EET: What’s the status of high-tech outreach efforts to Iran today?
Elahian: The State Department adopted an educational exclusion [to the Iran sanctions] earlier this year, and under that a lot of exchanges have started to happen.
I was in Davos this year, and the UK foreign minister had just come from Tehran. He was a pioneer visiting in January on a Lufthansa flight with many German CEOs already on their second or third visit. The Europeans are way ahead of us.
From everything I have heard, American organizations have made trips recently. But in general the US business community is not as familiar with Iran. Because of politics in the past there is a lack of understanding.
Interestingly, every year more than 20% of Stanford's PhD graduates in computer science and electrical engineering come from Iran's Sharif University of Technology.
EET: Are you aware of efforts outside Iran?
Elahian: There's a huge movement going on.
UNICEF has 15 innovation labs in different parts of the world. The Unreasonable Institute recently opened an accelerator in Uganda, and I am traveling to Mexico City where they will open another branch.
We can overcome a lot of ethnic, political, and religious gaps between people. High-tech companies in Silicon Valley are color- and gender-blind -- all we care about is cooperation and who is smarter and contributes more. I have seen Indians and Pakistanis and Arabs and Jews work well together.
Education, empowerment of women, these are key principles that can help develop any country. These are better strategies than attacking and bombing and destroying. We need a more enlightened way to go to the roots of the problems, and educating youth and empowering women gives people hope for a better life.
EET: It's very hard to get funding in Silicon Valley today for the kind of chip companies you once started. How would you characterize the health of the startup community here?
Elahian: Picture a pyramid of innovation and value creation. The wide base represents things you can do manually or mechanically or electro-mechanically. Above that is microelectronics and software, and on the top is content. The higher you move up, the higher the value because there is more leverage.
Timing and geography is key in innovation. In Silicon Valley we have been doing a huge amount of work in software and algorithms and content.
Cirrus Logic [a chip designer he founded in 1984] was the first fabless company to put its emphasis on architectures and algorithms and move away from building fabs. Over the years, foundries developed in China, Korea, and Taiwan.
Today this business model has become commoditized. The US has created perhaps less than 50 fabless companies in the last 10 years, but in that same time China has created more than 500 if not more than 1,000. It's a progression of the innovation economy.
The way to rebuild America is not to go back to building mechanical or electro-mechanical parts. That's not creating high value. Today the highest point is software, algorithms, and content.
— Rick Merritt, Silicon Valley Bureau Chief, EE Times