Saturday, September 30, 2017

Hiring Dilemmas and Keeping Top Performers (600-5)

Herrenkohl's book, How to Hire A-Players: Finding the Top People for Your Team- Even If You Don’t Have a Recruiting Department suffers from four problems.

The first problem, a "dump them" attitude, is based on the static assumption we associate with human resources; that is that individuals have defined and mostly immutable skills and talents. In fact, in terms of cognitive tasks (vs. say a physical challenge of putting a ball in a hoop) rarely do individuals recognize their complete skill set. And supervisors have little time to investigate the full set of talents.

In an ocean full of fish, it may indeed be simpler to throw a fish back, but in a competitive market for talent there is logic in seeing if the fish you have can fulfill a need, but in a different area. And a more dynamic company will have expanding and changing needs. An existing employee who is not performing may be appropriate to meet those needs. It's far more efficient to take an existing known employee and move them to a position where they're more productive than to fire such an employee and to replace them with an alternative. Of course, if the fish is apathetic or nasty then put it back in the water.

The second weakness in the "get the best" attitude. This assumption also does not recognize that human resources are a competitive market. Folks who are "A players" understand that. They will, by definition, be more expensive and harder to retain. In some cases, such as programming, the added productivity far outweighs the added cost, but in that case it is mostly because better programmers like to program more than they like to negotiate salaries. In business, highly valuable staff are quite adept at negotiating higher salaries commensurate with the skill set. Consider what Goldman Sacks pays its upper level staff.

The effort to obtain "A-Players" may be equivalent to Porter's marketing strategy of a race-to-the-bottom. By competing for a limited resource you are implementing a plan that is repeating what your competition is doing. As in marketing, it may be more strategic to apply an approach that is unique and different. Look outside the obvious. You'll end up with a gem that no one else sees.

The third weakness is that the book is caught in an older/non-digital model of corporate growth.Most new startups with high capitalization are tech or life science companies. The book ignores the fact that in the current age we can have enormous corporate valuations based on just 20 employees. Recruiting 20 employees is not as challenging or difficult. Finding and optimizing talent is still important but with a low head count it need not be as complicated or time consuming. Performance problems will also be more obvious.

The final change that the book misses is the movement toward digital marketing and models of sales that do not use human resources. Marketing efforts, including social marketing and content marketing, feed the sales process and enable much more willing customers, thus decreasing the emphasis on a skilled sales team. Platforms create enormous potential wealth without the need of dedicated resources concerning human capital other than information technology resources to maintain the platform. And IT resources are commodities at this point that can be purchased from external vendors.

  1. Wasserman Noam. The Founder’s Dilemmas: Anticipating and Avoiding the Pitfalls That Can Sink a Startup. Princeton University Press. March 25, 2012, ch. 8.
  2. Herrenkohl Eric. How to Hire A-Players: Finding the Top People for Your Team- Even If You Don’t Have a Recruiting Department. Vol 1 edition. Hoboken, N.J: Wiley. April 12, 2010, Conclusion.
Photo Credit: Carol GarnettFishing Father, Daughter Sunrise CC0 Creative Commons, Free for commercial use, No attribution required. Created April 23, 2006.

Friday, September 29, 2017

Role Dilemmas and Recognizing Skills (600-4)

The best way to found a company is to start with a group of people who work in a shared decision model. Early emphasis on control & power is likely to choose the wrong leader and to disempower the other members of the team such that this becomes a weak company lacking in sufficient resources to grow.

From the outset, the founders must decide how to transition from a collaborative-decision company to a more hierarchical company. The collaborative decision model will eventually fall apart because of various power struggles if it is delayed for too long. Plus, it is unlikely that outside funding is going to be interested in a non-hierarchical organization. The reality is that there are not a lot of examples of successful companies that work in a collaborative-decision model. A while ago RIM (Blackberry) was the poster child of this kind of collaborative team; we all know how that ended up.

Set up a transition date and ensure there is a mechanism in place to transition from collaborative-decision to hierarchical structure. Make sure the initial collaborative team is in agreement that someone will be in charge of the CEO position. Other founders will have domains in which they can exercise control. However, their control will not be in the role of the decision-maker for the startup.

There is a good reason why folks emphasize sports teams. What better example is there of a team of individuals with different skills who work in a hierarchical structure to accomplish a goal?

Who should take on the various roles of this corporation? Don't assume that the "idea person" should be the CEO. The CEO must be a leader. The CEO must speak for and present the company to others. When the pitch is made, it won't be the CTO standing in front of the venture capitalists.

