Open Source Nouveau at MIT

At a recent emerging technology conference at MIT called EmTech ’11, a diverse blend among young innovators (under 35) and corporate leaders converged to share their renewed views and perspectives for the next chapter on investing, competing, and surviving in a crisis bound world.

At center stage was Joichi Ito, the newly hired director for MIT’s Media Lab.  Mr. Ito, a self-made entrepreneur/investor, brings with him a Silicon Valley secret sauce where innovators learn from each other within an open source environment. Drawing from his club management days, Ito forms impromptu meetings among diverse experts to discuss new trends and ideas.  His leadership style is contagious, humorous, and organically instigating.  With a travel schedule he calls ‘bankrupt for free time’, Ito travels the world to expand his open source influence.  When asked how one can profit from an open source environment (where innovative ideas are given away for free), Ito points to using open source discussions to determine revenue model innovations.  He highlights FireFox as a browser company that gives everything away for free, but through a clever revenue model will take in over $200 million in revenues this year.

Other EmTech presenters seemed to go along with Ito’s open source theme.  For example, IBM’s Smart Grid initiatives focus on instigating behavioral changes along a redefined value chain, forcing a convergence among new talents and industries, another open source opportunity in the making.  IBM’s process is designed to self-correct over time using an hierarchy forecasting methodology. Ford Motor is a good example of a company benefiting from open source innovations. Their EV Cloud Car concept is just an enlarged version of the Ipad.  Using purchased Apps, car buyers can personalize dashboards, activate special features, and fully customize their driving experience on a destination-basis.

Probably, the greatest challenge for open source is the timely commitment of scarce resources to help the discussion reach new heights. From a company level, Xerox formed Parc.com to show how co-extrusion printing can increase lithium-cobalt oxide battery life by 10% and solar panels by 6%. They view their contribution as another way to pull costs out of a collective process.  Also, start ups like 1366 Technology have successfully removed a step in the production of silicon wafers.  Adopting to this new open source environment, is the ‘fast-dating’ attitude of venture capitalists.  They prefer passion over slick presentations and are willing to forgo a large share to founders.  As Bill Joy from Kliener Perkins shared, “we are spending smaller amounts to gain experience and to stay in the game longer.”

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