Leveraging My Student Status to Network with Leading Business Innovators

by Ufei Chan, MBA '13 (1/4/13)

Ufei Chan, MBA '13

The Verge Conference is the place to be if you want to meet innovators and entrepreneurs forging technology advancements in energy, buildings, and transportation.

The Verge Conference is the place to be if you want to meet innovators and entrepreneurs forging technology advancements in energy, buildings, and transportation.  Held in San Francisco, this conference brought in notable speakers such as Bill Weihl, Manager of Energy Efficiency and Sustainability at Facebook; Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos; and Elizabeth Fretheim, Director of Business Strategy and Sustainability at Walmart.


In a round table discussion with Stan Curtis, VP of Business Development at People Power, a startup dedicated to delivering intuitive mobile apps and cloud-based software putting device monitoring and control in the user’s hands, he emphasized the importance of designing systems with the user’s lifestyle in mind. Stan’s message was clear – design products to create value for life.   Value creation has no upward bound while designing to reduce costs is limited.   For example, Google’s success in embedding energy efficiency and sustainability into its facility stemmed from their desire to improve employee experience. Google recognized that the key to making employees happy is health and community, so Google campuses around the world have been designed to promote just that. Cost efficiencies that arise from these changes are an important secondary benefit. Stan acknowledged that the “lifestyle issue” of sustainability is subjective and a hard challenge for any company to overcome.


In a session on technologies to promote sustainable mobility, Michael Smith, General Manager of Nextbus discussed how the company’s technology has made it easier for users to make on-the-spot decisions. The company looks at all available transportation options to foster ease of use, which they posit would lead to greater consumer adoption in the long run.


Throughout the two day conference I was able to establish relationships with a breath of companies across renewable energy, technology, and building and city infrastructure.   I spoke to representatives of well-established companies such as Google and IBM, as well as smaller niche companies such as Humana, a managed care company marketing health insurance plans and Volunteer Match, an online tool to encourage community involvement. Conversations ranged from topic centric talks to general advice on career development. I also had the privilege of connecting with Johnson alums including Jaclyn Hood (MBA ’10), Senior Product Manager at Pacific Gas and Electric. 


The Verge Conference is a fantastic avenue for students and professionals alike to explore the convergence of energy, information, building and transportation. Having completed the SGE Immersion I felt confident sharing my experiences and knowledge of the space. The SGE immersion gave me the opportunity to not only complete a consulting project from start to finish, but also to learn from other students through a number of presentations, which aided my ability to converse with professionals in the industry at Verge. The conference was a valuable experience that has deepened my understanding of sustainability and expanded my network of like-minded professionals.