Similarly, match the other roles to the skills of the person.
  • The CTO is relatively obvious; does the person have the technical expertise to advance your technology?
  • The COO should be an organized person who gets things done on time and on budget. How are they with details?
  • If no founder is very good with money then perhaps you need to look outside for a CFO. 
  • Filling the CMO is tricky. You need to have a marketing plan and then find the person who can implement that plan. So perhaps you need a marketing advisor to help develop the plan. And that advisor is not necessarily going to be hired to lead the marketing effort. In the digital era, marketing is changing rapidly, don't get too focused on past success. Look for vision and passion in marketing products.
  • The sales lead. Find someone who loves to sell things. The first thing they should be able to sell is themselves. Let them sell you that they are the perfect person for the job. If their personal sales job is weak, keep looking.
  • The CIO role is crucial role in the age of cybersecurity and privacy. Solid system admin skills and awareness of the need for tight security and adherence to standards are essential. Here, a little paranoia isn't such a bad thing.
  • If you have a Chief Human Resources Officer or just the head of HR, this is a critical position and tricky to fill. You need experience, but you need someone who understands today's young workers. They enjoy the experience, they want to feel wanted, they want to be appreciated. Your company (and thus the person) must reflect a corporate culture that entices them to join you and convinces them they made the right decision.
Once you have a team in place, be flexible. Perhaps your technological needs change, and your CTO is no longer has the experience to handle the new requirements. Can you actually wait for that person take a course or slog through endless tutorials on Google? Some things can be taught, but most cannot be learned quickly. Make the change now before you embark on development that takes you the wrong direction. Who is going to do that? The CEO. That is why you chose a hierarchical model.

  1. Wasserman Noam. The Founder’s Dilemmas: Anticipating and Avoiding the Pitfalls That Can Sink a Startup. Princeton University Press. March 25, 2012, ch 5.
  2. Herrenkohl Eric. How to Hire A-Players: Finding the Top People for Your Team- Even If You Don’t Have a Recruiting Department. Vol 1 edition. Hoboken, N.J: Wiley. April 12, 2010, ch 6.
Photo Credit: Airman 1st Class Curt Beach 160414-F-IP109-036.JPG US Military.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Team Building and the Benefits/Risks of Homogenous Teams (600-3)

Let's first discard the notion that this company is yours. It isn't and won't be. Every enterprise is more than one person. So from the beginning, this company is dependent on others. It is not an extension of you. And you are not going to be the master of all domains. In fact, you might not even be the CEO if typical CEO skills don't match your best qualities. So this company from the beginning is a team

Many founder teams are friends and already have a close relationship. They may even have marital or blood relations. Enthusiasm and excitement eventually run straight into the issue of equity. How will this group of enthusiastic folks divide up the equity?

The above background can impede the necessary discussion. Often an egalitarian focus drives a plan for an equal split of ownership. If there are 3 founders, a 1/3 split is chosen as the least likely solution to ruffle feathers; but may lead to problems down the road

  • What happens if one person loses interest and fades away? 
  • Do they still get 1/3 of a company that they aren't contributing to?
  • What if the founders disagree? Does every decision require that two folks agree? How will that impact the third person?

So a fair distribution among friends can be problematic. Other questions challenge a team of "equals." For example, will the stake of the CEO be the same as the person who is in charge of sales? In the beginning, the sales position may be pretty easy, and the CEO is pushing hard. An equal split is inevitably going to frustrate the eventual CEO. If the CEO's role is demanding and stressful shouldn't that person get a larger equity stake?

When you play out these and many other scenarios it is clear that an equal division is a foolish idea. But that often doesn't overcome the fear of breaking up the team or that facade that "money doesn't matter." So what can the team do?

The best strategy is to agree to divide up equity later once roles and responsibilities are defined. And that retention of equity must depend on a long-term commitment. You can keep the "we're all in this together" vibe and at the same time establish a plan that will serve your needs going forward.

The second issue is one of the skills and relates to the initial concern. If everyone is a friend, do they have complementary skills to launch a startup? Assuming the choice of founders was based on friendships or familial relationships, probably not. Perhaps you have a team of MBA students. Or everyone is 25. Maybe no one has ever been interested in sales or finances. In the worst case scenario, everyone is a "leader." If so, you can assume that eventually there will be a fight to see who is going to be king of the hill and grab the top CEO position.

Look at the skills and talents and find the holes. You'll need to fill those holes quickly. Be ready for the reality that the people you choose are going to want equity or a decent salary. It's unlikely you have a salary that can compete with real-world jobs with competitive wages, offices, and fringe benefits. Be ready to give up equity.

