and my partner Jim Cusumano, musing over how to position our company in what was then a brand new concept; Larry Sonsini, our company’s attorney since the early 80s; Tommy Davis Jr., whose venture firm was an early investor in Apple and also our lead investor in the early 80s. Steve and I even had an affinity for the same little Ryokan in Kyoto — the Tawaraya Inn — one of my favorite spots when I did business in Japan in the 1970s and 1980s. But the Steve who emerged from Isaacson’s book is a very different Steve from my image at that moment when I grieved for his passing. The Steve that emerged raises many questions in my entrepreneurial mind.

First, I want to list the things that I admire, which certainly fit with my idea of what makes a good entrepreneur:

  • His uncompromising belief in quality – inside out
  • His insistence that product comes first, not profit
  • His attitude to never be afraid of cannibalizing your own products; if you do not, someone else will
  • His attitude to leapfrog when you find yourself behind, not just catch up – or give up
  • His belief in cross-skill teams and the intimate participation of all departments — design, hardware, software, content — very anti-silo.
  • His insistence on focusing the company on a few key products
  • His uncanny ability to sense what the market needed well before the market knew it (I love his reference to Henry Ford, who said, — “If I asked customers what they wanted, they would have told me, a faster horse!”)
  • His keen sense of pricing of the “consumer” products he created, displayed as early as the illegal “blue box” that he and Steve Wozniak built to make long distance calls for free
  • His sense of aesthetics and simplicity – epitomized for me in the MacBook Air
  • His passionate pursuit of a product vision
  • His stubborn perseverance

Now to the troubling part: his behavior toward others. The picture that emerges from Isaacson’s book is of a person who seems to care only about his immediate agenda, and “used” everyone around him to achieve his goals. Even if only some of what we read is true, it portrays someone who has very little concern for the humanity and dignity of others, unless they serve his purpose. This bothers me deeply: I think it is the wrong template for a good entrepreneur.  In particular, something that really troubles me: he is reported to first dismiss people’s ideas and then resurface them later, without attribution. For me, this is totally unacceptable in a good leader. In this and other examples, he appears to disregard what most of us consider basic standards of behavior in a civilized society –what arrogance!

In my book I write:

“The tension between hubris and humility is one of the most serious personal dilemmas faced by the entrepreneur. Hubris, the point at which self-confidence turns into conceit, can be a trap in which we lose our bearings, with destructive consequences not just for ourselves but also for many others. To keep in balance we need to maintain a spiritual anchor and manifest that core in our moral and ethical behavior.”

I am not sure Steve Jobs ever had any bearings. His own family, when commenting on why he was so “mean” to others, is reported to have said that ““he lacked the filter.” Certainly not a very Zen-like balance. As Isaacson said: “Unfortunately, his Zen training never produced in him a Zen-like calm or inner serenity.”

And yet this complex person was able to tune so directly into the essence of products that we could not imagine before they were in front of us, but once we touched them we would say “of course, we knew it all along!”  This single mindedness raises some powerful questions:

  • Are all extraordinary people so focused that they cannot relate to those around them in any way but the one that serves their focus? Mozart was a genius who left an indelible legacy. From what I gather, he also was not a very nice person, and had the habit of deriding those around him with a vast superiority complex. Perhaps that is not surprising. Mozart was a young genius who was never allowed to grow up in a normal way. Did Jobs have a normal childhood? He was certainly precocious:  at 13 he called Bill Hewlett and landed a summer job! Is it surprising that he never lost the child within–the good, the bad, the immature?
  • Was the price of “strewn bodies” worth the gain of these delightful products that so many of us cherish?
  • Is ruthlessness a desirable trait in the service of a product vision? Isaacson: “The nasty edge to his personality was not necessary. It hindered him more than it helped him. But it did, at times, serve a purpose.”
  • Jobs was described by many of his co-workers as having a  “distorted reality.” To what extent did this serve the purpose of achieving the seemingly impossible? (I should listen to myself; I suspect some of my colleagues thought I had a distorted reality as I drove our companies to uncharted territory…)
  • How safe is it, in the long run, to have a CEO who does not believe that the rules apply to him? Many companies eventually collapse from this belief, as some have in the last decade…

