Florence meets Silicon Valley: Fall Quarter kicks off in BOSP’s Italy program with help from Stanford alumni tech entrepreneurs

The Breyer Center for Overseas Studies in Florence

September 2019

The Breyer Center for Overseas Studies in Florence, part of Stanford’s Bing Overseas Studies Program (BOSP), recently hosted "Silicon Valley: The Modern Day Rebirth of Renaissance Florence,” a conversation featuring LinkedIn Co-Founder Reid Hoffman (Stanford, ’90) and Senator and former Prime Minister of Italy Matteo Renzi.

The event, which was open to the public, took place in the Salone dei Cinquecento, located inside the Palazzo Vecchio, Florence’s city hall.

The filmed presentation was introduced by the Florence program’s Spogli Family Director Ermelinda M. Campani as well as Stanford alumnus Nirav Tolia (pictured), most recently CEO and co-founder of Nextdoor. Tolia is teaching a Stanford in Florence course this fall focusing on the crucial intersections between technology, entrepreneurship, and humanism that enabled two valleys to rise up and literally change the world.

Both the public conversation featuring Hoffman and the new course taught by Tolia serve to inaugurate a new curricular track in Florence that examines the nexus between the approach to innovation of the Florentine Renaissance and of Silicon Valley. The track explores what can be learned when applying Renaissance methods and know-how to the challenges and issues faced in the contemporary world.

The public conversation touched on a diverse set of issues ranging from the Silicon Valley boom, artificial intelligence and how social media has altered the global political landscape. The entire event conversation can be viewed online.

Hoffman, who earned a bachelor’s degree with distinction in symbolic systems from Stanford and later pursued a master’s degree in philosophy from Oxford, met with students enrolled in the Stanford in Florence autumn quarter on their first day of classes. Hoffman went into more detail about what the future transition into an automated world will look like, mentioning the need for politics to work in tandem with tech companies in order for things to move forward. He also answered student questions on climate change, gentrification, and global disparity of wealth and digital access.This intimate conversation marked the first in a series that Stanford in Florence will hold with key Silicon Valley players and innovators who will be guests of Tolia’s course throughout the quarter.  

Stanford alumnus Nirav Tolia, former CEO of NextDoor, is drawing upon his Silicon Valley experience as a basis for a course he is teaching in Florence this fall.

For more information about Stanford in Florence, visit: