Thursday night Oregon State University MBA candidate Dale McCauley told the crowd at the 2013 Weatherford Awards in Portland how he got started as an innovator.
“When I was 4 years old my parents gave me a tool box. With real tools,” McCauley said. “Nothing with bolts was safe.”
It was a fitting start to an evening honoring entrepreneurs and innovators, those who saw the tools they had at their disposal and found a way to change the world, or in the case of 4-year-old McCauley, his mother’s Cuisinart.
McCauley is also a key part of the Austin Entrepreneurship Program, which sponsored the awards and is housed in Weatherford Hall. The program, supported by a gift from Ken and Joan Austin, helps expose current Oregon State students to the ideas and practice of entrepreneurship and teach the next generations of business visionaries.
One of the first students to come out of the program was Alex Polvi, who was honored with fellow OSU alumni Dan Di Spaltro and Logan Welliver for the their startup, Cloudkick.
“We had no clue what we were doing,” Di Spaltro said.
“We had some clue,” Polvi interjected.
Di Spaltro spoke of the trio’s defining ideas of humor, trust, determination and keeping the operation lean.
“We had a team in it for the dream, not the paycheck,” Polvi said.
Also honored was Dr. Albert Starr, who helped develop the first artificial heart valve while working at what is now Oregon Health and Science University in 1958.
He said one of the keys to innovation is confidence, having the strength to push ahead even when the outcome is uncertain.
Starr remembered the first time OHSU approached him about cardiac surgery, something he hadn’t trained for specifically.
“He said Starr, can you do this type of surgery?” Starr said. “Of course.”
While Experian CEO Don Robert is confident in his business life, he was less so when he received the letter informing him he was a 2013 Weatherford Award honoree.
He called College of Business Dean Ilene Kleinsorge to let her know she had the wrong guy. He was the CEO of the world’s largest credit services company, not an entrepreneur.
“She told me maybe we have the wrong guy, but we’ve got the right company,” Robert said.
That he agreed with. Experian thrives on institutional innovation, Robert said, with much of the company’s business coming from products that didn’t exist five years ago.
“The job of our management team is to not screw that up and get in the way of good ideas. I will take the credit humbly for not screwing it up.”
The final honoree of the evening was Oregon’s first and still only woman governor, Barbara Roberts.
“Some of you are wincing to think about innovation in government,” Roberts said. “But in Oregon it does and has happened.”
Roberts mentioned Oregon’s vote by mail system, the Death With Dignity Act and a number of other legislative firsts which show Oregon’s pioneering character.
“I am a descendent of Oregon Trail pioneers,” she said. “You don’t stop. You don’t turn back.”
Roberts left the stage with a line from her inaugural address (“Not everyone gets to say that,” she added with a laugh).
“Each generation has but one chance to be judged by future generations,” Roberts said. “Now is out time. Let us be worthy of their judgment. ”