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Nothing is sacred
DFC '01 offers ideas in digital disaster relief

  Mohan Sawhney addresses the audience at the Digital Frontier Conference.
Mohan Sawhney addresses the audience at the Digital Frontier Conference.

"Kill a sacred cow today," said Professor Mohanbir Sawhney during his keynote address leading off the 7th annual Digital Frontier Conference (DFC) in January.

The advice -- inspired by the market's recent volatility that's forced entrepreneurs to rethink conventional wisdom -- was delivered to business students and executives who arrived at the Donald P. Jacobs Center eager to contemplate the conference theme: "Surviving the Digital Storm."

By his own admission, Sawhney's lecture "meandered" through an array of fascinating subjects, including quantum physics, Zen Buddhism and the observations of his five-year-old daughter. These examples served as touchstones for the professor who urged the audience to think outside boundaries to find knowledge.

"The truth is always in the middle," mused Sawhney, explaining that there is no dichotomy separating the new economy or old economy, but simply a hybrid "enhanced economy."

Over 900 attendees gathered to hear Sawhney and other e-commerce experts. With 28 eclectic panels at the conference, participants had a lot from which to choose. Some sessions addressed new trends in venture capital, B2B and B2C online exchanges, while others were more global in scope, considering the wired future of Asia and Latin America.

New to DFC was the presence of nearly 100 invited alumni. Graduates who could not attend in person watched the proceedings online. Viewers of the live telecast submitted questions electronically during Q&A sessions following each panel discussion.

"The Internet is not a fad. It is an evolutionary revolution," stated Mark Goldston, chairman and CEO of Netzero, the largest free ISP in the world. In his keynote, Goldston accounted for the recent dismal tech market performance by citing an irrational public that rarely studies a business before investing, and then runs when people yell "fire." Investors did not give new ventures enough time to mature, he said, adding that "asking certain start-ups why they had not made a profit yet was like asking a sophomore in high school why she had not graduated yet."

Professor Steve Rogers (far R) leads the "Entrepreneur's Forum," a panel discussion at the Digital Frontier Conference.  
Professor Steve Rogers (far R) leads the "Entrepreneur's Forum," a panel discussion at the Digital Frontier Conference.  

A concern voiced throughout the conference was how a dearth of capital in reaction to a declining market might curtail future innovations. Most participants, however, believed that survivors of the shakeout will emerge bigger and stronger, especially as wireless technology advances. In fact, experts on the "Wireless Web" panel expected revolutionary changes in the mobile phone industry with the advent of 3G, the third generation of mobile phone technology. 3G bandwidth will increase technological innovation, with entertainment driving new applications, the panel predicted.

In addition to Goldston, other keynotes included Brian Kelley, vice president of Ford; Charles Levine, CEO of Sprint PCS; Daniel Hesse, CEO of Terabeam Networks; and Mark Hogan, president of e-GM.

--Michael Chung

Private Equity Conference draws industry leaders. Find story here.

©2001 Kellogg School of Management, Northwestern University