Apple’s story is perhaps the extreme example of lessons we all should heed:

  • Apple seemed to be a very tense and competitive environment; one might even call it cut throat (certainly they cut the throat of those whom Steve considered to be “B” players.) Could they have succeeded with a more humane executive?
  • I cannot imagine building a company with an attitude that one day derides an idea as “junk” and the next day comes forth with the same idea as if it were that of the lead executive, not giving credit to the person who originally posed the idea. That is revolting to me. Yet, it was a pattern for Jobs. That people tolerated this is amazing. It calls for a re-definition of being genuine…
  • Toward the end of his life, Steve shared with Isaacson some final thoughts, including, “The reason Apple resonates with people is that there is a deep current of humanity in our inventions.” What was Steve’s definition of “humanity?” Did he really understand the concept? Or did he see only a small sliver of what makes us human?

In the end, Jobs was very lucky that he found people who would follow him in spite of his abrasive personality. And the rest of us enjoy reaping the fruits of his idiosyncrasies. I abide my tears upon hearing of his passing, even after reflecting on some of the less-than-commendable traits of this extraordinary and complex individual. I love my Apple products, and hope that they will keep coming, without loss of humanity either in their ultimate manifestation or in the process of their making.

A Brief Post-Script:

It is ironic that the company which inspired Jobs in his early years, Hewlett Packard, was founded and led by two individuals who were the antithesis of Steve. In fact, their management style became the template for many of us who became entrepreneurs: “The HP Way.” Also interesting: HP lost its bearings after its founders were gone. Ominous?

THE SERIAL ENTREPRENEUR’S FIXATION: EXIT STRATEGIES. BOTH ARE NON-SEQUITURS

Would you trust your money to somebody who is solely thinking of a serial-exit? I doubt it. I certainly would not. And, yet, “serial” and “exit” are frequently used – sometimes proudly – by so many in the venture community.

Let’s start with “serial.”

How often have you heard attendees at business gatherings introduce themselves as “serial entrepreneurs?”  I have witnessed it with increasing frequency, and every time I shudder. To me, the terms serial and entrepreneur do not belong together. They violate the essence of an entrepreneur: his or her total dedication to the enterprise. You want the entrepreneur to be fully consumed by the dream, and to vest in the journey a level of emotional intensity that does not leave room for second thoughts. The real entrepreneur is in it fully. This complete emotional investment represents the key difference between just being a good leader and being a good entrepreneur. The former does not require the totality of commitment, the latter does. So, the real entrepreneur would not view his or her avocation as “serial” since there is no thought of “leaving” but only of building. Which brings me to “exit.”

A favorite question of venture capitalists is “what is your exit strategy?” Again, another non-sequitur. The entrepreneur should be ONLY thinking of growth and impact, not of when or how to get out. Of course, it is OK to talk about a liquidity strategy. That is part and parcel of the capital formation task of any venture, since most sources of capital require definition of cash-out conditions. But that has nothing to do with “exit.” Unless, of course, the investor is worried about the entrepreneur’s capability to lead as the enterprise grows. A very different – and good – problem, as it implies enough success to warrant new leadership skills that the entrepreneur may or may not have.

THE BOARD MEMBER’S VOYAGE: A SAILOR’S CHALLENGE

“On a bright, sunny day you can set your course on a landfall five miles away from you and sail right to it. But in the fog, you make your way by paying close attention to all the things immediately around you: the deep roll of the sea swells as you enter open ocean, the pungent scent of spruce boughs, or the livelier tempos of the waves as you approach land. You find your way by being sensitively and sensuously connected to exactly where you are, by letting ‘here’ reach out and lead you. You will not learn that in the navigation courses, of course. But it is part of the local knowledge that all the fishermen and natives use to steer by. You know you belong to a place when you can find your way home by feel.”

