Engaged Learning

Improving the World Through Innovative Entrepreneurship

by Inge Lamboo


MGEM Students at the Google Campus

A group of 34 MGEM (Master in Global Entrepreneurial Management) students from the USF School of Management visited Google twice this July, led by Professors Payson Johnston and Jennifer Walske. At Google’s San Francisco offices they met several of Google’s key players, like John Hanke, head of Niantic Labs, founder and former CEO of Keyhole, Inc., which was acquired by Google and whose flagship product is now Google Earth, and Mathieu de Fayet, Head of Partnerships at Niantic Labs, which is a startup within Google that experiments on the future of human interactions with their direct environment via geolocation-based software.

Hanke and the students discussed the challenges of creating a startup and Google’s approach to innovation. “When looking into new product areas at Google, we first measure if the product is indeed ‘googley’ enough,” said Hanke. “This means having a focus on improving people’s lives, high innovation, and global reach.” Such qualities are embodied in Ingress, a near-real time alternate reality massively-multiplayer online game Google recently released that interactively blends the real world into the game. Hanke said, “With our new game, Ingress, from Niantic Labs, we have now engaged hundreds of thousands of gamers worldwide. More importantly, we have changed the definition of gaming, moving gamers off their couches and into the parks, where users can now interact with each other in real time, using everyday objects around them as part of the game.”

In USF’s MGEM program, students travel and study across three different continents, focusing on international entrepreneurship. For the students, the Google visit was a true immersion into entrepreneurship and innovation. Eli Miller, MGEM student, said, “Visiting Google Earth's SF headquarters and getting to meet founder John Hanke was a real treat. It is truly incredible how Google is improving our daily lives in so many different ways. I can't wait to see how the genius of Google will improve and automate the world's public, private, and commercial transportation logistics.”

De Fayet, Head of Partnerships at Niantic Labs, talked to the students about how a big company like Google can still promote entrepreneurship at scale through projects such as Niantic Labs. He expressed his belief that engaging with students and future great thinkers is important. “At Google we like to engage with international students, such as this MGEM group, as we develop and seek fresh input on our most innovative products,” said de Fayet. “Specifically with Ingress, the target population, engagement, and international reach resonates well with our audience. We look forward to having the students pick their faction and join us in the field.”

MGEM Google Bikes

MGEM student Pablo Restrepo Alvarez expressed his feelings of inspiration after the visit. “Mr. Hanke told us that the path an entrepreneur has to walk is usually very lonely because ideally, your idea is so new that there is nobody following the same trail. However, lonely as it is, we have to be ready to walk that path because it’s worth it.” Restrepo said Hanke’s advice and encouragement to the students motivated him to brainstorm new ideas to improve the agricultural technology used by small and medium-sized farms in South America, and how Google Earth’s technology could possibly be used for this purpose. “This gave me a better understanding of entrepreneurial projects like Google Earth, and the idea behind the Ingress game and other creations of Niantic Labs. Innovative tools can help improve the quality of people’s lives.”

Just days after the students’ visit to Google SF, they had the opportunity to visit Googleplex in Mountain View, Google’s corporate headquarters. They toured the Googleplex campus and met with several company specialists. Natalie Benoy, Associate Product Marketing Manager, talked to the students about Google’s reach of and interaction with the end user, and John Oberstar, Manager of the Optics Commodity Group, discussed operations and the Google Datacenter with them. “It was incredible to see how Google uses the best data mining technology to communicate with people, and enables them to communicate with each other,” said MGEM student Pablo Restrepo Alvarez. “They’re working to solve the lack of Internet in developing countries, improve transportation methods by creating autonomous vehicles, and provide cheaper and easier communication methods. [The speakers] were adamant that one of the most important factors for success was providing employees with the opportunity to fail, so that they’re willing and able to have truly daring ideas. I think this mindset should be implemented by other companies that are looking to make a difference in the world.”

Prasad Sabada, Director of Global Commodity Management, also engaged with the students on Google’s culture of innovation. Said MGEM student Chia I Shih of the visit, “Google’s [corporate] culture is employee-focused. They provide their employees with the freedom to be themselves, which makes them enjoy their work and stay motivated. So many of Google’s innovative products have stemmed from the 20% free time the employees are allotted, as well as the excellent interdepartmental communication. Google has truly built a successful company culture that creates a competitive advantage.”

MGEM Google Visit Ginger Bread Man

MGEM student Jenny Arellano also expressed her happiness about the Google visit. “I feel very lucky to have been able to see the ‘plex and learn more about the company. I’m from Silicon Valley, so to finally have been able to see Google for myself was a great experience and definitely a memorable moment in [the MGEM] program for me.”

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