Company Highlight: Graze #2

[by Amanda Shi]

On the first day of InnovTrip, we visited Graze, a UK based snack company that produces and delivers snack subscription boxes. In 2013, Graze expanded to the US, with its headquarters in Manhattan and distribution center in Jersey City. Graze develops healthy snacks that do not include genetically engineered/modified ingredients, artificial flavors/colors, high fructose corn syrup, or trans fats. To customize snack boxes, Graze uses an in-house algorithm, DARWIN (Decision Algorithm Rating What Ingredient’s Next) that takes user preferences into account. Graze has open roles in many fields—from marketing to engineering—but mainly focuses on operations and data science.

The Graze visit was my favorite, because it was one of the few companies we visited that was very open and honest with sharing information and answering our questions. Even though Graze isn’t viewed as a traditional “tech” company, they incorporate a lot of data science and optimization into their daily operations to maximize both profits and customer satisfaction. I found their supply chain optimization problems fascinating, and appreciated that the company strives to make data-driven decisions.

Graze is evidence of the global impact of technology—it has catalyzed the rapid evolution of every industry.

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David Kirkpatrick: The Reading List

[by Nuss Visatemongkolchai]

The January 2016 InnovTrip wrapped up with a dinner with David Kirkpatrick at a lovely pizza place in midtown Manhattan. While he’s best known as the author of “The Facebook Effect: The Inside Story of the Company that is Connecting the World“, David is an incredibly prolific writer and reader, we’ve learned. We couldn’t leave without some book recommendations, of course (descriptions courtesy of Amazon.com):

The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon

by Brad Stone

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The definitive story of Amazon.com, one of the most successful companies in the world, and of its driven, brilliant founder, Jeff Bezos.

Amazon.com started off delivering books through the mail. But its visionary founder, Jeff Bezos, wasn’t content with being a bookseller. He wanted Amazon to become the everything store, offering limitless selection and seductive convenience at disruptively low prices. To do so, he developed a corporate culture of relentless ambition and secrecy that’s never been cracked. Until now. Brad Stone enjoyed unprecedented access to current and former Amazon employees and Bezos family members, giving readers the first in-depth, fly-on-the-wall account of life at Amazon. Compared to tech’s other elite innovators–Jobs, Gates, Zuckerberg–Bezos is a private man. But he stands out for his restless pursuit of new markets, leading Amazon into risky new ventures like the Kindle and cloud computing, and transforming retail in the same way Henry Ford revolutionized manufacturing.

Read more

Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future

by Ashlee Vance

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New York Times Bestseller – Named One of the Best Books of the Year by The Wall Street Journal, NPR, Audible and Amazon
In Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future, veteran technology journalist Ashlee Vance provides the first inside look into the extraordinary life and times of Silicon Valley’s most audacious entrepreneur. Written with exclusive access to Musk, his family and friends, the book traces the entrepreneur’s journey from a rough upbringing in South Africa to the pinnacle of the global business world. Vance spent more than 30 hours in conversation with Musk and interviewed close to 300 people to tell the tumultuous stories of Musk’s world-changing companies: PayPal, Tesla Motors, SpaceX and SolarCity, and to characterize a man who has renewed American industry and sparked new levels of innovation while making plenty of enemies along the way.

In The Plex: How Google Thinks, Works, and Shapes Our Lives

by Stephen Levy

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Written with full cooperation from top management, including cofounders Sergey Brin and Larry Page, this is the inside story behind Google, the most successful and most admired technology company of our time, told by one of our best technology writers.

Few companies in history have ever been as successful and as admired as Google, the company that has transformed the Internet and become an indispensable part of our lives. How has Google done it? Veteran technology reporter Steven Levy was granted unprecedented access to the company, and in this revelatory book he takes readers inside Google headquarters—the Googleplex—to show how Google works.

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What the Dormouse Said: How the Sixties Counterculture Shaped the Personal Computer Industry

by John Markoff

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Most histories of the personal computer industry focus on technology or business. John Markoff’s landmark book is about the culture and consciousness behind the first PCs—the culture being counter– and the consciousness expanded, sometimes chemically. It’s a brilliant evocation of Stanford, California, in the 1960s and ’70s, where a group of visionaries set out to turn computers into a means for freeing minds and information. In these pages one encounters Ken Kesey and the phone hacker Cap’n Crunch, est and LSD, The Whole Earth Catalog and the Homebrew Computer Lab. What the Dormouse Said is a poignant, funny, and inspiring book by one of the smartest technology writers around.

