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University Pioneers Lead Innovation Startups - Again

Jul 25, 2012, by Robert Vietzke
Tags: Community-Driven Innovation, Education, Executive Insights, Higher Education, imported, Research, Research Technology

Yesterday's announcement that global IT virtualization leader VMware is acquiring a nascent Palo Alto startup named Nicira for $1.25 billion is more than just another silicon valley startup story. For the research and education community that drives Internet2, Nicira/VMware is the most recent example of how the innovations nurtured in campus and government lab programs continue to drive the $3 trillion dollar annual information technology market. Much of that market was created or has evolved from US campus and government investments in innovations.

Nicira is an outgrowth of exceptional student and faculty collaboration at Stanford and UC Berkeley. The story of innovation related to software defined networking and OpenFlow that Stanford created and Nicira is now part of is still evolving. What is already clear, however, is that innovations hatched on Stanford and Berkeley's campuses are poised to transform global networking, again. Recall that Sun Microsystems, Cisco, Google, Berkeley Unix and many other innovation engines that underpin our information society also originated on those campuses.

Companies like VMware are taking notice and taking big risks to translate the transformative ideas from Stanford and Berkeley into new product directions and competitive advantages. It is with nurturing support, not only through Nicira's venture funders, but also through the National Science Foundation (NSF) and GENI investments – that helped create an environment where the OpenFlow ideas could develop into something that venture funding would invest in and a company like VMware would acquire. The community's investment in Internet2 has played a part with contributions to Stanford's Clean Slate Program and GENI.

The Nicira website links the Research and Education community to Nicira's creation plainly. "Martin Casado, Nick McKeown (Stanford) and Scott Shenker (UC Berkeley) founded Nicira in 2007… Much of the initial work and invention originated with Martin's work at Stanford, where Nick and Scott were his doctoral advisors. Some of the critical innovations of the founding collaborators were the invention of OpenFlow, Open vSwitch, and the development of the Open Networking Forum. All of these continue to contribute to the industry."

"Critical innovations" hatched in a collaboration among a doctoral student and his advisors are ideas that VMware has valued at $1.25B. University innovation, creating companies and markets - again.