A friend recently shared this passage from Episcopal priest Cynthia Bourgeault’s book Mystical Hope. It is a lovely analogy describing the duality of consciousness that we can employ to chart a course to the same destination, yet experience the journey in entirely different manners. As Ms. Bourgeault further tells us,

“While egoic thinking is like sailing by reference to where you are not – by what is out there and up ahead – spiritual awareness is like navigating by reference to where you are. It is a way of “thinking” at a much more visceral level of yourself – responding to subtle intimations of presence too delicate to pick up at your normal level of awareness.”

It is navigating by reference to where you are in the moment, using less obvious cues to find your way, cues that, as she points out elsewhere, “emerge like a sea swell from the ground of your being once you relax and allow yourself to belong deeply to the picture.”

Applicable to so many aspects of my life, and such a good a metaphor for a sailor…

I have been thinking about this duality of approach in the context of my Board work. As a director, my key responsibility is to focus on the sight five miles out, which is natural for me as I am always seeking the “big picture,” and believe I can help pilot us toward our objective. Yet I also have this inclination to respond to what I believe I am sensing as the more detailed and subtle currents and patterns of the moment. When this happens, I need to remind myself that I am only sensing a small fraction of the real churning of the waters and the sudden shifts in the wind patterns. There is only one person that feels the fullness of the moment, and that is the real navigator — the CEO. When it comes to these “realities and intimations of the moment,” I have to remind myself that I am not the pilot now. I was once, and loved it. Now I am the coach; I am the teacher; I am the mentor. Not the captain. What I see is only a part of the canvas, maybe only the echoes of land we are about to touch rather than the full force of the trials and tribulations of the running of a business. This puts my “action orientation” to the test, requiring me to have faith that much good is happening and there is a very competent captain on board. It forces me to step fully into the “unknown.” And even though I dedicated a full chapter to this practice in my book, I am still learning to be comfortable there. It teaches me to be humble, remaining present even in the fog. Hopefully I will also add at times some of my wisdom to seeing subtleties in the fog that may be missed by others.

The Bourgeault passages that my friend shared inspired me to read the entire book, and in it I discovered a depth that is only hinted at in the sailing metaphor. Here is a sampling:

“…I saw how time – all our times – are contained in something bigger: a space that is none other than Mercy itself. The fullness (or ‘end’) of time becomes this space: a vast, gentle wilderness in which all possible outcomes – all our little histories, past, present, and future; all our hopes and dreams – are already contained and, mysteriously, already fulfilled.”

“If only we could understand this more deeply! If only we could see and trust that all our ways of getting there, all our courses over time – our good deeds, our evil deeds, our regrets, our compulsive choosings and the fallout from those choosings, our things left undone and paths never actualized – are quietly held in an exquisite fullness that simply poises in itself, then pours itself out in a single glance of the heart. If we could only glimpse that, even for an instant, then perhaps we would be able to sense the immensity of love that seeks to meet us at the crossroads of the Now, when we yield ourselves entirely to it.”

The concept that “all possible outcomes – all our little histories, past, present, and future; all our hopes and dreams – are already contained and, mysteriously, already fulfilled” is profound. Delving deeply into it is beyond the scope of this post – and my own depth of understanding of this topic. But I encourage you to dive in. To tease your interest, I suggest you consider Bourgeault’s words in the context of some of the newest thinking on quantum wave-particle duality and its relationship to consciousness…

“Central to the theory of quantum physics is that all matter exhibits the properties of both particles and waves. This central concept is called the wave-particle duality. It is also universally agreed that waves of quantum objects are waves of possibility.
Each measurement causes a change in the state of matter “from a wave of possibilities to a particle of actuality”. This change is called the collapse of the wave function. In simple terms, this is the reduction of all the possibilities of the wave aspect into the temporary certainty of the particle aspect.”

God is Not Dead, Amit Goswami

Or, ponder literary references…

Time present and time past
Are both perhaps present in time future,
And time future contained in time past.
If all time is eternally present
All time is unredeemable.
What might have been is an abstraction
Remaining a perpetual possibility
Only in a world of speculation.
What might have been and what has been
Point to one end, which is always present.

— The Four Quartets, T.S. Elliot

Rich food for thought and contemplation, these concepts, and while they may be elusive, they are important to many of our actions. As Board members, they challenge us to impact the journey of others in our charge while letting the tiller be handled by those closer to the day-to-day action.

Note: A good summary of the quantum-mechanical concepts as they related to what has become known as “Quantum Consciousness” can be found in my friend James Cusumano’s book, Cosmic Consciousness (Prague: Fortuna, 2011)

THE PLEASURE OF COMBINING ENTREPRENEURIAL EXPERIENCE WITH SOCIAL IMPACT

My posts are triggered by events that grab my attention. I recently attended one of those events. On August 18, 2011, I participated in a day-long session at Santa Clara University, where 18 young entrepreneurs summarized their business plans. What made this event unusual is that all were from abroad and had, as their underlying missions, plans to create value for their communities. They are part of a growing Social Entrepreneurship movement that serves the “Base of the Pyramid.”

If you had mentioned the terms “Social Entrepreneurship” or “Base of the Pyramid (BoP)” a few years ago, I would have had no idea what you were talking about. Today I find myself increasingly intrigued by what they represent, and increasingly enthusiastic about applying my business background to something that could be world transforming. Do I have your attention?

My good friend Allen Hammond put this whole topic in perspective in his 2007 study, “The Next 4 Billion: Market Size and Business Strategy at the Base Of The Pyramid.” From his introduction:

“Four billion low-income people, a majority of the world’s population, constitute the base of the economic pyramid. New empirical measures of their behavior as consumers and their aggregate purchasing power suggest significant opportunities for market-based approaches to better meet their needs, increase their productivity and incomes, and empower their entry into the formal economy. The 4 billion people at the base of the economic pyramid (BOP) — all those with annual incomes below $3,000 in local purchasing power — live in relative poverty. Their incomes in current U.S. dollars are less than $3.35 a day in Brazil, $2.11 in China, $1.89 in Ghana, and $1.56 in India. Yet together they have substantial purchasing power: the BOP constitutes a $5 trillion global consumer market.”

The essence of the social entrepreneurship concept is that while the fundamental mission is to help the BoP, many accomplish this by creating for-profit, sustainable and scalable businesses. This gives them the opportunity for growth and the potential to access capital markets. Perhaps the best example is Al’s own initiative, eHealthPoint, a for-profit social enterprise aimed at transforming healthcare in rural parts of the world by building community-scale water treatment facilities and rural clinics electronically linked to urban doctors. It is a concept that Al had considered for many years, going back to 2006. Then in 2008, while attending a meeting at Santa Clara similar to the one I recently attended, he met an Indian entrepreneur and together they refined the idea and launched the pilot phase. It soon blossomed into an intense initiative that has been very successful at raising financing and proving the concept. The numbers speak for themselves: in one Indian state alone, their clinics have performed over 13,000 diagnostic tests, conducted more than 25,000 medical consultations, filled in excess of 32,000 prescriptions, and the organization has also provided 22 million gallons of safe drinking water. Remember, this is NOT a philanthropic effort, this is a for-profit social venture that is serving the Base of the Pyramid!

A number of organizations are helping these social entrepreneurs. The foremost are Ashoka, a support and networking organization where Al Hammond serves as Senior Leader, and the Santa Clara University Center for Science, Technology and Society in Silicon Valley, focused on mentoring and incubating social entrepreneurs. I joined the latter’s Advisory Board earlier this year.

On August 18, I had the pleasure of serving on one of the Review Panels of the most recent group of entrepreneurs being mentored by Santa Clara. They presented their business plans at the 9th Annual Meeting of the Global Benefit Social Incubator. The 18 participants span more than eight countries on five continents and serve eight industrial sectors. To excite your interest, examples include:

➢ Thermogenn, Coolers for off-grid rural Uganda to permit small dairy farmers improve the marketing for their milk.
➢ Angaza Design, solar powered LED lights to replace kerosene lamps in East Africa. Very interesting cellular billing model.
➢ Kopo Kopo Inc. Expands mobile financing services to the “last mile” in Sub-Sahara Africa.

In a previous post (April 14: Entrepreneurship Abroad Is Alive And Well – With A Strong Social Context) I shared my experience judging a competition of business concepts at the 12th Annual Global Social Venture Competition (GSVC) at the Lester Center for Entrepreneurship of the University of California at Berkeley. That was my first face-to-face experience with an equally impressive cohort. In the Santa Clara case, rather than a competition, the effort is focused on mentoring and nurturing these budding social entrepreneurs through interaction with faculty, students and Silicon Valley mentors. More than 150 applicants from around the world submitted their companies for consideration. All of them were then coached by a group of Santa Clara Business School students under the direction of their entrepreneurship professor, Eric Carlson. They received help in sharpening their value propositions, target market segmentation, and business models. Subsequently, through a series of interviews by several Santa Clara Business School faculty, 18 were chosen to participate in the Incubator program. Each invitee was matched with 2 Silicon Valley mentors and attended a two-week residence program at the university. The August 18 event was the culmination of the process. Summaries of their businesses can be found in the following link: GSBI 2011 Cohort. I encourage you to read them, although words cannot adequately describe the energy, creativity and enthusiasm conveyed in person by these young entrepreneurs.

The expectation is that the process not only allows the entrepreneurs to enhance their plans, but also guides them to ideas that would improve both the sustainability and scalability of their ventures. Also, through exposure to Silicon Valley mentors and Santa Clara faculty, they are introduced to financing alternatives consistent with both their for-profit and social objectives. This is a very important and evolving part of the process. If you are interested, I direct you to an excellent study released a few weeks ago by Santa Clara in conjunction with the Aspen Network of Development Entrepreneurs: Coordinating Impact Capital, and a recent article by the Santa Clara Center’s CEO, Thane Kreiner, in XConomy.com where he highlight the challenges and the opportunities in creating capital formation structures for this important and transformational business opportunity.

ESSENTIAL CONNECTIONS: THE LEADERSHIP TOUCH

I do not know whether it is that I am getting old (a welcome fact) or soft (some may argue that on the human side I have always been) but I have been sensitive to touch lately. In my role as a member of the Board of Directors for several public companies and one academic center, I observe many chief executives and their senior teams. I marvel at the differences in how these accomplished individuals interact with their various constituents, particularly noticing those who are exercising leadership and those who are merely managing others. The difference can often be seen in how they connect: how they “touch.”

Two very concrete situations come to mind, involving two different organizations. In both of these cases, after reviewing presentations for an upcoming Board meeting, I shared by e-mail some brief observations with the CEO. One CEO immediately sent back a short note: “good comments, thank you.” I never heard back from the other. One touched me back; the other did not. Which case do you think made me feel better? Of course, there are many possible reasons why the second one did not respond. Too busy; never saw my e-mail; my observations not relevant. The latter was unlikely, since I did subsequently send the same comments to the Board Chair, and they were very positively received. But that is not the point. The point is that in one case there was closure of the interaction; none in the other. The first created an enrichment of the relationship; the second left a void. It was no big deal in the grand scheme of things, yet it was one of those subtle instances that to me differentiates good leadership.

Perhaps some CEOs think that we Board members do not need to be “touched.” After all, we are “accomplished individuals with extensive executive experience and a proven track record.” (This came from a Board Director job description.) Well, I have news for those CEOs: We are human too, vulnerable and uncertain at times, and with varying degrees of self-esteem, even if we all convey enormous self-confidence. We can all use – and often cherish – the feeling that we are needed and our contributions acknowledged and recognized. This is so even when (as has happened to me often) my suggestions, while not acknowledged, show up as actions later on. Yes, actions do speak louder than words, yet recognition still reinforces relationships.

