Silicon Valley Change League Tour – Day 5

InSites Consulting was recently elected as one of the winners of the BNP Paribas Fortis Change League competition, putting companies in the spotlight that have been (radically) redefining themselves in light of a changing environment. Being among the winners, Tim Duhamel and I have the unique opportunity of spending a week in Silicon Valley with a group of 18 other Belgian entrepreneurs and CEOs, tapping into the ground zero of innovative ideas, disruptive technologies and entrepreneurship. Every day, we will write down our learnings, thoughts and ideas based on what we have experienced.


We kicked off the day by having an open discussion with Aaron Kahlow about our experiences and impressions over the last week. Aaron has an impressive track record in the bay area, from raising and burning venture capital money to filing for bankruptcy, starting a digital marketing award-winning agency, setting up online marketing summits, building a subscription-based e-learning company and currently focusing on mindful leadership.
When Peter Hinssen asked Aaron how sustainable the whole Silicon Valley ecosystem is, he felt that it is on the verge of a bubble. Everything is at record heights, so what goes up must go down as well. As there is a higher awareness about the potential event of a bubble, many VCs are gradually becoming more cautious. Further building on that discussion, Ignace Van Doorselaere, CEO at lingerie group Van de Velde, raised the question on what makes the ecosystem tick: greed or passion? Aaron did not need to think long before answering: passion is definitely the primary driver, with most people in the bay area exploiting the benefits of the ecosystem to make their dreams and plans come true. He finished our interesting discussion by highlighting that we need to think different about education: (1) our schools are not preparing children for life, (2) we need to get back to apprenticeships and mentorships, bringing in personal responsibility, and (3) we need to grow life skills: knowledge isn’t anything without wisdom (check out the Waldorf school for example).

Our key take-away

Businesses are built on passion rather than (financial) resources. Passion is the underlying driver of world-changing ideas and companies we all admire. In the same way as Aaron is redefining the future of education to tap into human passion, think about how you can redefine your company’s operating system to boost employee and customer passion.


Our tour came to an end at TechShop, where Andrew Calvo shared the story behind the company and showed us around in their San Francisco shop. Their mission is to accelerate global innovation by allowing anyone (as from the age of 8!) to use a wide range of sophisticated and expensive tools (sheet metal, welding, water jet, wood working, 3D printing, laser lab, plastics, software and electronics, textiles) to make things. Their 20,000 square feet shops are accessible 24/7 and are supported through hundreds of training classes and community events, not just on how to make things, but also on how to raise funds for them and commercialize them. The company applies a subscription-based model charging $150 per month to each member of the community, but also governments and companies such as GE, BMW, Fujitsu or Intel are contributing through sponsoring.

The impact of TechShop is that people can go from idea to creation in very little time at a radically reduced cost. We witnessed some amazing examples of makers: Ken Hawthorn building an electric motorcycle wanting to become the Tesla for motorcycles, Any Filo creating a jet pack, Espen Siversten developing a 3D printer (Type A Machines), Phil Hughes making an efficient solution to cool down data centers, Max Gunawan developing the innovate Lumio light, Anton Willis creating an origami kayak (Oru Kayak), Patrick Buckley creating the DODOcase for iPad (just 90 days after visiting the TechShop, he already sold 1 million pieces), James McKelvey creating a mobile payments device later becoming Square and now being valued $5-6 billion, Lim Innovations improving human physical condition for amputees with socket technology, Jane Chen and Nagananad Murty saving the lives of infants through a portable incubation blanket, Kory Russel and Sebastien Tilman creating a waterless toilet. Many of these ideas were accelerated via crowdfunding or venture capitalists, allowing inventors to move from prototyping to manufacturing and scaling their business faster. Also, several of the innovations shown had a social purpose: some people in our group were even brought to tears as a result of the stories and cases!

Our key take-away

The TechShop visit is a mind-blowing showcase combining the power of the maker movement with the sharing economy. It will change the world of production forever and accelerate the rate of innovation we will be seeing on our planet. It is another excellent example of how our world is being democratized, not just as a result of providing access to information and money, but also to the tools needed to actually create something real.


A big thank you goes out to BNP Paribas Fortis for having taken this initiative. It shows they really care about the future of their clients’ businesses and are taking active steps to embrace change. Thank you Steven Van Belleghem and Peter Hinssen for connecting us to and immersing us in the wonderful ecosystem of Silicon Valley. You were fantastic hosts, providing us with more context, background and reflections on the different companies we visited. Thank you to every single participant. Our mutual discussions throughout the last week have been extremely interesting, but also fun. We all returned home as friends mutually sharing a feeling of excitement, energy and positivism. This was not just a 5-day trip, but the start of a more structural change for everyone when it comes to dealing with innovation and growth. Plans are already being laid out on how our joint experience can be turned into a more long-lasting collaboration.
Connecting the dots between all of the stories we experienced last week, here are our main out-takes:

  • The Silicon Valley ecosystem is unique in kind, in such a way even that it might seem unfair competition to the environment where our companies are operating. While it will be hard to replicate the same type of environment, we will surely embed different elements of the ecosystem into our organizations.
  • The world is moving to a context of fast, easy and fun as highlighted by Steven in his talks on radical customer experience. Almost all of the companies we visited integrated these 3 elements into the fabric of what they are about. The consumerization of business is one clear trend in this respect.
  • We see ever increasing consumer emancipation due to … the surge of and access to social media, allowing consumers to raise their voices and having an ever increasing impact on companies and governments as a result of it
    • the Internet of Things, empowering consumers to know more about themselves and the products they use
    • crowdfunding, allowing everyday people with brilliant ideas to access financial resources, democratizing entrepreneurship as a result of it
    • the accessibility to tools and ‘how to’ information, enabling the maker movement to scale and accelerate, so that consumers don’t need to wait for brands to create the products they want
  • What unites many of the start-ups we have visited is the fact that they bundle mobile, peer-to-peer sharing, open data, technical innovation and always-on in a unique mix, disrupting incumbents as a result of it

Hope you have enjoyed our Silicon Valley Change League blog post series! Missed our adventures of day 1, 2, 3 or 4 of the tour? Just visit them here:

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