In sum, it's okay to start with a homogenous group. But eventually, you need a heterogeneous team of people who get along. With such a team, when the times get tough you'll have the comradery AND the skills you need to weather a financial storm and succeed going forward.

  1. Lahm Robert J. Starting Your Business: Avoiding the “Me Incorporated” SyndromeEzineArticles. October 18, 2005.
  2. Wasserman Noam. The Founder’s Dilemmas: Anticipating and Avoiding the Pitfalls That Can Sink a Startup. Princeton University Press. March 25, 2012, ch 4.
  3. Herrenkohl Eric. How to Hire A-Players: Finding the Top People for Your Team- Even If You Don’t Have a Recruiting Department. Vol 1 edition. Hoboken, N.J: Wiley. April 12, 2010, ch. 1.
Photo Credit: Milbank_Diversity_Committee.jpg ‎(497 × 311 pixels, file size: 57 KB, MIME type: image/jpeg) Licensing: This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 License. The image was created by Milbank, Tweed, Hadley & McCloy LLP, who also holds the copyright. The image is available upon request from the firm.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Building Social and Financial Capital (600-2)

I'm one of those older folks who is supposed to have used a face-to-face professional organizations to succeed. I am also about the most introverted person there is, so I chose fields that did not require me to handshake and hang out at parties. My funding sources were mainly through grant funds, and I represent myself and my ideas on paper. So I see the old school of building a social network as a straight jacket which provides funds to only those people with a particular personality style.

Dexter Robinson's blog post Building Social and Financial Capital persuasively argues that the world is changing and that a founder dedicated to the old school doesn't necessary have an advantage. And the founder better get on board with these changes if they hope to reach a younger audience. Moreover, the argument offers hope for younger individuals that they may indeed have found a way to level the playing field or perhaps tilt in their favor.

Social media, or more broadly media that enable long distance communication through platforms across a large breadth of users, upends the old school model.  I think it will completely replace it. I see social media and Internet-based social connections as a great for capitalism in that it provides a more efficient means of communication and for the best ideas to get support.

As an example in the past Angels were people you had to meet through accountants and lawyers and who were difficult to connect with. They, of course, came with biases and would only connect with certain people. Now they are more likely to be collected into online angel syndicates that will respond to online pitches. No handshakes. No introductions. And fewer biases. The only people who lose are people for whom the old system worked well for them. Folks high on the extroversion scale will continue to have an advantage, however the power won't be so absolute.

The challenge that I see with social media is that without focus it can become an enormous distraction. However, with focus, it can form the social capital necessary to launch a business. Dexters insight into how one could use social media to build a connection is a fantastic example. If you doubt the value of social media to make connections then perhaps you should ask him to perform a similar analysis of your situation.

Similarly, equity crowdfunding offers great potential for entrepreneurs to acquire the capital they need to launch their enterprise. As with the angel syndicates discussed above, collections of people whom one accesses via the Internet are likely to value ideas more based on their merit than on the presentation skills of the entrepreneur in a one-to-one framework. Those one-to-one skills will still be required. However, currently, those one-to-one presentation skills predominate in importance and a lack of those skills can cut off the entrepreneur from funding even when the idea has great potential.

I also see continued value in rewards crowdfunding as seen with Kickstarter and Indiegogo and many smaller examples. There won't be enormous wealth to be obtained however there is enough capital and input and guidance for the entrepreneur to establish an idea, test the waters, and build a customer-focused enterprise from the beginning. In essence, reward crowdfunding has all one needs to get the ball rolling.


Wasserman Noam. The Founder’s Dilemmas: Anticipating and Avoiding the Pitfalls That Can Sink a Startup. Princeton University Press. March 25, 2012, p. 47.

Photo Credit Pixabay. CC0 Creative Commons. Free for commercial use. No attribution required

Monday, September 25, 2017

Maintaining Control Versus Maximizing Wealth (600-1)

It's your idea and your company, right? You instinctively hold onto your creation. Like a little kid holding onto a toy, you won't let anyone play with it. Unfortunately, stubbornness and entitlement is not exactly a recipe for entrepreneurial success.

You have a lot of competition, and they have teams of smart, dedicated people working in tandem toward a common goal. By the time you let someone else play with your toy, the market may have moved on to something else. As you probably learned a long time ago, you are going to have to share. And sharing means sharing ownership of your idea.

"Fine" you might say, "but I'm in charge." Does that mean you are in charge of the development process, the employees, the marketing plan, the sales effort and the oversight of the finances? Leaving aside the issue of who would want to work with someone who is such a control freak, do you really think that your skills in all these domains are better than every other person out there?

