Exclusive Ideagen Interview With Dr. Nathan Myhrvold, Founder of Intellectual Ventures

Exclusive Ideagen Interview with Dr. Nathan Myhrvold, Founder of Intellectual Ventures

In an exclusive interview with Ideagen’s George Sifakis, Dr. Nathan Myhrvold discussed his work with Microsoft, Intellectual Ventures, and the value of innovation and collaboration.

Intellectual Ventures, Dr. Myhrvold explained, is where “we support and fund new inventions...and fund existing inventions, with the idea that if we can help inventors make more inventions, if we can solve problems...or invest in solutions...that will really make the world a better place.”

Dr. Myhrvold founded Intellectual Ventures after working with Microsoft and starting Microsoft Research, which he said, “is one of the largest [research labs] in the world in its field.” After working with Microsoft, Dr. Myhrvold explained, “I wanted to tackle a much wider range of problems than just software...there’s a lot of problems on Earth that are hardware problems, some are even social problems. Bringing great minds to that, seemed to me like it was just as valuable as bringing them to software.”

When asked about key innovations coming from Intellectual Ventures and how they empower vulnerable populations, Dr. Myhrvold commented on technology, saying, “the tech industry is involved in making tools or toys for rich people...anybody in developed parts of the world.” Intellectual Ventures addresses technology “not just for the richest people on the planet but for the poorest.” This includes, Dr. Myhrvold said, “means to keep vaccines cold, without any power, because the remote villages in Africa...still have kids.” Intellectual Ventures also does work in agriculture and disease modeling, as well as medical diagnostics.

On his work with Microsoft, Dr. Myhrvold said, “I learned what the power of technology was.” He also recognized the importance of failure and explained that Microsoft was so successful, “because we were willing to try things, and they also failed a lot. And if you can’t cope with failure, you never try anything risky, and if you never try anything risky, you never do anything that’s really important.”

Intellectual Ventures and Dr. Myhrvold recognize the importance of cross-sector collaboration as well. Dr. Myhrvold explained, “If you’re trying something impossible, one of the ways...is to say, let’s get people with different expertise.” Over time, “Pretty soon you latch these people, these different pieces together, and a picture emerges,” like a puzzle piece. Regarding failure again, Dr. Myhrvold said, “that is another key way that we try to work together, to get people in a context that they feel safe to try things and not be too disappointed if things don’t work.”

Asked how Intellectual Ventures is changing the world, Dr. Myhrvold said, “We’ve spun out a company...called TerraPower. We work in solid state physics, where we have been among the pioneers in a branch of physics called metamaterials...and we’ve spun out several companies there.” Intellectual Ventures also did work when the Ebola crisis hit. “We were responsible in putting together new exposure suits for the workers,” Dr. Myhrvold said. He added, “We’re also working to figure out, what’s the next epidemic?” Intellectual Ventures remains at the front, helping to prepare the world for change.

Of the most important challenges facing the world, Dr. Myhrvold addressed global healthcare. “The global village is a small place, and what looks like it was something that happened in the remotest parts of South Africa suddenly turned up in Dallas and Frankfurt and London,” he said of the Ebola crisis moving so quickly. He also detailed the importance of addressing issues of wealth and hunger. “If we don’t go out of our way to address these issues, the starving people are going to keep starving. So we need to figure out the most effective ways to do that.”

In closing, George asked Dr. Myhrvold, what are the three key lessons you have learned that have the potential to change the world? Dr. Myhrvold provided one of the most insightful replies to this Ideagen hallmark interview question, “Ideas can change everything,” he said, adding, “it also takes committed people....Committed people that believe in an idea...that have the drive to keep at it and be persistent can accomplish all kinds of things.” The final lesson, Dr. Myhrvold said is, “Nothing’s impossible.” To conclude, Dr. Myhrvold added, “I look at the first two principles - the power of ideas and committed people - and I say, you know something? Nothing is impossible.”

Dr. Nathan Myhrvold and Intellectual Ventures, truly changing the world!

12/10/2015 05:02 pm ET