Vice President Corporate Development & Strategy, LinkedIn
Globalization and technology are dramatically changing how we do our jobs. For some it can be a problem. Others see extraordinary promise. Meet Ellen Levy—interventionist, bridge builder, arbitrager — a self-proclaimed opportunist, who has an indefatigable ability to make powerful connections between people and concepts.
These days, there is much discussion about the challenges of bringing together distinct disciplines. Levy finds inspiration at these intersections. "I work for ideas first, and organizations second, and then only to the extent that the organizations are somehow related to the idea," she says.
There aren't too many people who can easily flow between the diverse atmospheres of academia and commercial enterprise. Levy legitimately speaks both languages as she comes from a family of academics and obtained her Ph.D. from Stanford University in Cognitive Psychology. She also spent years working for several top venture capital firms, Silicon Valley startups, and major brands like Apple Computer and Price Waterhouse. For two years she ran the groundbreaking MediaX program at Stanford where she fostered university-industry relations. Many familiar with her program liken it to an "intellectual matchmaking service" where Levy played the catalytic role of matchmaker.
Earlier in 2007, Levy officially branched out on her own and founded two firms — Silicon Valley Connect (SVC) and 3Quadrant Consulting. Both are focused on helping foster such connections: the former focusing on start-ups, venture capitalists, foundations and corporations who have common goals but come from different perspectives, geographies or business verticals; the latter specifically focusing on university-industry collaboration. "Essentially, I'm taking advantage of an enormous arbitrage opportunity at the information layer, so to speak, finding all kinds of ways to move information between individuals who otherwise would not find one another or share their insights," she says.
SVC is the umbrella company for most of Levy's initiatives these days, whether it is working as the Network Advisor to global venture capital firm Draper Fisher Jurvetson, serving as a Deputy Chair for the Clinton Global Initiative, advising a handful of startup companies — not the least of which being professional social-networking site Linkedin — or working directly with Fortune 500 companies on their technology and innovation strategies. In addition, SVC will formally launch its first event, Silicon Valley comes to the United Kingdom, later this fall. The genesis of the event is Levy's basic formula: select talented people focused on globally relevant topics of mutual interest, create a unique opportunity for them to convene and discuss, and the rest will follow. And by "the rest," Levy means real relationships that will prove valuable for those trying to innovate globally.
3Quadrant Consulting — a name based on Donald Stoke's 1997 book Pasteur's Quadrant — helps bridge the interests between universities and companies. "The difference between the two worlds is night and day," she says. "If we truly want to unleash a new level of innovation between the activities of the university and the world around it, which includes both industry and government, we need to foster interactions that are more than just quick transactions, and that can only be accomplished when we start focusing on the unique ROI model, motivations, work style, time course and reward structure of each group." As an information intermediary, Levy has already consulted for universities including Washington State University and Brown University to help build their framework and define new ways to migrate ideas through their system.
With all that Levy has on her plate, how does she manage to get it all done? A good example would be from an experience in 1999. While in the midst of the Internet bubble, working first as an Internet startup executive, and then as a venture capitalist, Levy also spent the entire year chronicling her life and taking pictures of everyone she met. She didn't miss an entry for 365 days, and ended up with a document nearly 3,000 pages long. She found, among other things, that it helped her create a true awareness of the relationships around her. "Ultimately, people are what matter," she says. "The best connections usually aren't that obvious — I am constantly turning over rocks. The curiosity of what I might find is addictive. And when the connections result in something truly meaningful, it is incredibly gratifying. I have the best job in the world."