You are going to have to give up some control as well. The individuals who work for you will need to feel like they have some control. More importantly, your company cannot grow if every single component requires your input, vision, and guidance.  The question then becomes how much power to give up.

Let's say you are a person with excellent leadership skills and the CEO task is what you are best suited for. Perhaps you have a technical background, but others have more technical expertise than you have. You hire a CTO.

You don't have to give complete control over the technology to the future CTO. Maybe the CTO is a "pie in the sky" early adopter of the latest technology. They might choose the most expensive, cutting-edge technology, with the most exciting and trendy features. Is that the best way to deliver a viable product that meets customer needs on time and on a budget?

Probably not. So you still need to have some control over technical development and set the overall goal and limiting parameters. But recognize that there is an end to your power. Eventually, you have to let your CTO make some specific decisions based on their expertise. And some decisions may be a mistake. That's the risk you take. But the danger of disempowering people is higher. You don't want to be the only one who cares about your toy and kid that no one plays with.


Wasserman Noam. The Founder’s Dilemmas: Anticipating and Avoiding the Pitfalls That Can Sink a Startup. Princeton University Press. March 25, 2012, p. 12.

Photo courtesy of Donnie Ray Jones on Flickr. Creative Commons 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Using Crowdfunding to Build Business and Entrepreneurship Skills (650-5)

Not every life scientist wants to start a device or pharmaceutical manufacturing company and sell to a major device or drug manufacturer. Perhaps you are interested in a computer application for a mobile phone application for health purposes. If so then there may be the opportunity to pursue your entrepreneurial interest in parallel with your research. That is, perhaps you don't have to give up your research career while you are investing the viability of your entrepreneurship interests.

In fact, even for a life scientist interested in marketing a device or pharmaceutical, it may be advantageous to conceive of a technical application to test the waters and develop business and entrepreneurship skills without the complexity of equity arrangements and complex financials. Imagine it as a simple Y-Combinator type training to hone your entrepreneurship credentials.

For any potential enterprise, you need to first
  1. Get your thoughts organized regarding product, customer, customer need, and value added.
  2. Gather feedback to refine the idea, 
  3. Assess the financial viability regarding costs and competition
  4. Develop a plan to market the idea
  5. Test the market to see if it is viable. 
A reward crowdfunding site matches up with these steps
  1. For a life scientist with entrepreneurship interest a crowdfunding campaign focused on providing a reward versus giving equity is an excellent way to take on Step 1: Organizing one's thoughts. 
  2. Once complete you can easily proceed to Step 2 and present the enterprise concept to others. Your thoughts can be easily inspected and commented on by others to make further improvements and gather support. 
  3. The process will force you to investigate how much money you need and what you would charge. That's not a complete financial analysis, but it is a useful part of Step 3. 
  4. Crowdfunding emphasizes Internet marketing, and for today's products, social media focused marketing is your most effective strategy to accomplish Step 4. 
  5. Finally, the site can perform Step 5 where you obtain qualitative and quantitative input as to the value of the potential enterprise.
In the next blog, I'll outline how to utilize one of the two most popular reward crowdfunding sites, Indiegogo. I'll use it as an example of how it can organize your future enterprise.


Photo Credit: Crowdfundingescense.jpg ‎(630 × 433 pixels, file size: 38 KB, MIME type: image/jpeg) is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license. Source. 4 November 2015

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Funding your Life Science Startup with SBIR Phase I funds from the NIH

My friend during psychiatry residency said, "You should consider pursuing SBIR funding?" I asked him, "What was SBIR?" With this essay, I hope to succinctly answer that question and more importantly to explain why Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) is an excellent way for someone interested in the life sciences to fund an entrepreneurial interest. Once a life scientist establishes a small for-profit business, SBIR funds can support the creation of a technological solution to an unmet need in the life sciences.

What is SBIR?
SBIR is a component of all the primary funding initiatives of the US federal government. The SBIR funding solution is not the same as a loan from the Small Business Administration. You do not owe the government anything for its granting of money to you. There is no obligation to pay it back. Still, keep in mind that this is a government-run grant program. You must spend the funds wisely and carefully, follow government standards, and in some cases complete an audit following government standards.

NIH and other branches of government are obligated to dedicate a percentage of their R&D funds to SBIR efforts. SBIR funds are only available to a commercial enterprise, in other words, a for-profit company. This funding mechanism is not designed to complete basic science research or produce a product with no apparent applicability. Funds must yield a viable commercial product sold in the marketplace.

