Sesquicentennial stop in Silicon Valley explores, celebrates entrepreneurship

Purdue’s Giant Leaps Sesquicentennial Celebration headed west October 23-24 with Krannert School of Management and College of Engineering events in the Silicon Valley.
Silicon Valley Roadshow startups with Dean Chiang, College of Engineering, and Purdue Foundry at Unshackled Ventures.

Mung Chiang, the John A. Edwardson Dean of the College of Engineering, co-sponsored the afternoon session of the 2nd annual Boilermakers by the Bay on Oct. 23 in Menlo Park, Calif. The session, “Entrepreneurship: Idea to Impact”, culminated with a fireside chat with Keith Krach (BSIE ’79), chairman of the board and former CEO of DocuSign, and a former chairman of the Purdue Board of Trustees. He received an honorary Doctor of Industrial Engineering in May 2018.

Krach spoke about what it means to be a transformational leader, citing the 2013 hiring of Purdue President Mitch Daniels as a prime example.

“The toughest decision as chairman was to challenge the traditions and go against the grain and hire a president outside of academia, especially one that doesn’t have a Ph.D.,” Krach shared during the chat. “The objective was simply to hire the best transformational leader we could find.”

Krach pointed to “five key ingredients” universities should utilize to become more innovative and entrepreneurial in approaching change: listen to your customers; challenge the status quo; innovate at scale; and focus on the noble cause. “Purdue serves as a great role model for what can be accomplished under a transformational leader like Mitch Daniels,” Krach said.

Mung Chiang, the John A. Edwardson Dean of the College of Engineering

Chiang echoed Krach’s sentiments about the importance of innovative leadership.

With Daniels at the helm, Purdue has frozen tuition for the last seven years, embarked on a 30-year campus transformation, initiated entrepreneurship programs across the entire campus, acquired Kaplan University and established Purdue Global, the first global public university, Krach said.

“More entrepreneurial universities will help fuel a more innovative society, Chiang said. “In general, universities should become places where piloting meaningful experiments can happen faster and more frequently.”

Krach, a self-proclaimed small-town boy raised in Ohio who has been in the Silicon Valley for 30 years, refers to the area as the “West Point of Capitalism.”

“…anyone, especially young people, with the craziest ideas, can break all the rules and wind up changing the lives of everyone on the planet,” Krach said.

He describes the valley as the ideal place to experiment – and to fail. “In fact, I think the only way to fail in Silicon Valley is not to have failures. You have got to dare to try new things here – jump in water over your head – failures here are a badge of courage and honor.”

Chiang agrees with Krach’s assessment of the entrepreneurial appeal of the valley and extended Purdue’s stay in the bay area by organizing a Startup Roadshow.

“Since the gathering with engineering alumni in Silicon Valley last year, College of Engineering launched summer Engineering X-celerator for students, rolled out Roadshow for faculty startups, recruited an entrepreneur-in-residence to work with more faculty and students, and systematically supported student maker and startup clubs,” said Chiang. “This year’s focus is on connecting hundreds of engineering students to co-op and intern opportunities in tech startups, and to engage with the ecosystems in Indianapolis and in Silicon Valley.”

Keith Krach (left) and Dan Hasler, Executive Vice President for Communications, Purdue University

A group of Purdue-based startup companies on Oct. 24 visited venture capital firms “as a way to showcase the entrepreneurial activity associated with Purdue and the College of Engineering,” said Nate Mosier, who is a Dean’s Faculty Fellow for entrepreneurship in the College. Mosier also is professor of the Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering (ABE) and chair of the ABE Graduate Committee.

Eight startups were chosen for the trip, five of which are CoE-related. They were selected by a committee from the College of Engineering and Purdue Foundry based on which companies were nearing the fundraising stage of development, Mosier said.

The five up-and-coming ventures are a mixture of student- and faculty-based companies:

  • BioNode, Professor Pedro Irazoqui, Biomedical Engineering
  • Perceive, Professor Yung Lu and students, Electrical and Computer Engineering
  • Spirrow Therapeutics, Professor You-Yeon Won and students, Chemical Engineering
  • VinSense, Professor Dave Ebert, Electrical and Computer Engineering
  • Zero UI, Professor Karthik Ramani, Mechanical Engineering

“The College hopes that this roadshow will raise the profile of startups from Purdue for funding and connections in the Bay area,” Mosier said. “The goal is that Purdue will become known as a place where new technology, new startups, and new talent are generated.”

The Silicon Valley firms visited were:

  • Unshackled Ventures
  • Facebook Headquarters
  • Kleiner Perkins
  • Foundation Capital

David Hummels, dean of Krannert School of Management, along with the Burton D. Morgan Center, the Purdue Foundry, Purdue’s I-Corps, Jane Brock-Wilson Center, and Purdue Alumni Association partnered for the day-long Boilermakers by the Bay program.

College of Engineering also announced that it will organize faculty-alumni panels as intellectually-oriented gatherings with Silicon Valley alumni every quarter starting in 2019.