Exploring Silicon Valley: A Sloan Fellow’s Journey into Tech Innovation and AI

What comes to your mind first when you think about San Francisco? Commerce, finance, culture and.. yes, technology! The global technological industry’s centre of gravity gathers and evaluates the biggest chunk of the world’s data. For this reason, San Francisco, respectively Silicon Valley, has been one of the leading Global Experience locations with some of the highest numbers of interest and attendees.

George Berezhnov, who is part of the Sloan 2023 generation, described in more detail below his experience and the profound learnings and insights Silicon Valley offered.

Could you please tell us a little bit about your background and what were your motivations before you started the Sloan programme.

George: I have an academic background in artificial intelligence and an MBA from another business school. My career spans different functions and sectors, including healthcare and automotive. My speciality is driving innovation & new ventures in established organisations – I create strategies, partnerships and discovery systems that enable large companies to create new business models. Most recently, I established a strategic innovation unit at one of the world’s leading healthcare companies to reimagine the future of healthcare. It allowed us to change how we work and create a new pipeline of healthcare solutions, providing access to care to thousands of patients.

I decided to do Sloan because I was curious, I wanted to grow and challenge myself and I wanted to get to know myself better. For me, it was a rare opportunity to explore unfamiliar career paths at a mid-career stage and dive headfirst into a challenging and dynamic setting. Despite the risks involved, it offers a spectrum of experiences that, I believe, are key to discovering your best self and, most importantly, fostering incredible friendships that will last a lifetime.

What is the Global Experience, what location did you choose and why, and who was part of your group?

George: Global Experience is a signature experiential module at LBS, designed to broaden your horizons by exploring some of the world’s most vibrant cities. Each journey is themed around a key business concept such as corporate strategy, private equity, or digital innovation, for example, allowing students to delve into these areas in dynamic global contexts. It’s a chance to engage directly with leading organizations – big and small, gain new perspectives and forge international connections.

The global experience took me to Silicon Valley, aligning perfectly with my background in innovation, transformation, and AI. This destination was an obvious choice given its status as a leading tech hub and the disruption we are seeing in the AI space today. Our group comprised a diverse mix of EMBA and SLOAN participants, all sharing a keen interest in tech, innovation, and venture capital. This trek offered a deep dive into the region’s cutting-edge digital advancements. We engaged with a range of companies and thought leaders, exploring how AI is shaping business strategies and models. For me, the experience felt a little bit like witnessing the dawn of the internet – an excitement and a glimpse into the future of digital innovation. It also was highly practical as could engage with practitioners in the same field and discuss real-world case studies and evidence-based strategies.

How was the week structured?

George: Our week in Silicon Valley was a dynamic blend of company visits, VC panels, guest speakers, workshops, debates, and social events. The programme was designed to fully immerse us in Silicon Valley life and culture. We had the flexibility to personalize our journey, choosing to engage with organizations across various facets of digital innovation, including AI, cybersecurity, and data privacy. You also get a chance to learn about disruptive strategies from both established companies’ and start-ups’ perspectives. This comprehensive structure provided a holistic view of the venture capital scene, the current digital landscape and AI’s myriad challenges and opportunities. Finally, there’s always time to explore San Francisco and the area, we even visited one of the wineries and caught a beautiful sunset over Sonoma Valley.

What kind of events did you attend and what companies/ stakeholders did you interact with? Do you remember any key speakers that you met during the Global Experience?

George: The Global Experience module offered me the flexibility to design a personalized journey, enabling visits to a diverse array of organizations. This included industry giants such as Electronic Arts, pioneers like OpenAI, innovation hubs like Plug and Play, and several remarkable start-ups. A standout experience was my visit to AIXplain, an innovative start-up dedicated to democratizing AI development. There, founder Hassan Sawaf and his team provided deep dives into the life of an early-stage company, strategies for market entry, and tactics for outpacing competitors.

Equally memorable was our engagement with OpenAI, where discussions with Arka Dhar (Sloan Fellow) delved into the ethical considerations, risks, and expansive potential of generative AI technology. These discussions were enlightening, exploring the vast capabilities of AI, its biases and ethical implications in depth. Overall, my Global Experience encompassed a broad spectrum of topics, from the future of gaming and ethical dilemmas in AI to the intricacies of venture capital, creating a comprehensive and enriching learning and certainly a very memorable week.

What were the main takeaways from this memorable learning experience?

George: For me, the trip was an immersion into generative AI space and its potential as a powerful equalizer. This week opened perspectives on how such technologies can be applied at scale and enable a diverse range of individuals with varying backgrounds and abilities to engage in fields like research or coding, thus democratizing access to tech advancements and dramatically accelerating productivity across all functions and sectors. Another learning is that we are only scratching the surface – some of the early-stage projects we’ve seen are mind-blowing and we’ll certainly see the next generation of AI that will be even more powerful and accessible, now we need to understand how to use it responsibly and cope with the pace of transformation. Next, it broadened my toolkit in terms of managing digital disruption – we talked a lot about navigating risks, prioritising use cases, hiring talent and building solutions.

Finally, GE gave me a deeper understanding of how Silicon Valley serves as a global innovation and entrepreneurship epicentre. It is such a magnet for world-class talent, ideas, and capital. It thrives on a unique mix of a highly skilled workforce, a risk-taking culture, openness, strong academic institutions, and a robust investment ecosystem. However, it also faces significant challenges like ethical dilemmas that we still need to learn how to solve. This experience has broadened my perspective on Silicon Valley’s ecosystem and the ever-evolving nature of the digital landscape.

What advice would you have for the upcoming Sloan candidates?

George: First and foremost, if you have the chance to do it, absolutely seize the opportunity! Sloan is a truly unique programme with an exceptional, diverse cohort and distinguished faculty. You will find yourself in the company of remarkable people, from whom you will learn a great deal and with whom you are sure to become very good friends. It is an excellently designed program that encourages you to explore and think differently and my advice would be to embrace your authenticity, be curious and open-minded and use this time to embark on unfamiliar paths.

For more experience about the learning experience on the Sloan programme, click here.

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