“With the Super Evolution, companies are moving at a pace that we've never seen before.”
Optimism is an essential trait for Dror Berman, co-founder and managing partner of Innovation Endeavors
Who is Dror? What is Innovation Endeavors?
I grew up in Israel as a technologist, served in the Special Forces, and then studied computer science and bioinformatics in Ben Gurion University. I came to Stanford with my wife to get my MBA and that’s where I met Eric Schmidt, then the CEO of Google and my professor at Stanford. Eric and I founded Innovation Endeavors with a mission to partner with entrepreneurs looking to tackle the big challenges humanity would face over the next decades.
What made you focus on such problems? How did you think about solving them?
I’ve always been fascinated by technology and the change it can drive in the world. The past two decades have arguably been the most meaningful in the history of humanity, as technology became integral in our daily lives. Yet, we were only scratching the surface in using technology to solve critical challenges around topics such as healthcare or climate.
The past year has shown us that those challenges are at our doorstep.
The sudden push to deal with the pandemic forced us to find ways to diagnose and treat disease outbreaks within weeks rather than years. Cities and governments had to mobilize resources and make critical decisions within hours rather than months. Countries worldwide had to deal with “once-in-a-lifetime” fires that forced many to outrun the flames. The climate crisis sparked a renewed interest to predict, respond to, and mitigate extreme weather events.
But there’s good news. We have never been better positioned to make this change.
Our thesis was that technological advances across data, computation, and engineering would converge and translate into significant, fast changes for the world. We called that phenomenon the Super Evolution.
What drives you to do what you do?
I am an optimist, and I bring this point of view to everything I do. We can -- and should -- move faster to solve problems and change industries. Everything is possible. I'm fortunate to be in a position to help entrepreneurs and dreamers to change the world.
How do you maintain your optimistic view?
At this point I’m not just optimistic -- I can see our thesis working.
Over the past decade we invested in over 150 companies, with over 25 of them becoming unicorns by now. We’ve seen audacious founders apply this thesis to rethink industries, building generational companies at a global scale and an unprecedented pace. One of our key observations is that many more massive, technology-first companies will emerge rapidly in previously untouchable domains.
Take Uber, for example. It reimagined the way we mobilize people and freight and built one of the fastest-growing companies in history in an industry very few dared to touch. Planet reinvented the satellite industry, creating an architecture 100x cheaper, lighter and faster to build. It grew rapidly to operate one of the largest fleets of satellites with over 200 satellites in orbit. More importantly, the 350 million sq km of imagery that Planet generates daily allows anyone to build new applications in agriculture, forestry, energy, and finance.
Planet and Uber are only two examples of companies that few could have imagined just a decade ago. Furthermore, Planet and Uber are the foundations for hundreds of startups that will emerge over the next decade and invent a better future.
We already see this in play across many other startups. The future is bright.
Should we expect this growth to continue?
The past decade has been stunning from a technical growth perspective. Many companies built groundbreaking capabilities to sense the biological and physical domains. Others advanced the foundation to process large amounts of data and infer insights quickly and efficiently. Finally, other companies have been pushing the boundaries of what we can do in robotics and synthetic biology, giving rise to unparalleled capabilities to build things in the physical and biological realms.
Most of those companies have been applying closed-loop learning, innovating faster and faster. A lot of this tech stack, particularly around machine learning and engineering biology, is increasingly open-sourced and is the basis of collaboration of the best researchers worldwide.
Yet, we are just getting started. We should expect to see breakthrough technologies emerging in our ability to sense, compute and engineer the world. Those will further strengthen the virtuous cycle that powers our ability to solve big problems.
What are you looking for when you look at a startup?
I love to work with audacious teams working on world changing ideas. I find that companies built now are fundamentally different. They start with a mission at the core, looking to solve big problems that we all face. They are multidisciplinary, bringing together the world’s best physicists, computer scientists, roboticists, mathematicians, biologists, engineers, and others required to solve those challenges. Furthermore, they are ambitious, building quickly-evolving full-stack solutions that aim to replace incumbents and reinvent industries.
Did that play a role in the way you have built Innovation Endeavors?
As a firm, we evolved to build a partnership that can support such companies in the best way possible. We assembled a deeply technical team augmented with an incredible community across all relevant technical and functional disciplines. Most importantly, we created a collaborative culture that encourages all of us to work closely together to support our founders.
Was this always the plan for you -- to look at the world with a wide lens and be at the forefront of solving the most difficult problems?
I grew up as a curious kid, seeking adventures and pushing myself to explore. Stanford helped me focus. It was the first time that I realized that I could really change the world. It sounds naive, but I felt that I was also responsible to do just that. It put me on a trajectory to pursue the things I’m doing now.
Do you feel a responsibility to change for the world?
I'm in a fortunate position to affect important change. I think that it's time for all of us to think about how we can improve the world. I can play a role in that by catalyzing more growth, helping entrepreneurs bring their ideas to life, and supporting visionary founders that have the right ideas. I feel that it’s my responsibility, but it's also fun. It's not that I'm carrying a big weight on my shoulders -- I think it's amazing.
What’s your vision for the next few years?
It’s been an exciting decade, but we are only getting started. We have to work harder to leave a better world for our kids and the generations to come. I could not be more excited for the future ahead.
Michael Matias, Forbes 30 Under 30, is the author of Age is Only an Int: Lessons I Learned as a Young Entrepreneur. He studies Artificial Intelligence at Stanford University, is a Venture Partner at J-Ventures and was an engineer at Hippo Insurance. Matias previously served as an officer in the 8200 unit. 20MinuteLeaders is a tech entrepreneurship interview series featuring one-on-one interviews with fascinating founders, innovators and thought leaders sharing their journeys and experiences.
Contributing editors: Michael Matias, Megan Ryan