Prism Project: Allowing Best and Brightest to Dream Big

One of the largest impressions of our recent visit Austin TX was the observation that several major companies, like Dell Computer, were started by people 19 to 24 years old. When asked why Austin is such an entrepreneurial place, most point to the large number of students. Research about how the first high-impact companies got started in Austin, as well as in Silicon Valley, shows that first companies did not appear out of the ether, but rather someone proactively helped pull them up.

The dean of the University of Texas business school, George Kozmetsky, was a very successful entrepreneur. Shortly after Michael Dell started his build-to-order computer company from his dorm room, Dr. Kozmetski reached out to him and served for ten years as a Dell Computer board member. “It was a stroke of great fortune to have Dr. Kozmetsky on our team,” said Dell. “There’s no question that his guidance was instrumental in our early success and his affiliation gave us a measure of credibility that a new and unproven company could otherwise never have achieved.”

In the 1930’s, Frederick Terman of Stanford University’s Department of Electrical Engineering was concerned by the lack of good employment opportunities in the area for Stanford radio engineering graduates. His solution was to establish the then-new radio technology locally, beginning by bringing together two of his former students, William Hewlett and David Packard.

When InnoVenture was over last April, we had accomplished every major objective, except one. While 450 people attended, despite our best efforts only two were African-Americans. We knew InnoVenture was missing an incredible base of talent in the state, and the first post-conference meeting was to discuss why there were not more African-Americans there. The best ideas come from all kinds of people from all kinds of places.

Recently two people involved in planning for InnoVenture 2006, Marvin Rogers and David Mitchell, developed an incredibly exciting idea they call the Prism Project. Their objective is to identify the best and brightest young talent reflecting the diversity of the community and to introduce them to the most innovative and entrepreneurial organizations in the region at InnoVenture.

Some of the best and brightest students we have don’t feel the culture here supports of entrepreneurial activity. Ultimately InnoVenture would like to develop an entrepreneurial infrastructure so they have the ability to dream big and then pursue their dreams by building high-impact companies, like Dell Computer or Hewlett-Packard, that create the world others will live in.

The Prism Project is incredibly exciting idea that, though still in its infancy, can be a foundation on which we create enormous wealth in our community.