Intellectual Ventures CEO Nathan Myhrvold speaks at Thursday’s Social Innovation Fast Pitch.

You miss 100 percent of the shots you don’t take.

Sure, it’s one of the more overused cliches in the English language. Yet it still holds true in the tech industry, and that’s what Intellectual Ventures CEO Nathan Myhrvold focused on Thursday night at Seattle Center’s Fisher Pavilion.

Myhrvold, the controversial former Microsoft chief technology officer known for his big ideas and giant collection of patents, was the keynote speaker at the second annual Social Innovation Fast Pitch (SIFP), where 14 startups with plans to improve society competed for $230,000 in grants and investments. A list of winners and photos from the event are below.

During his 40-minute presentation, Myhrvold said he was there to talk about “inventing miracles.” He expanded on the themes that he discussed with GeekWire in an August interview, addressing Intellectual Venture’s Global Good program, among other topics.

He began by describing the need for more inventions that help people who actually need it.

“It’s great you can kill aliens with Xbox at a faster rate than ever before, but we didn’t really need our lives changed,” he said. “The fact is, there are people that do need their lives changed.”

Intellectual Ventures CEO Nathan Myhrvold discusses his company’s device that can preserve vaccines.

So why does the tech industry focus so much on inventing gadgets for well-off people?

“Because you make a lot of money doing this,” he explained. “The tech industry – which I love, I’m a part of and am totally guilty of this – is about making tools and toys for rich people. … And frankly, everyone in the United States is rich compared to the world.”

Then Myhrvold used three analogies to illustrate his points about taking risks: search engines, e-books and baseball.

Altavista, Excite, Lycos and Hotbot were all search engines that got somewhere but eventually went away. Did people stop trying to build search engines? Of course not, Myhrvold said – look at Google and Bing.

How about e-books? Myhrvold has a collection of them. “I knew e-books would work because they were in Star Trek,” he said. But they were all a “complete litany of failure,” until of course, Amazon introduced the Kindle.

And then baseball. Detroit Tigers slugger Miguel Cabrera was the best hitter during the 2012 season and maintained a .333 batting average. Myhrvold did the hard math and found out that Cabrera gets out 67 percent of the time. Myhrvold estimated that his own inventing batting average might be around .040. The message: it’s OK to fail.

“This is not a game where you should count misses or strikes,” he said. “Inventing is about the power of the idea.”

So, from Myhrvold to all budding inventors: embrace failure, take risks, and don’t be afraid to pursue your crazy ideas.

“You know something? Most of your ideas will fail,” he said. “And I am completely OK with that.”

Winners of the SIFP 2012 Awards

For-profit social innovation, 1st place ($100,000): Scope 5

For-profit social innovation, 2nd place ($55,000): Corengi, Inc.

Established non-profit, 1st place ($25,000): CityClub Living Voters Guide

Young non-profit, 1st place ($15,000): Seattle Good Business Network

Young non-profit, 2nd place ($10,000): Express Advantage

University team, 1st place ($5,000): StudentRND

University team, 2nd place ($2,000): Swilo

Audience choice, 1st place ($7,500): Express Advantage

Audience choice, 2nd place ($2,500): Young Women Empowered

High school team, 1st place ($2,000): Project Firedove

High school team, 2nd place ($1,000): Food Allergy Freedom

Photos from the SIFP Event

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  • Keith Curtis

    Nathan Myhrvold is a good guy. He just needs to take his own advice about how failure is okay and realize that software patents are a mistake:

    • guest

      Translation: Nathan’s a good guy. He just needs to agree with me.

      • Keith Curtis

        Don’t make this about me. I’m not the one wasting money and slowing progress with software patents. If you find any flaws in the words, please let me know. Your post is a personal attack with no substantive response.

        • guest

          Who else would it be about? You’re the one here advocating the position that he needs to do something other than what he’s legally decided to do with his own money. What more “substantive response” is required to such a patently ridiculous assertion?

    • jc

      translation: I want to steal his ideas and make lots of my own money with them. Afterall, they are rightfully mine to do as I please with.

  • Kered Retej

    Nathan might be a genius (or not), but he’s wrong about the “hard math” and a .333 batting average does not mean Miggy made an out 67% of the time. I think he had a .395 OBP, which means he made an out about 60% of the time (not counting double plays against him).

  • guest

    SIPF damaged their credibility by having this guy as their keynote. He’s doing real damage to innovation while painting himself as a poster boy for it.

    • guest

      The idea that patent assertion hurts innovation is ridiculous. Apple and Samsung keep innovating. And nobody puts a small startout of business with patents.

  • Guest

    Thank you, Nathan. If you had given up after your first failure, you wouldn’t have cured global warming.

  • alared

    I agree it’s okay to fail but most people don’t have the money to burn as far as pursuing crazy idea business ventures.

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