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20 May 2015

Draper University
By Richard Edelman

Written by: Richard Edelman, President and CEO at Edelman

Culture

I went to Silicon Valley last week to see clients, our team and my youngest daughter at Stanford. I took the opportunity to visit venture capitalist Tim Draper who has started Draper University in San Mateo. He takes 40 students who are 18-to-28-years-old for eight weeks four times a year. There have been 50 students from 44 nations. He puts them up in a former hotel and they go to school from 10 am to 10 pm. They are grouped into teams of five and are expected to come up with a business plan for a start-up by the end of their tenure.

Draper, a hugely enthusiastic former football player at Stanford and fellow Harvard Business School alumnus, is now in the phase of his career where he wants to give something back. He is able to attract huge names, including Elon Musk, executives from Twitter and Facebook and other venture capitalists. He also has Navy Seals doing rural survival training for five days. He puts the students into San Francisco for urban survival training for four hours in which they have to sell underwear in Union Square or other comparable tasks. In a given day, they have a topic such as future of energy, then have to write a business plan in two hours.

From this initiative, about 170 companies have been founded. Draper has invested in several of these. He has also allowed some of them a three-month period to incubate their ideas in a small facility in town, where they can get advice from Draper’s employees. Many of the Draper University alumni help replenish the program by sending young potential entrepreneurs seeking investors back Draper’s way.

I asked Draper whether this sort of idea could work in a city such as Chicago, which has pockets of technology but substantial needs for employment in underprivileged areas. After pausing for a moment, Draper said, “I think it could work. It is true that everybody wants to come to Silicon Valley. We are the melting pot for entrepreneurs. But perhaps we could do something interesting for urban youth.”

Draper’s big idea for education of the entrepreneur is that you have to teach the future. “It is the opposite of classical university. We do not teach history and liberal arts. We focus on predictive analytics, fiction, forecasting, sciences and future strategy, even on exploration of distant planets. Our most popular day is with Professor Jun Yoon on prevention of aging.”

I love the brashness and self-confidence of the man and the idea. I disagree with his central premise on education. There is as big a challenge for entrepreneurs in leadership and communication as in invention of the breakthrough innovation. Without a liberal arts background, an engineer is likely to be superb in design but fail in appreciation of the need for context. I told Draper that I would get Edelman involved in the education of his up and coming innovators because we are the yin to his yang.

This article originally appeared on Richard Edelman’s 6A.M. Blog.

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