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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 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

Saving Lives Through Invention! An Ideagen Exclusive Interview with Maurizio Vecchione, Senior Vice President of Global Good and Research at Intellectual Ventures

Maurizio describes Global Good as, “A collaboration between Intellectual Ventures and Bill Gates that is designed to bring the power of invention to the base of the pyramid, in economic terms, that make up the majority of the population of the planet. We are focused on those kinds of innovations that lead to practical, important inventions that at the end of the line improve the lives of the poorest people on Earth.”

When asked about Global Good’s approach to inventing technology in developing countries, Maurizio explained that one of the biggest challenges is to figure out what problems are “appropriate to be technology-based interventions.” As a part of this effort, Global Good works closely with organizations like the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to understand these challenges and how its expertise in invention can help save lives.

“We have countless problem sets that are very important and do need solutions but are not technology or invention driven solutions. Part of our process internally, or with the help of a partner, is to define the problems, define those gaps, identify the gaps that are indeed technology gaps and then focus on those essentially looking at what is the impact that that gap filling exercise, that technology or that science will bring to the table.”

Using this approach, Global Good has created a number of truly world changing inventions that address some of humanity’s toughest problems. For example, more than 23 million children do not receive routine immunizations annually and more than 1.5 million children under age five die each year from vaccine-preventable diseases. This is partially due to limitations in the temperature-controlled supply chain that’s needed to prevent vaccines from spoiling between their point of manufacture and their use.

In response, Global Good invented the Arktek, a “super thermos” that overcomes traditional infrastructure and logistics barriers to bring vaccinations to those living in the most remote areas “It’s a thermos that can keep the vaccines for a population, a village of approximately 6,000 people, which happens to be a good target size for a lot of these rural communities. It can keep the vaccines cold for over a month without any use of electricity at the beginning. Essentially you load it with ice at the beginning and then you go 30 or 40 days...being able to pull the things in and out... without ever having to plug the thing in.”

Global Good has helped a large number of countries with their inventions. Including Ethiopia with their vaccination thermos and Kenya with a “food-grade plastic milk jug.” This milk jug, “has unlocked the ability for these farmers to store and transport the milk to collection points so they went from sustenance farming... to being commercial farmers, where they can actually make an income.”

At Ideagen, cross-sector collaboration and partnerships are the centerpiece of our work to address many of the world’s most vexing issues. Maurizio as well as the team at Global Good believe that partnerships across the sectors can have a huge impact in solving some of today’s challenges. “I do think that public, private, and philanthropic partnership has the potential to really act as a catalyst and accelerator to much of this economic development. Economic development and public welfare are linked.”

Maurizio has learned so many lessons over the course of his career. He calls the most important lessons, the “three A’s.” “Appropriateness is the first A, affordability is the second A, which means make it reasonable in cost, and the third A is access.”

When asked about the future, Maurizio said Global Good would be focusing on primary care. “Primary care is an underserviced area, its underserviced everywhere by the way, not just in the developing world. It is particularly difficult in the developing world and we want to reinvent it. We want to really focus on what are the essential diagnostics, the essential medicine that needs to be in primary care to affect the largest amounts of patients and dramatically improve the effectiveness of those patient encounters.”

The work Maurizio and his team at Global Good are doing is truly profound and inspiring. Their approach is insightful and the good that they are creating is unparalleled.

For more information on Global Good, please visit:

For the full exclusive audio version of the interview, click on the link below:—exclusive-interview-with-maurizio-vecchione—global-good

08/06/2015 06:47 pm ET