2017 Guest Lecturers Speak on the Future of Tech to Graduating Class

Thea Sokolowski | Friday, August 11th, 2017

“We have to do more to make sure Africa reaches its full potential.”

2017 Graduation Weekend kicked off last week with an inspiring talk from guest lecturer Trond Riiber Knudsen, Founder & CEO of Norwegian TRK Group AS. Trond’s talk, The Attacker’s Advantage, illustrated his journey helping startups accelerate growth, while highlighting the innovation advantage he believes startups today have over legacy companies of the past.

“Business is the best tool for solving large issues in society if you do it the right way,” Trond told the graduating class. “We are entering the 4th industrial revolution in which it’s all about digital connectivity and automation – people and machines. Disruptive technologies will have massive, massive impact.”

Trond Riiber Knudsen of TRK Group presents the opening guest lecture to the Class of 2017

Trond focused in on Africa and the growth potential on the continent: “Africa is super important in terms of creating growth for the whole world. Today there are 200 companies that reached a $1B valuation in private markets. They’re increasingly demonstrating geographic diversity – look at AIG, Interswitch from Africa.” He believes technology will be the driver that creates growth moving forward and that we’ll begin to see less of some traditional activities as we become smarter and invest in new types of activities.

He encouraged entrepreneurs to keep pushing disruptive technology: “Startups need to be aggressive with new technology. The two worlds need to collaborate – large, legacy companies and startups. Legacy is not important anymore. Find areas where legacy is negative for big companies and be smart about how you make it possible to serve them on top of existing processes.”

Trond concluded with a call to action for our entrepreneurs, encouraging them to take advantage of the large amount of capital available in the world today.

“The world is filled with capital – there is so much available. And there are so few ideas for the capital. That’s the big opportunity. The downside of failing is limited, so follow your passions.”

Following Trond, we heard from Silicon Valley Bank Capital founder Aaron Gershenberg, who spoke of his childhood growing up in East Africa and illustrated his own entrepreneurial journey within Silicon Valley Bank, now leading their venture business.

The venture business is all about relationships and doing what you say you’re going to do,” he told us. “I’ve been in the right place at the right time.”

Aaron spoke to what he believes sets Silicon Valley Bank apart. “We want access to the companies moving the needle, and we’ve got a good track record of doing that. We also have great analytics and great data that no one else has. We’ve built the best relationships by being a trusted, reliable partner.”

Looking to the future, he spoke of where he sees the most innovation happening in the industry: “When I think about disruption in our industry, I think it’s the corporate VC firms. Corporates continue to lean in, and they will soon pass VCs in terms of capital.”

Aaron concluded with some advice for our graduates, encouraging them to continually challenge their own assumptions, learn from others and build teams that complement their own skillsets. Finally, he urged them to think big – exponentially big – and to continue to build determination to allow them to work through the challenges before them – words emphasized in his inspiring speech at our graduation ceremony.

Silicon Valley Bank Aaron Gershenberg

Silicon Valley Bank’s Aaron Gershenberg address the 2017 graduating class

Many thanks again to our guests Trond and Aaron, and congratulations to the class of 2017! If you want to apply to join MEST, check out our online application here.