This essay focuses exclusively on the NIH's SBIR program and specifically Phase I of SBIR funding which is the most rudimentary and simplest way to achieve funding. There are similar mechanisms such as STTR as well as more complicated means of obtaining additional SBIR/STTR funds however those are less likely to be the optimal choice and are not the focus of this essay.

The NIH SBIR program is particularly well suited to the life scientist-entrepreneur. NIH provides investigator-driven research through its more academic grants as well as SBIR. That means that the NIH program is unique in that it will consider your idea versus telling investigators what ideas they will fund. SBIR programs in other branches of the government will often specify a need and goal of the research. Your project must fit within that specified need. To sum, the NIH SBIR program can be an excellent solution for an entrepreneur interested in creating a product that will add value in the life sciences. But you must assess if the limitations and conditions are acceptable to your goals.

SBIR Limitations and Focus
Phase I focuses only on demonstrating feasibility. You are not expected to complete the entire product, nor fully assess it in all logical ways. Your goal is to use Phase I to demonstrate that the idea is sound, the team is capable and with further funding, it is likely that you will produce something of value. Some ideas cannot be easily demonstrated in a short time frame and with a limited budget. To fit within SBIR Phase I, you must then roll back your plan and goal to a feasible project. Reviewers will reject a project that over promises as quickly as one that under delivers.

Budget and timeframe for an SBIR Phase I are constrained. SBIR recommends completion of Phase I in six months. With justification, you can request a one-year period for funding. A Phase I SBIR budget is typically limited to $150,000 including any overhead or indirect costs as well as a fee that the government allows, which is maximum of 7% of the other expenses. This budget request can be raised to $225,000 if the author can justify the higher amount due to the complexity of the project. If your needs fit within time and dollar SBIR limitations, it can be an excellent source of capital to start your company while retaining full ownership of the enterprise and limiting debt.

More funds are available to support your project. If you obtain Phase I funds and complete the project successfully, you can apply for Phase II, which is two years in length and up to $1 million in funding. Phase II has a greater chance of success if you have had a productive Phase I that demonstrated the feasibility of the project to create a valuable product.

Preparing a Phase I SBIR Application to the NIH
Obtaining SBIR funding is complicated and challenging. As with any funding request, you must have a novel idea with potential and definite value. Alongside that idea, you need a team and an organization with the skills to convert that idea into a product that provides health-related value to a potential customer. You must carefully outline the strategy to create the product and describe the underlying theoretical basis that will guide the development.

It's helpful to consider an SBIR application as a standard pitch to a business audience, except you are pitching using paper to an academic audience that demands that the process and assertions are backed up with quality references.

The decision-makers regarding funding are not business investors looking for a return on investment over time. In fact, those decision-makers are a collection of individuals ranging from university-based academics to practicing clinicians to small business personnel who likely have submitted SBIR applications and or received awards in the past. Due to the likely academic orientation of reviewers, the emphasis will be more on the scientific basis of concept and rigor of the theoretical underpinnings. It is not just a question, "Is this idea good?" but, "Is this idea based on sound theory?"

All SBIR efforts include research and development to determine the effectiveness of the product. Rigor also applies to the assessment strategy and process as well. The application must provide detail regarding how value will be measured by various metrics and using established methods. For an individual with experience in research, this is relatively straightforward. For an SBIR applicant with no science or research background, the academic component will require guidance from someone with assessment research expertise.

As mentioned earlier, a Phase I application only focuses on demonstrating the feasibility of the concept. In Phase I, you are expected to show that it is feasible to produce the product and that it potentially has value. The typical commercial emphasis on commercial viability is not an essential component of this phase of the application although the potential business value should be relatively clear. In other words, there's no need for complicated calculations of cash flow, or anticipated pricing, or ongoing production costs. The author of an SBIR application focuses more on the customer need, the basis for that need, as well as a discussion of why the intended product will successfully address that need.

NIH provides complete information online as well as through conferences and other means to assist the individual interested in preparing an SBIR application. Contacts in the government can answer questions about the NIH SBIR program in general or the SBIR program for a particular Institute of the NIH. A local Small Business Technology Center likely has the expertise to assist with a pre-review of the application as well as general guidance. The NIH will not help you write your application or tell you if it's good or not. That feedback will come from the review committee after you apply.

Applications are submitted approximately every four months on the following deadlines January 5, April 5, and September 5. Feedback from the review committee comes roughly three months after you submit and will include the overall committee's consensus about the application as well as individual observations from three reviewers. These comments are an excellent guide to the problems which may have interfered with obtaining a score worthy of funding by the government. You can respond to the comments and resubmit the application at the next available deadline.