The issue is, perhaps, aggravated by the prevalence of Internet communication. In my past career, I depended heavily on direct, in-person communication to fully convey meaning. I believe my colleagues felt my intentions as much as they understood them intellectually – tone of voice, body language, facial expression. And I could immediately gauge the level of understanding and connection in the exchange. Even silence in the conversation revealed enormous content. All those elements of effective dialogue are absent in e-mail communication, requiring us to be particularly mindful in the exchange. A word or two added to an e-mail can convey sentiment. The speed of the response can convey import. Cold as the electronic exchange medium may be, one can convey caring.

I believe it is essential to respond to all e-mails even with the briefest of acknowledgments. One of my favorite Board members, Ernie Mario, always impressed and touched me: he responded immediately to every communication, even if just with a short note. And one of my most treasured advisors, Larry Sonsini, always got back to me in less than 24 hours no matter where in the world he was. He made me feel that I mattered. But then Larry had this extraordinary capability to make me feel that I was the most important person in the world to him at that moment, no matter how busy he was.

We need to remember that so much of leadership is establishing and strengthening alliances. As leaders we are, after all, chartered with the task of sweeping others in our path to carry out the organization’s mission. We get others to join us, to the best of their abilities, in the pursuit of a goal. We seek ardor, not just execution. We seek added genius, not mere implementation. This requires continuous contact, acknowledgement, and appreciation of support. This touch, in the service of sustaining a vital connection, becomes even more important when the communication is largely electronic.

Granted, some of us need more touch than others, but I suggest that we all value it and, as leaders, must deliver it.

ENTREPRENEURSHIP ABROAD IS ALIVE AND WELL – WITH A STRONG SOCIAL CONTEXT

I love entrepreneurship. I have dedicated my life to it. But seeing it flourish globally with a strong social emphasis gives me an even greater sense that it is a force that can and will change the world.

Last week I had the honor of serving on a panel of judges in the 12th Annual Global Social Venture Competition (GSVC) at the Lester Center for Entrepreneurship of the University of California at Berkeley. (See GSVC for more information about the competition.)

Twelve finalists came to California to present and defend their business plans. They had been chosen from a slate of 850 proposals from 31 countries. The nine judges represent many different skills and areas of business. Some are leaders of venture capital divisions of major global companies like Dow and Intel. Some lead practices in major law firms. Some run their own venture capital firms. And some, like me, are retired or acting business executives. Several are headquartered abroad and traveled internationally to be judges at this competition.

Just the sheer number of applicants gave me a sense of the scale of interest in social entrepreneurship around the globe. Looking at the 12 final business plans showed how serious the effort is. The concepts were thorough, the analysis sophisticated, and each plan showed a good balance between sound business and social responsibility. But what really touched me most were the entrepreneurs themselves. Some had traveled from far away to be there, and their excitement – and awe – was palpable. Many had brought along prototypes of their products, and had assembled good management and advisory teams. In some cases they invested their own money to test the ideas. Their business concepts were diverse, including, among others: fuel efficient, clean burning cooking stoves (Prakti Design); reliable information on potable water availability (NextDrop); cheap, eco-friendly construction materials for low income housing (Beti Halali); low cost detection of cervical cancer (DeepScan); water puirification products (Findg One Drop); more cost effective sanitation systems (Sanergy); improved supply chain for coffee growers (Ikawa); and even a smartphone app that allows game-players to participate in reforestation efforts around the world (TreePlanet.) Learn more about the finalists and winners by going to Finalists.

Listening to the entrepreneurs and sensing their commitment and pride in their endeavors took me back to the early stages of my career when I was pitching our incipient concepts to investors. Yet while we had a strong notion of how our ideas would change the world for the better, our sense of social responsibility was much less substantive than what I saw in these plans. Initiatives like Berkeley’s GSVC are a wonderful way to stimulate and promote the creation of profitable ventures with sustainable and meaningful social value. Above and beyond the prize money, the exposure generated for these young enterprises will serve them well. I fully expect that many of these businesses will succeed and thrive.