Change through innovation is not easy.  There is a certain comfort in the status quo, even if that condition does not necessarily serve the best interests of an individual, business or institution.

However, change is also necessary, especially in a free market economy. As Steve Jobs said, “Innovation is the ability to see change as an opportunity, not a threat.”

John Chambers and Brad Smith are two business leaders who have embraced change and fostered innovation.

Chambers improved the tech company Cisco Systems annual revenue from $70 million to $47 billion. After his retirement, the WVU graduate started a venture capital firm and set out to make a difference in his home state.

Chambers has pledged his money—an undisclosed amount—and his vision to his alma mater to teach and foster entrepreneurship. The mission of Vantage Ventures at WVU is to “build companies that accelerate economic opportunities for every West Virginian.”

Chambers is a true disrupter.  He said during a recent interview that he believes the mistake people make is doing the right thing for too long.  “Most people have a feeling that if they continue to do three to five percent better, they will be fine. However, if you don’t think outside the box, you can get left behind with tremendous speed.”

He believes the next big thing will be in the area of artificial intelligence and he hopes that West Virginia University’s new center on entrepreneurship can tap into possibilities.

Brad Smith graduated from Marshall University and went on to become President and CEO of the software giant Intuit.  He has stepped down from that position, but still serves as executive board chairman.

Like Chambers, Smith wants to help his home state. He and his wife, Alys, recently donated $25 million to Marshall’s Lewis College of Business.  Marshall University said the gift “has inspired the creation of the Center for Entrepreneurship and Business Innovation and the foundation of a new state-of-the-art business school facility.”

Last month, Smith brought a team of innovators from Intuit to Marshall for a workshop with the university’s business school faculty and staff.  He also committed Intuit to build a customer service center in Bluefield.

The center will also include an innovation lab. “It will be teaching the Silicon Valley techniques to local small business owners, students and workers in the hub so we can launch the next chapter of businesses in the local region,” Smith said.

We know all too well about the brain drain from West Virginia, so it’s encouraging when successful entrepreneurs like John Chambers and Brad Smith come back and reinvest in the state.  Our state desperately needs enthusiastic risk takers who, with some guidance and working capital, will become tomorrow’s innovators.


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