Is SBIR For You?
If you are new to SBIR, consider the first few applications to be attempts to understand the process and opportunities to learn how to sculpt a quality application that fits the structure and limitations of the SBIR program and reviewers' expectations. That is, achieving success the first few submissions is unlikely. As with most other pursuits, success requires diligence as well as perseverance. If you intend to submit one application for SBIR funding and not to resubmit, then in all likelihood you are wasting your time.

I hope this can get you started in your investigation of the potential of the SBIR program to fund your life science company. Good luck!

Image Credit: US Dept of Homeland Security

Friday, September 22, 2017

Funding Advice from a Recent Conference in Raleigh (650-4)

I recently attended the CED Tech Venture Conference in Raleigh. There were an excellent set of presentations, many relevant to the future life science entrepreneur. The most notable comment came from Silicon Valley Venture Capitalist John Doerr of Kleiner Perkins. He was intimately involved in support of Amazon Google, and Apple. He is an icon in the VC field.

The co-presenter asked him what he felt was the most potentially lucrative area for investment going forward. His answer was to ask the presenter how much money is spent on Google and Facebook versus how much of the money is spent on healthcare. With healthcare spending at over 17% of GDP in 2015, the winner is far away healthcare, more than 50 times as much. So his enthusiasm regarding entrepreneurship was in the life sciences. So one of the most influential financiers believes that now is the time for an entrepreneur with life science background to pursue a business to address a health-related issue.

The conference had some unique Investor Reverse Pitches. It was clear that venture capitalists have particular interests they will fund. For example, the Stanley Tools folks are interested in material science and batteries (no surprise). But others started out saying they are interested in life sciences and then clarified that only a tiny portion of life science interested them. I would assume that someone seeking funding would only be able to identify perhaps 2 out of 20 VC firms that would fund a startup with overlapping interests. Also, VCs are primarily interested in later stage companies and large amounts of capital. So for the early stage entrepreneur, VC holds little potential. Apparently, the days when John Doerr gave money to Google's founders, even though they didn't seem to like business, and money to Jeff Bezos even though he didn't have a business plan, are very much over.

The presentations by many companies at the conference were excellent. They did a nice job of conveying a simple pitch, outlining their unique value proposition, and providing some financial data to back it up. All of the CEO presenters at this conference were well funded. The companies that presented were looking for funds to expand globally and already had substantial success. They echoed the above finding. VC is for companies in later stages and a proven business model.

Finally, I was inspired by the Entrepreneur Workshop + Lunch with Scot Wingo by Robbie Allen, Founder & Executive Chairman, Automated Insights. He spoke on “Building a Startup Culture that Scales.” Mr. Allen explained the secret of success for his small business; the low-key atmosphere of the company was the driving force. He knew his employees would work hard and they needed to have a comfortable environment which supported energy and enthusiasm. And to that end he included a ping pong table, which was apparently well-used.

He worried at first that this would make his company look childish. But he found the employees were quite enthusiastic, and in fact, it didn't harm productivity at all. More importantly, he found that when his investors visited the office, they viewed the ping pong table in a positive light. They felt the ping pong table showed that his company was a dynamic and fun place to work. They noted that his space would be attractive to current and future employees. In fact, his employee retention was phenomenal.

Even as the company proliferated and at times was overly crowded, given limited office space, the team morale remained high. His message: Be yourself. If you are someone who enjoys a playful atmosphere, then create a corporate culture that works for you. And you'll be surrounded by people who share you vision of a comfortable work environment.


Image Above By WikiBasti - Own work, Public Domain, Link

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Why should I leave medicine or science for business? (650-3)

As they say in philosophy classes. Why not?

Let's assume the business that you are moving toward is a life science business. The first important consideration is to ask yourself "What were my goals when I decided to enter medicine or a life science field?" Presumably, the goal was to have some impact, either regarding patient health or the underlying basis of knowledge related to health or wellness.

Many folks get hung up on the "money" focus of businesses. It's true that the first goal of any company is to be viable and have sufficient cash flow (and thus revenue and limited expense) that it can stay in existence and complete its mission.

But for the physician and others in the field of providing health care, that reality is just as valid for medical practices and hospitals too. Healthcare businesses just happen to be in a market where it is essentially impossible to lose money or go bankrupt. Your customers will get sick and need your services. Healthcare training is a HUGE barrier to entry. Recessions, hurricanes, aging, and a whole host of other challenges to business won't affect your sales. In the end, health is a (BIG) business - 17.14% of GDP in 2014 and 18.4% this year and still climbing (yes, the EU average was only 10.04 in 2014 but let's not go there.

