This week IMD’s EMBAs will be in Silicon Valley for a discovery expedition.

They will meet with some of the Valley’s many companies and entrepreneurs pioneering science and high-tech ideas that are often worth millions and billions, and just might change the way society works. 

Ahead of the trip IMD caught up with longstanding EMBA discovery expedition leader Jim Pulcrano.

IMD: What does entrepreneurship mean to you?

Jim Pulcrano: One of my favorite definitions of entrepreneurship is “creating something from nothing”. One moment there is nothing there, a blank sheet of paper, an empty space, an accepted or unquestioned way of doing things, and at some time later there’s a new product, a new company and a new way of doing things. The world has changed, in small or big ways, for better or for worse, thanks to the innovation efforts of an entrepreneur and his or her team.

IMD: Is there a process for great entrepreneurial initiatives or do they happen on accident?

If we greatly simplify the world, there are broadly two ways of getting to that “something”: a) there’s the “lightbulb looking for a dark room” approach*, i.e. someone has an amazing new technology and goes out looking for a market where it fits. Or the, b) “that’s a problem that needs to be solved and I’m going to find a way to do it” approach.

IMD: What will the EMBAs learn on the trip?

Jim Pulcrano: We hope our EMBAs will experience how entrepreneurship happens in the real world and understand more deeply through their startup assignment and Silicon Valley Discovery Expedition, and see ways of bringing these insights into their companies. But, we also want them to understand that these are rarely overnight successes, and the path from initial idea to successful product is rarely a straight line. Yes, there are the Instagram stories, but the vast majority of the startups that become “going concerns”, or whatever your definition of success may be, have a lot of blood, sweat and tears behind them. The workload and the complexity of what they’re trying to do is huge. From the outside we rarely see the tons of experimentation and prototyping, and doubts, that go into finding the product that will match customer or user needs (and make money). Getting into the shoes of the entrepreneurs and innovators who do this is the goal of this assignment and this expedition; we want to better understand how and why they make the decisions they do. Why are they doing this instead of something else? Why this idea now? How do they choose their cofounders or first employees? Who do they go to for funding, and why? Why in Silicon Valley, where the cost of doing business is sky high?

IMD: How do you impart this to the EMBAs?

Jim Pulcrano: I’ve always said that one can’t teach entrepreneurship, but we can help people to learn it.  We do this both by exploring Silicon Valley through our eyes, but also through the eyes of the Swiss high-tech entrepreneurs who are embedded into the class. This September we’ll have the privilege of having the founders of the following Swiss ventures with us: CodeCheck, CREAL3D SA, Fixposition, Fotokite, LIGENTEC, UrbanAlps AG, Biognosys, Biovotion, certus molecular diagnostics, Dotphoton, Imverse, and Picterra.

For me, guiding our EMBAs through the expedition, I get joy both from seeing their eyes light up as they get caught up in the excitement of Silicon Valley as the mecca of entrepreneurship and innovation, as well as from their pragmatism in asking the hard questions about how these products get to market and these companies make money for themselves and their shareholders.  

And then, at the very end, on Friday morning, watching our EMBAs pitch the Swiss startups to professional investors in Palo Alto, and seeing that in 9 out of 10 cases they have learned the essentials.  That’s why I do this.

*Thanks to venture capitalist Dag Syrrist for this

Find out more about IMD’s EMBA.