From Geek to Suit - The Pioneer Lecture Series

  • Professor, Language Technologies Institute
  • Carnegie Mellon University, and
  • Karlesruhe Institute of Technology, Germany

Building a Tech Business – Up Close and Personal

The School of Computer Science and Tepper School of Business have introduced a series of lectures (in conjunction with the course, 15-390: Entreprenuership for Computer Science), led by major CEOS and pioneers in the Computer Science industry.  During the Spring semester, our invited speakers will share their knowledge on how to build a successful company from a technical vision.  The audience will be given the opportunity to learn from their experiences, to learn about their war stories, their triumphs, their disasters, their high/low points, their gotchas, and suggestions. Questions will be welcomed.

One of the oddest phrases I kept hearing while running companies is: “It’s just business, nothing personal”. In my experience, nothing could be further from the truth: starting and running a business is intensely personal. It’s putting one’s professional life on warp speed, putting many thrills and crashes in fast forward, assuming responsibility for other peoples’ lives and a future world, and living through some of the oddest experiences, instead of having an otherwise peaceful career. My own story began with the dream of making the interaction with machines and with each other (particularly across languages) through machines easier; and not just in theory, but for everyone to use. Academics can only go so far, and if we are serious about breaking down barriers for all, we must bring it to the masses. The businesses (~10 in total), I founded or co-founded centered on building such interface and translation technologies/services and resulted in 5 acquisitions and one IPO. We built and delivered speech recognition products, sold the first speech translator on a phone and are still running simultaneous interpretation services in lecture halls.

But the actual journey of building businesses has many more personal and human angles that are independent of technology. This lecture is about these other angles that are key to success but rarely talked about. And some tales are indeed stranger than fiction…

  • Why/How to start a company - How to do it? What ideas make sense?
  • How to start a company as an academic?
  • Who (not) to have on your team; how to fill important roles…mistakes can kill you
  • Cash, the Oxygen of Businesses – How/where to get it? The more, the better?
  • Legal – why certain paper work and the fine-prints matters? Do patents matter?
  • Customers - “Building a business was fun until we had customers”
  • Product Failures, Flops & Blow Ups – Expect them and How to Handle
  • Imitation is the most sincere form of flattery – If you got something good, they WILL come and steal it. Customers, Competitors and Bullies. How to respond?
  • Unexpected Broadsides (You couldn’t make these up if you wanted to) - Tsunamis, fraudsters, bankruptcies, lies, fake reviews, TV-attacks, foreign fake news
  • The Exit, How to Sell a Company - Negotations, Deals, Due Diligence, Legal Hell, Diplomacy, GOlden Handcuffs, months of sleepless nights and gaining weight
  • The Morning After - Adjusting to a new life a d a new role
  • Who is Rich? - The quantum levels of wealth and purpose

Dr.  Alexander Waibel has directed many research programs in speech, translation, multimodal interfaces and machine learning in the US, Europe and Asia.  He has served as director of EU-Bridge (2012-2015) and Computers in the Human Interaction Loop (2004-2007),  two large European multi-site Integrated Project  initiatives  on  intelligent  assistants  and  speech  translation services. He also served as  a  co-director of IMMI (German-French joint venture).

Dr. Waibel is an Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Fellow and received many awards for his work on multilingual and multimodal communication and translation.   Dr. Waibel has published extensively (>750 publications, >25,000 citations, h-index 80) in the field and received/filed numerous patents.  Dr. Waibel was elected to the National Academy of Sciences of Germany in 2017, and was named Honorary Senator of the Hochschulrektorenkonferenz (Representation of German Universities).

  • Upcoming lectures can be found at: Pioneer Lecture Series
  • To assure maximum authenticity, lectures will "off the record" portions where no recordings are permitted. You won't want to miss being there!
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