UCLA Anderson’s Innovate Conference Dares to Think Big

UCLA Anderson’s Innovate Conference Dares to Think Big


Easton Technology Management Center faculty director Terry Kramer’s takeaways

JanuarY 30, 2023

By Terry Kramer

UCLA Anderson’s Innovate conference, organized annually by the Easton Technology Management Center and the school’s Technology Business Association, known as AnderTech, brings together successful entrepreneurs, investors and executives for a glimpse of the latest innovations and their potential impact.

The 2023 conference featured a keynote conversation with Malik Ducard (’00), chief content officer of Pinterest, and panels addressing the greatest areas of opportunity in big tech innovation and the current funding environment for entrepreneurial ventures.

In the spirit of machines are getting smarter and smarter so we have to get smarter ourselves, what are the “so whats”? We came away with these enlightening ideas:

1. The role of technology in social and entertainment media is increasing.

Technology enables broader, more targeted distribution that connects content creators and viewers to more areas of innovation, such as generative AI. They are empowering a new level of creative content creation. Malik, in conversation with UCLA Anderson lecturer Michael Montgomery, made the comment that generative AI reality is greater than hype. We don’t often hear that in technology, usually the hype is way ahead. He described how Pinterest’s foundational elements were positivity and inspiration, and how they flowed into the culture — the people they hired and the algorithms they created. The final takeaway from that session was the importance about good governance, self-policing and leadership. Companies and leaders motivated solely by regulation and litigation are generally less effective and viewed poorly. So, Malik’s message was, focus on leading the company well, creating good products. Think about the impact of those products, and don’t wait for regulation to happen.

2. Plenty of opportunities can be created that don’t exist yet today.

Cy Khormaee, head of product in the Google User Protection Services Group, and Dinkar Jain, former director of product management at Meta, raised the debate about humans’ having a “lighter and lighter hand on the steering wheel.” Dinkar said you have to be much more precise about what you’re asking for to make sure that you get good outcomes. Cy shared that the humanity of AI has grown, and that’s allowed adoption to advance. “Think about a model like ChatGPT that enables interaction in a much more natural form,” he said. Dinkar cited the prevalence of a “data flywheel” in health care, in which you have zero marginal costs, enabling data oriented providers to democratize services — and you also disrupt current models. If that statement is true, it will create a lot of opportunity. It’ll also create a lot of threats. Cy said go to areas where there are new opportunities. Don’t worry about the big tech companies, there are plenty of new areas you can create that don’t exist today. Finally, moderator Sharon Olexy (’99), operating partner at Ajax Strategies, advised focusing on the what-ifs: Think big about the problems that need to get solved and address them.

3: If you want to get funded, focus on a problem you care about solving

Angel investor Yvonne Wassenaar (’96), the former CEO of Puppet, and Barry Eggers (B.A. ’85), founding partner of Lightspeed Venture Partners, underscored being passionate about the area that you’re in. When Barry looks at where he’s going to invest, he encourages you to ask, “Do you have an opportunity that’s going to be large? Do you have a team that can figure things out when it’s difficult?” Yvonne talked about key indicators of an organization’s health and its ability to execute. Look at performance accuracy: If you can’t get to the threshold requirement of performance accuracy, it’s game over, you don’t have a product that’s going to work. Think about culture and behavior — and Yvonne advised the audience to ultimately think about compatibility. When you’re asking people to change behavior massively, they’re not going to adopt technology-based products and services easily. Make sure you’ve got shared values and you’re always willing to learn along the way. And in the current environment of high inflation and lower economic growth, enterprise innovation is an area that remains strong. Think autonomous trucking, augmented reality, virtual workforces, cybersecurity. These areas of innovation are optimizing existing processes in businesses, reducing costs and improving performance. And, as for the rest of the world in terms of innovation and investment opportunity — India, China — there are lots of opportunities there, in many cases greater activity than in the U.S. But we as a nation have got to make sure we’re creating an environment where we can generate commensurate successes.

Terry Kramer is faculty director of the Easton Technology Management Center and an adjunct professor of Decisions, Operations and Technology Management at UCLA Anderson.