What If Your Competitors Out-Draw You?

Our value proposition is really all we have - it's based on who we are and what we offer.  Instead of all the words we put together that sound cliche and trite, what if we could distill it down to a cartoon? What if?? Try! My latest with Liza Donnelly (Staff Cartoonist for the New Yorker!) in Harvard Business Review

The Time is Now to Become an Entrepreneur

I met Ilan Saks through my education entrepreneur guru Aron Solomon who has never steered me wrong.  Ilan, Founder of The Founder Project, is no exception and I can't wait for The Founder Project to come stateside! This is the type of engagement we need to get economies growing, build trust and a sense of ownership for our Millennials as they grow into leadership positions.  

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Time is a scarce commodity. There isn’t enough time on this planet, and unfortunately we can’t create more of it. But, to truly understand this concept, time must be taken from you.

On August 21, 2012 I suddenly lost the ability to walk. I was exercising. I lost all strength in my fingers, arms, body and legs to the point that I could not take my contacts out of my eyes. I also lost the ability to feel the difference between hot and cold. This lasted for about 6 weeks. The cause of the incident was a complete mystery. Not one doctor, and I saw many, could figure out the cause.

At the time, I was 23 years old, and I thought my future had been greatly compromised. But, by some miracle, I have fully recovered. Physically, I am essentially the same as I was before August 21, 2012. It’s as if nothing happened..

Well, not really... The experience led to a spark of thought: ‘The only certainty is that tomorrow is uncertain’. The time was now to pursue my passion: To empower students to solve problems and become entrepreneurs.

Consequently, last year I founded TheFounderProject - a new type of venture fund run almost entirely by students that invests in student startups.

My quest to change student entrepreneurship on a global scale seeks to solve these challenges: how to engage students and the younger generation in entrepreneurship, and how to get them to build companies.

Startups are the main drivers of economic growth. Unfortunately, less people are starting companies and most early startup dreams die at the vine. Even more ironic is the fact that students are the best positioned to start companies; they have less obligations to barriers like family and mortgages. Instead, many opt for the corporate route to pay back loans or pad their resume, playing it safe.

TheFounderProject exists to turn students on to entrepreneurship by providing access to capital, resources, and mentorship while encouraging students to remain in school. TheFounderProject is making entrepreneurship not only cool, but attainable and a viable option as a path forward

Our growth has been organic. We are now a team of 30 ‘student venture capitalists from all universities in Montreal, Toronto and Halifax. Our goal is to raise enough money so we can begin investing $10,000-$15,000 into student companies.

How does it work? The students are the eyes, ears, and feet on the ground in the universities, dorm rooms, classrooms, and frat parties. The students are the ones scoping out high growth student startups for potential investment. Once identified, they’re brought to the table where the students actually vote on what deserves an investment.

But, why are students making investment decisions in fellow students? Well, Mark Zuckerberg built Facebook from his dorm room, Sergei Brin and Larry Page built Google as a grad project, and Bill Gates founded Microsoft while studying at Harvard. I believe students are capable, and will build the next game changing, global tech companies. And I also believe students are capable of making great investment decisions. They’ve been born into the world of computers and the internet. The tech startup space is a student’s playground.

But, at the heart of TheFounderProject is much more than just high growth investments. Since it’s inception, TheFounderProject has contributed to the creation of over 100 student-run companies (check out these impressive student startups: Outpost, NeedleHR, Plotly) by throwing university-wide competitions, linking students with mentors, and engaging students in the startup space.

Some student startups have even received seed and series A term sheet offers from Canadian venture funds, and a couple have been accepted into Canadian accelerator programs. Companies, and jobs are literally being created out of thin air. TheFounderProject is disrupting the startup ecosystem by engaging young students in startups. And, it’s resulting in innovation and economic growth.

In the next few months we plan to expand to Vancouver and then the U.S. We have amassed corporate sponsors including Google, Microsoft, Price Waterhouse Coopers, Softlayer, Fasken Martineau, Real Ventures, and FounderFuel. And, we intend to partner with many more sponsors in the future.

I have learned that life can change on a dime, and the importance of appreciating all that I have. Everything - your health, job, etc. - can change in a split second. Seize the moments while you still have them.

The time is now to become an entrepreneur.

Why am I a VC?

Last March, Whitney Johnson and I were dining on exquisite sushi in Boston celebrating the upcoming launch of her powerful book, Dare, Dream, Do.  We also discussed the lack of women in Venture Capital (VC) because I had never noticed I was the only female partner in mine! While this subject is a blog post I been asked to, but not yet written, two things happened today, 1 in Cleveland, 1 in California, that made me write this from Maine:

  1. Neuros Medical, a company my VC firm, Glengary, invested in at its very early stage, closed a second round of $3.5M led by Glengary and Boston Scientific.
  2. My friend, Adrian Ott, responded to my tweet about Neuros thanking me for supporting neuro-medicine.