Life science research is the opposite, as described there are 33.1 billion invested in health science research by the NIH (1) and $26.5 billion (2) spent by non-business organizations. But all that support from the perspective of the younger life science researcher is less inspiring; the competitiveness of this market is all too familiar.

WIth NIH and biomedical funding and total awards showing minimal growth (1) and the number of newly minted (e.g., <35 years old) life science PhDs growing (3), getting your academic "business" off the ground using R01 (or other) funding is a struggle. A future research career is uncertain, and indeed many life scientists pursue careers other scientific research (4), including entrepreneurship. In fact, life scientists establish most biomedical startups (5)

The point is you are already in business, some easy some hard.

A business, be it a medical practice or bench life science work must have a mission, an overriding principle, and a goal, a reason for generating revenue, achieving cash flow, and staying solvent. I'm assuming that if you pursue a life science company, the core goal is likely to be categorically the same; that is, to impact the health of a population. In essence, there is no change. If one were to rephrase the question posed in this blog post to be "Why should I stop wanting to affect the health of the population?" the answer would be "Who said you are stopping?" Yes, you would be abandoning practice or laboratory science, but you retain your original (broader) vision.

In fact, migrating to a business direction gives you a vast range of possible impact. Perhaps you could join the digital therapeutic revolution, advance mobile health, and produce information technology directed toward either providers or patients;. Or you could assist in the discovery new devices and pharmaceuticals. Or, potential you could foster new models of care via real-time or non-real-time patient communication with a broad set of potential providers. You could do anything.

A life switch from medicine or science practice to business is not for everyone. As with any significant change the decision should be pursued with both meaning/relevance or "gist" based decision-making processes as well as a factual or verbatim based decision-making processes (6). Trust your intuition (7) but get your facts in order. If you can define an interest in entrepreneurship, then the next step is to more thoroughly investigate entrepreneurial intend and that is the topic of the next blog.

  1. Office of Budget (OB) Assistant Secretary for Financial Resources (ASFR). FY 2017 Budget in Brief - NIH. February 16, 2016.
  2. Eisenstein Michael. Assessment: Academic return. Nature. May 5, 2016;533(7601):S20-S21. doi:10.1038/533S20a.
  3. Sciences National Research Council (US) Committee on Bridges to Independence: Identifying Opportunities for and Challenges to Fostering the Independence of Young Investigators in the Life. Where Are We Now?. National Academies Press (US). 2005.
  4. Sauermann Henry, Roach Michael. Science PhD Career Preferences: Levels, Changes, and Advisor Encouragement. PLOS ONE. May 2, 2012;7(5):e36307. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0036307.
  5. Mehta Shreefal. Paths to Entrepreneurship in the Life Sciences. Nat Biotechnol. December 2004;22(12):1609-1612. doi:doi:10.1038/bioent831.
  6. Blalock Susan J, Reyna Valerie F. Using Fuzzy-Trace Theory to Understand and Improve Health Judgments, Decisions, and Behaviors: A Literature Review. Health Psychol Off J Div Health Psychol Am Psychol Assoc. August 2016;35(8):781-792. doi:10.1037/hea0000384.
  7. Reyna Valerie F. A new intuitionism: Meaning, memory, and development in Fuzzy-Trace Theory. Judgm Decis Mak. May 2012;7(3):332-359.
Image: Sally Rockey, NIH Extramural News: Rock Talk. Age Distribution of NIH Principal Investigators and Medical School Faculty. February 13, 2012.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Climbing the Entrepreneurial Mountain (650-2)

In Jumping To (False) Economic Conclusions, Austin Parker reminds his readers that changing one's pursuit is all about perspective. So ask yourself, am I blaming my situation on other people? Am I looking at others and seeing them as examples of successful change or as evidence that the challenge is so great that I will never succeed?

He also brings up the important topic "Is business good or evil?" Who wants to go into a field of crooks unless one is already crooked? Sure, there was Enron, but do you shop on Amazon? Do you use a smartphone? Who provides your news? The second perception to challenge is that business is bad.

In this blog and others, let's attack the doubt that says the mountain between you and entrepreneurship is too high to climb.

First of all, who wants to climb Mr. Everest on their own? Who would make it to the top without the Sherpas much less the folks who take you to the top, those in the base camps and the ones tracking the weather? So, no you are never going to be able to climb the entrepreneurship mountain alone, and you would be a fool if tried (and in the case of Everest, dead).