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Machines of Loving Grace: The Quest for Common Ground Between Humans and Robots

by John Markoff

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In Machines of Loving Grace, New York Times reporter John Markoff, the first reporter to cover the World Wide Web, offers a sweeping history of the complicated and evolving relationship between humans and computers. Over the recent years, the pace of technological change has accelerated dramatically, reintroducing this difficult ethical quandary with newer and far weightier consequences. As Markoff chronicles the history of automation, from the birth of the artificial intelligence and intelligence augmentation communities in the 1950s, to the modern day brain trusts at Google and Apple in Silicon Valley, and on to the expanding tech corridor between Boston and New York, he traces the different ways developers have addressed this fundamental problem and urges them to carefully consider the consequences of their work.

We are on the verge of a technological revolution, Markoff argues, and robots will profoundly transform the way our lives are organized. Developers must now draw a bright line between what is human and what is machine, or risk upsetting the delicate balance between them.

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That’s a lot of awesome books, and we can’t wait to start diving into them either, but don’t forget to check out Techonomy Magazine as well!

Company Highlight: AppNexus

[by Douglas Diehl]

On the evening of Tuesday January 26, Princeton Innovation visited AppNexus, a global online advertising company. AppNexus boasts the world’s leading independent ad tech platform. During the visit, we had the opportunity to hear from three AppNexus employees who gave us an overview of the company. They explained the process of real-time bidding that takes place in an electronic platform in fractions of seconds.

For example, when you visit a website, it is possible that AppNexus mediated the bidding process for the advertisements you will most likely see. I personally had never thought too much about where the advertisements on the page come from, or how multifaceted and coordinated the process must be. The size of the advertisement must be taken into account, the preferences of the viewer, and the highest bidder is able to win.

Additionally, we learned that without advertisements, many companies would be unable to run their content online for free, content that we would not like to pay for and that we just assume is free. Yet, business that have online presences use advertisement space as a way to bring in capital that keeps websites operating. I also enjoyed a brief discussion on ad blockers, because it appears that there are differing perspectives on the matter. On the one hand, an employee at AppNexus explained the viewpoint that ad blockers are bad for the Internet in general. On the other hand, an employee at Google, a competitor in this industry, held the position that ad blockers are a response to the uncontrolled flow of ads that take over computer screens and adversely affect the visitors’ online website viewing experience.

A particularly nice part of the visit was a complete tour of AppNexus’s floors. From the lobby entrance to the building, quite small and unimpressive, the floors stood in stark contrast; they were impressive and grand. In addition to large open concept workspaces, AppNexus had historic elevators, a comfortable library, an auditorium space, and a basketball court. Additionally, it was interesting to see a timeline of AppNexus on the wall of one of their floors, which detailed all of the accomplishments of the company. Lastly, AppNexus graciously hosted a Princeton Innovation alumni reception on their main floor, which enjoyed many dynamic conversations and provided a greater idea of the varied fields of Princeton alumni in science fields.

Company Highlight: D. E. Shaw Research

[by Catherine Wu]

D. E. Shaw Research (“DESRES”) is based in lower Manhattan and conducts advanced research within computational biochemistry. The company builds supercomputers (the Anton series) that are used do perform molecular dynamics simulations, which are used to conduct scientific research with a focus on computer-aided drug design. There is also work in designing and implementing novel algorithms that advance the speed and granularity of computation.

During the InnovTrip visit, the participants were joined by several DESRES researchers in a spacious conference room for a few presentations. The scientists walked us through the design process of the Anton supercomputer and discussed how Anton is advancing and revolutionizing research by demo-ing the biomolecular simulations that Anton makes possible. We were introduced to how the supercomputer is facilitating drug discovery by modeling protein interactions on the scale of 10^-15 seconds, which is orders of magnitudes faster than previous attempts and thus allows for improved accuracy. The firm is continuously improving the supercomputer design and completes a new computer about every 5 years. We then saw a copy of Anton 2 that was located in the office and learned some details about the system, including the innovative cooling system that was specifically designed for it.

My biggest takeaway from the visit is how important hardware design is to pushing drug frontiers. In the Princeton classes I took, the focus has largely been on software and this was the first time that I was really exposed to an application where hardware design is the most challenging and essential part of the project.