Inventor of Ethernet discusses importance of entrepreneurship

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Bob Metcalfe, UT electrical engineering professor and inventor of Ethernet, speaks at a lecture in 2012.

Photo Credit: Shelby Tauber | Daily Texan Staff

Bob Metcalfe, UT electrical engineering professor and inventor of Ethernet, spoke to graduate students Friday about the importance of entrepreneurship and start-ups in creating positive change.

Metcalfe is known for inventing Ethernet, the most widely used technology for linking computers together in local area networks. He discussed his experience founding the software company 3Com and his opinions on Austin entrepreneurship, in the event hosted by Entrepreneurs and Industry Committee of the Graduate Student Assembly.

“We say what starts here changes the world,” Metcalfe said. “Well, you graduate students, you write papers, you give speeches, but how about start-ups? Start-ups is how you change the world, in my opinion.”

A problem with the Austin start-up scene is the lack of willingness to take risks, Metcalfe said.

 “I’ve been criticizing the start-up people in Austin for not being ambitious enough,” Metcalfe said. “We tend to start companies that are smaller ideas and we don’t pursue them hotly. I offer two sets of evidence that we are not ambitious enough: the companies sell too soon, and they don’t plan on going public from the start.”

Metcalfe said a factor in his success was his belief in the value of his ideas.

“I am a monster — I now don’t take anyone’s advice because I learned that not taking anyone’s advice worked for me,” Metcalfe said. “Some companies will talk to [investors], and they have a slide that says ‘exit strategies’. I personally don’t like that — the idea’s too small if you are already talking about an exit strategy.”

Clayton Signor, business graduate student and Entrepreneurs and Industry committee member, said Metcalfe was an easy choice because of his top entrepreneurial background.

“Ethernet is a pretty impactful technology, and it’s very interesting to hear how he came up with it and was able to get people to buy into it and adopt it universally,” Signor said. 

Lisa Plokker, a local concept artist who took art classes at UT, said Metcalfe’s insight changed her views on starting a company. She said his advice to become the best at something and then turn it into a business hit home in regard to her art.

“I hadn’t really thought too much about doing my own start-up, so I was just here to see what it’s all about,” Plokker said. “After listening to the talk, I think maybe it’s good to learn a lot, get really good at [my passion], and then start a company.”