This week, I got a chance to interview serial founder Michael Baum on his thoughts on the next generation of young innovators. Michael started his entrepreneurial path while a student at Drexel University. Having studied computer science, he became curious about solving problems and pushing possibilities. Since then, he has sold companies to AT&T, IBM, Yahoo!, Thompson Reuters, and Disney. In 2012, his company [Splunk](www.splunk.com) IPO'd. With his early start as a student and now decades of company building experience, Michael has long been a supporter of student entrepreneurs. I interviewed Michael on his thoughts on the future of entrepreneurship.
###What makes a new generation leader?
**MB:** For me, next generation leaders have a balance of three characteristics.:
1. First they have to have a deep desire to change the status quo of something in the world. This could be a passion for solving a problem, creating a new experience or exploring a new approach to existing ways of doing things. But all leaders start with their own desire to change the world in some way. Without this leadership is just an empty suit or a power hungry politician.
2. Secondly, leaders need to be somewhat delusional in order to continue on every day with their quest. There are many naysayers along the way and without a bit of delusion (or some call it vision) its simply not possible. I believe the most effective leaders actually see the world (or their part of it) in a way that they believe it can and should be and the thing that drives them every day is the frustration that things are not already that way.
3. Finally, these next generation leaders must be audacious. Communicating one’s vision to change the status quo is never easy and you are always selling. But the best next generation leaders know how to sell and be bold without being arrogant or condescending. The combination of these three traits is the magic in their personalities that makes others want to get on board for the journey with them.
###Can you give a few examples of people that you would classify as young innovators?
**MB:** Well, our program at FOUNDER.org is full of great examples.
Jenny Broutin, CEO of [SproutsIO](http://sprouts.io) and [MIT Media Lab](http://www.media.mit.edu) graduate is a prime example. Jenny grew up in suburbs of Detroit where she grew fresh fruits and vegetables in her garden with her mom. When she went on to study architecture at Columbia University and then focus on Smarter Cities research at the MIT Media Lab, she became frustrated with the huge amounts of waste and lack of taste and choice provided by our global agricultural system. This has become her life’s passion. SproutsIO is developing consumer and professional produce appliances that will enable anyone to grow their own fresh fruits and vegetables in confined spaces using hydroponics. Her vision is bold, audacious and a bit delusional as she imagines us controlling our own personal produce growth right from our smart phones.
Another example of a young innovator in our program is Connor Landgraf, CEO of [Eko Devices](http://www.media.mit.edu). Connor was the president of the UC Berkeley undergraduate student body for three years. When he graduated last year and was starting his company, he recruiting more than a dozen other undergraduate students to help him build it. Eko is developing a digital stethoscope system which enables primary care doctors to digitize the heart and lung sounds from patients and in real time compare them to thousands of known arrhythmias. Connor was told by many people that he couldn’t build such a product nor compete in this market with the big players. But this new generation of digital leaders, don’t see the obstacles, they see they possibilities and they expect to get there faster than traditional businesses. He is currently undergoing a trial of his system with Stanford Hospital in California.
###How are they different to so-called “old school” business leaders...like Warren Buffet?
**MB:** There is a lot of talk in Silicon Valley and the entrepreneurial community today about “changing the world.” And while it is true some of these pioneers are in it for the money, many of them begin with their own passion for changing the status quo. They are truly inspired by building, creating and changing. This, digital generation rowing up now are also intolerant of obstacles and believe they can get there through rapid iteration. Maybe it's because digital technologies make rapid iteration more possible. Software is eating the world. Perhaps it’s because information technology has made the world a much smaller place and we witness the world’s challenge first hand every day. Whatever the case, it is clear that this next generation of leaders have the desire and the means to make a real difference - much more than any generation that has come before them.
###Which industries are most affected by new leaders?
**MB:** These digital next generation leaders will affect all industries. Our student founders are innovating in a broad range of industries all over the world. The strongest concentration we see, however, is in healthcare, medical devices, agriculture, aquaculture, industrial systems and what we’re calling trash to gas or the ability to turn waste into energy with high levels of output.
###Are younger leaders like Mark Zuckerberg better or is it about having a certain attitude, a willingness to embrace change and forward thinking? What is your experience in working with young startup founders?
**MB:** Younger is always better. But it takes a certain level of smarts and experience to fully understand the alternate futures we can create with the technologies and trends playing out in front of us. We started FOUNDER.org because we believe the potential for a better world in terms of economies, ecologies, quality of life and new possibilities exist with our young people. But these young leaders need guidance. None of them have build scalable companies before. We guide them through the process of doing that. Our goal is to dramatically increase the number of university students who graduate and start companies, but to also ensure that more of them thrive to positively transform our world.
###Did you seek advice from "old school" leaders when setting up Splunk or did you forge your own path?
**MB:** At Splunk, we were out to disrupt an old industry in information technology systems management. So we needed to forge our own path. But we were also not in our 20’s, we were in our 30’s and 40’s and already had some company building experience. A lot of the advice we got from “old school” leaders was just plain wrong. They wanted us to take a traditional route to market and include all kinds of features in our product that would clutter the real reasons customers viewed us as disruptive. A few of them even wanted us to change our name, claiming Splunk was too cute and simple for such a serious business.