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Silicon Valley is sometimes pictured as the Disneyland of innovation. Thousands of thriving businesses and a unique communication culture makes it ideal for innovation tourism, an educational experience comprised of company visits, inspirational workshops and immersive training.

SK Holdings, one of the largest conglomerates in South Korea, was looking for an opportunity for intellectual stimulation for its best employees. In October 2017, Silicon Valley Tours organized a trip that featured visits to famous Bay area companies, such as AirBnB, Amazon, Tesla, Waze, SolarCity, and others.

During a tour like this visitors get “emotional adrenaline”, it’s like a roller-coaster for your brain, says Christian Lorentzen, a lead tour guide for Silicon Valley Tours. Visitors get exposed to concepts and technologies they have never heard before, and take a rest from the usual office routine. By the end of the trip, visitors feel enlightened and inspired.

SK Holdings, also known as SK Group, owns businesses across a number of industries in South Korea. For its employees, we created a customized immersive experience that gave them an overview of the latest technologies that are gaining popularity in Silicon Valley and beyond.

AirBnB: The Future of Shared and Gig Economy

AirBnB, a 10-year old travel company, isn’t stopping at disrupting the hotel industry. Soon it will move into local specialized tours, restaurant reservations and even flight bookings, as AirBnB continues to leverage so-called “gig-economy”.  

“People who are underemployed find high-impact work through the sharing economy in consulting, accounting, manufacturing”, explained Andrew Lee, business development manager at AirBnB.

Our visitors discovered how AirBnB uses technologies, such as IoT, Big Data and Augmented Reality, to compete with high-asset businesses. Smart IoT locks, ID verification and VR previews of rental spots take the stress out of hosting visitors and staying at a stranger’s house. SK Holdings employees were able to project these innovations into their respective businesses.

Nvidia: Deep Learning and Artificial Intelligence

Nvidia produces graphics processing units (GPU) for gaming, cryptocurrency mining and deep learning. Nvidia GPUs are superior to regular CPUs and enable an array of Artificial Intelligence innovations in areas like smart cities, facial recognition and self-driving cars.

Nvidia technologies are used in a number of industries: from construction and architecture to manufacturing and transportation. The trip to Nvidia was valuable for SK Holdings given that the company works in a number of industries where Nvidia technologies operate.

Amazon: Internal innovation and a six-page business plan

SK Holding employees were amazed with Amazon’s approach to allocating internal resources for new innovative projects. Amazon has a policy called a ‘Six-page Business Plan”.

If anybody in the company has an idea for anything new, they have to write a 6-page business plan, no more no less, and present it at the next team meeting. If they decided to move forward with the plan then in order to get resources from other departments, they write a press-release, assuming the project is a done deal. They need to visualize how the project is helpful to customers, how it would be received by the global community and what questions their audience would have.

Amazon employees use data to justify their decisions. Junior members of staff are able to move their ideas forward and be considered at for senior level positions. The visitors from South Korea noted this as a key difference in American business culture as compared to how they are used to working at home.

Waze: The Value of Community

Waze is a GPS driving app that uses user-generated data. Back in 2013, this Israeli startup was acquired by Google for a whopping $1.3 bln. At Waze, our tourists learned how businesses can leverage the value of community.

“When you are building out a new market you don’t necessarily have to use payment to get somebody to engage with you, you just have to paint a vision that is very attractive,” said Lorentzen, who was present at the meeting with Waze.

Waze is an active community of people, contributing to the ‘common good’ on the road, improving everyone’s driving. People use Waze to record road hazards, police traps, and improve maps.

SK Holdings was interested in how apps like Waze can help advance the concept of a smart, connected city. Google acquired this app to add social context to its mapping business.

Silicon Valley Tours: Adrenaline boost

SK Holdings’ Silicon Valley journey concluded with a spectacular Google campus tour and Tesla Model X test drive. SK Holdings employees got their adrenaline boost when they learned how Silicon Valley companies maintain the state of innovation and which technologies are going to disrupt industries where SKH has businesses.

The final goal of every tour like this is to make employees leave the comfort zone of their office and get them to think more openly about technological innovation, say Lorentzen. Our tours get visitors excited about the future and inspired to take action. “It’s the same kind of excitement that you get from a roller coaster so this is a roller coaster for your brain,” say Lorentzen.


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