Luckily the National Institutes of Health (NIH) wants you to climb that mountain. The government is on your side. The NIH 2016-2020 strategic plan specifies a goal to “fuel the U.S. biomedical industry and keep our Nation globally competitive” (1). To achieve this aim, NIH understands that it must overcome challenges to maximize the return on biomedical research investment (2,3), and foster the transformation of health science innovation into commercial products (4). That means they are there to help you.

NIH’s SBIR program is a proven means for investigators to obtain rapid and substantial funding in a
relatively short term. I emphasize Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) funding due to the
  • plethora of support opportunities, 
  • ease of the process, 
  • your familiarity with academic grant writing (vs. business planning), 
  • NIH’s strong support for the SBIR program. 
Possible NIH resources include the
NIH Technical Assistance Programs including the:
In the next blog, we'll keep investigating why the mountain of life science entrepreneurship seems so high and what you can do to shink it.
References and Credits
  1. NIH-Wide Strategic Plan. Natl Inst Health NIH. October 6, 2015.
  2. Eisenstein Michael. Assessment: Academic return. Nature. May 5, 2016;533(7601):S20-S21. doi:10.1038/533S20a.
  3. Macilwain Colin. Science Economics: What Science Is Really Worth. Nature. June 10, 2010;465(7299):682-684. doi:10.1038/465682a.
  4. Wapner Jessica. Technology transfer: The leap to industry. Nature. May 5, 2016;533(7601):S13-S15. doi:10.1038/533S13a.
The image "Climbing through the Yellow Band, Mt. Everest, -May 2007" (22 May 2007, 800 × 600 [282 KB] jpg) was taken from Brian-Everest photos Photo 44 of 51 by Lloyd Smiths. This file is licensed under the Creative CommonsAttribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

Friday, September 15, 2017

A Doctor's or Scientist's Life for Me? (650-1)

Austin Parker's blog post Building An Entrepreneurial Perspectve inspired to inspire my readers. His blog is a guide to others who can't or don't see themselves as entrepreneurs. For those of you in the life sciences, this is a call to action. Before you accept a long and complicated path in medicine or health science research, ask yourself "Am I an Entrepreneur?" If so then perhaps at least take a look around and see what your other options are.

"I am going to be a doctor/scientist".

This is what you told yourself, your family and you significant other/spouse as you embarked on advanced training for a PhD or an MD. It's what everyone heard. It's what everyone expects. You are on the journey.

But is the vision still the same. Do you still see the white coat and sitting in the lab or the clinic. Is this still the path for you? For many folks it potentially is not.

For the scientist the choice is not necessarily his or her own. Sure, in 2017, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) will invest $33.1 billion (1) in approximately 50,000 competitive grants that directly support 27,500 investigators (2) and 300,000 researchers. And the NIH supports an additional 6,000 scientists in its laboratories (3). In 2015, research investments also included $26.5 billion from other Federal agencies ($6.3 billion), foundations ($4.7 billion), and other non-business organizations ($15.5 billion).

That's a ton of money. But a new-minted life scientist (or a struggling post-doc) there is a lot of competition. In fact, NIH and biomedical funding and total awards show minimal growth (1) yet the number of newly minted (e.g., <35 years old) life science PhDs continues to grow. And the message for women scientists too is concerning since women accounted for much of the 7000 increase in life science PhDs received between 1993 and 2002 (4).

The failure rate of entrepreneurial pursuits is high, but what is the failure rate of an NIH grant application. Failure is part of the process of success. So if entrepreneurship has some appeal then keep reading the next series of blogs as I delve into the field of Entrepreneurial Intent and discuss the process of switching from life scientist to business person including moving the numbers from p values to investor ROI.

References and Credits
  1. Office of Budget (OB) Assistant Secretary for Financial Resources (ASFR). FY 2017 Budget in Brief - NIH. February 16, 2016.
  2. Lauer Mike. How Many Researchers?. NIH Extramur Nexus. May 31, 2016.
  3. Budget. Natl Inst Health NIH. October 31, 2014.
  4. Sciences National Research Council (US) Committee on Bridges to Independence: Identifying Opportunities for and Challenges to Fostering the Independence of Young Investigators in the Life. Where Are We Now?. National Academies Press (US). 2005.
The image "Path split by the 'Batchelor' seat" (4 July 2009, 640 × 405 [271 KB], jpg) was taken from the Geograph project collection. See this photograph's page on the Geograph website for the photographer's contact details. The copyright on this image is owned by Bob Embleton and is licensed for reuse under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 license.