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[caption id="attachment_40425" align="alignleft" width="220" caption="Barry Schuler"][/caption]

Barry Schuler, the keynote speaker for the Oct. 20 Impact Sonoma conference, is the managing director DFJ Growth Fund and chairman of Raydiance Inc. of Petaluma, the leading developer of ultrafast laser technology.

An acclaimed Internet pioneer,Mr. Schuler has developed emerging technologies into successful enterprises for the last 25 years. A serial entrepreneur, his career spans breakthroughs in early video games, computer graphics, interactive media, e-commerce, consumerization of the Internet and most recently Ultrashort Pulse Lasers.

Mr. Schuler spent eight years with AOL, where he was the architect of the consumer experience that brought the Internet into the lives of more than 25 million households. After performing in several roles of increasing responsibility during AOL’s explosive growth, Schuler ultimately served as Chairman and CEO during the height of the company’s reach and influence.

Prior to AOL, Mr. Schuler was CEO and co-founder of multimedia development firm Medior Inc. until its acquisition by AOL in 1995.

He answered some questions from the Business Journal:

Please tell us a little bit about yourself?

It may seem a bit cliche, but I am a classic American Dream story. Very humble upbringing with a strong family emphasis on education. I was  encouraged to pursue my dreams (as long as I became a doctor or lawyer first).  I have been lucky enough to have been born during a period of history where technology has advanced more in a couple of decades than in the five prior millennia.  Through the entrepreneurial formula of vision + hard work + blood sweat and tears, I have achieved more than I ever thought possible, and now get the reward of living in the North Bay, and being a farmer. 

Raydiance has taken a position of leadership in ultrafast laser technology. How was that achieved and what do you see as the future of the company and the technology?

The first time I saw a very crude Ultrafast Laser in a university lab, a gong went off in my head,  I had heard this gong before, notably in 1977 when I built one of the very first micro-computers, in 1983 when I saw the first Macintosh and in 1992 when we were building early  Internet technologies.  We are now entering the "light age" and lasers will be a big part of our future.  The mobile phone in your pocket couldn't be manufactured without lasers. And in order to continue to get thinner and lighter they will have to be manufactured with Raydiance lasers.  The unique aspect of the technology is that it can cut any material at very high precision without any heat.  It is a game-changer for so many categories from manufacturing fuel injectors that increase fuel efficiency by 30 percent to new generations of cardiovascular stents and heart valves.

We built our leadership position by having a vision and refusing to listen to the entrenched industry naysayers who claimed it couldn't be done.  I think Raydiance is going to become a great company and a terrific source of jobs for the North Bay.

Tell us about the Draper, Fisher Jurvetson Growth Fund.

Tim Draper and John Fisher invested in my Internet start-up Medior when they were a tiny $20 million venture fund back in 1992.  Now they have over $10 billion of capital under management.  We got together five years ago and launched DFJ Growth to focus on helping young companies expand and grow into category leaders.  We have built a terrific portfolio which includes companies like Tesla Motors, Guilt Group, Twitter, Solar City, Box.net, SpaceX, Bright Source, and Raydiance.

 You have been a champion of education through Blue Oak School and the New Technology High Foundation, to name just two efforts. Tell us why education reform is so critical.

The current state of our public education system is the silent atrocity of the Baby Boomer Generation.  Standing on the shoulders of our parents we have gotten distracted by the pursuit of success and wealth without tending to the basic fabric of our democracy.  

We have fallen way behind in providing our children the fundamental tools they need to thrive in the 21st Century. Unfortunately Federal and State governments have not risen to the occasion.  There is a heck of a lot of talk and shouting about education, but not nearly enough doing.

I believe education is a local issue, and given the tools we have today, we can empower communities  to create amazing public schools.  At New Tech Network, we have done it in 86 high schools around the US.  It is very challenging, often frustrating work, but I feel it is essential for anyone who has succeeded in our country to give back to ensure future generations have the same opportunities we have had

How can the U.S. keep and grow its leadership in technology innovation?  

We need to fix education and have a specific focus on economic development. China does this very well.  Education and location of sources of jobs are intimately tied together. We can employ many of the same tactics in our system if we have the smarts and the will to do so. We are poised at a new industrial revolution based on innovative manufacturing methods like Ultra-fast lasers and Bio-synthesis of chemicals, textiles, food and energy.  We must lead this revolution or we will be importing these products from Asia and Europe.  I shudder to contemplate what that would mean to our economy.

Is there something we didn’t ask that you would like to address?

I would ask every person reading this to become an education activist in their community. Come visit  Napa New Tech High and then go back to your district and help them start the process of bringing public schools into the 21st Century.  New Tech Network will help.