So what’s the big deal (no pun intended)?  I felt overwhelmingly privileged and honored to be able to invest in a company like Neuros Medical!  Wow! I have the ability, albeit insignificant, to make a powerful difference in someone’s life – to give a quality of life he or she didn’t have or dream of having (ah! Back to Whitney’s book!). 

Neuros’s device is designed to reduce amputees’ pain when a neuroma (a bundle of the cut nerve endings that form a ‘tumor’) develops at the end of the amputated limb continually firing intense pain signals to the brain (not phantom limb pain).  This is usually treated with narcotics – obviously not a great option that also isn’t very effective.  In clinical trials, Neuros’ device greatly relieved, even eliminated, pain beyond our expectations, allowing people regain their lives.  It’s not every VC whose deals bring tears of joy and amazement to their eyes.  

Another one of our investments, Cleveland HeartLab, was at TEDMed 2012 demonstrating their blood marker test for MPO (Myeloperoxidase) that predicts the odds of a cardio event based on atherosclerotic plaque.  Talk about having an impact – this test has tremendous implications for improving and saving lives.

For me, being a VC is not just about profits and money, it’s about purpose and meaning.  In my own small way, with the help of so many others (my partners, our investments, the ‘network’ that supports all this), I can improve, even save, lives and the families around them. 

If that doesn’t get someone jazzed, I don’t know what will.

 

Side Note: Neuros Medical and Cleveland Heartlab’s successes are two of many successful and impacting startups in Northeast Ohio and Cleveland.  The city of 19th & 20th century startups – from oil to steel to automotive to polymers to coatings is undergoing a renaissance on many levels and let me tell you, it’s one exciting place to be a VC – there is no shortage of quality deal flow and the excitement is palpable – economically, socially, culturally, recreationally, you name it.

175 Years of Innovation Lessons

Suffice it to say I was honored my friend Chris Thoen would agree to talk about P&G’s Open Innovation history at the 3rd Open Innovation (OI) Summit at BW’s Center for Innovation & GrowthPractical Challenges of Global Open Innovation.  Chris has been interviewed, quoted, written about extensively as a leader in OI, and for good reason.

He opened with P&G’s 175yr old history OI.  Two brother-in-laws, William Procter (candle maker) and James Gamble (soap maker), using the same raw material, fats, were encouraged by their father-in-law to collaborate to get better ‘fat’ pricing! This was the start of P&G in 1837.  They grew the company with their own innovations and through (un-named at the time) open innovation with other technology makers and companies.  These partnerships were the foundation of P&G’s growth into 300 brands in over 180 countries, 24 billion dollar brands and most importantly, one of the most trusted names in the world.

About 10 years ago, CEO A. G. Lafley transformed P&G’s open innovation heritage into a key cultural component of the company –Connect+Develop (C+D).   This wasn’t just a way to come up with new products, but a fundamentally new way to do business.  Lafley challenged P&G to source at least 50% of their innovation from outside its hallowed R&D halls.

Chris clearly described OI as an ongoing journey requiring recognition and investment in top talent and external synergies.  When done well, OI is all about value creation for both partners, with both sets of interests in mind.  It’s about sharing your expertise and strategic needs of your brands, businesses, even corporately.  To do this, P&G has developed and put 70+ C+D leaders around the globe with 11 regional hubs (e.g., NA, LA, Europe, Israel, China, India, Japan), 100s of networks and academic partnerships.

Several products you may know are a result of OI: Swiffer, Tide, Mr. Clean eraser (1 of my faves).   Clorox’s Glad ForceFlexproduct is based on a P&G licensed technology.  Sometimes, you can even collaborate with your competitors! P&G’s technology and IP have created $3B in sales for their OI partners.

So what has P&G learned on this 10+ year journey?

  1. Drive from the Top:  Without Lafley’s challenge, commitment and leadership as CEO, it couldn’t have taken hold corporate-wide.
  2. Build an OI culture: You have to support and learn from failure, communicate openly (and often) to build trust, help your people understand the innovation process and consistently reward partnerships and results, not just patents.
  3. Focus the Hunt: Keep your eyes on the strategy at all times!  It’s what guides you; build internal relationships by sharing needs and goals; manage leadership’s expectations for reality, not for fantasy; create and communicate clear innovation selection and filtering criteria.
  4. Be Where the Action Is: get out of Cincinnati (or wherever)! You need to be where the innovation is happening and the markets exist – like developing markets, areas of VC activity, Social Media, SMEs, Academia/Universities and places with diverse expertise, cultures, ideas.
  5. Build Efficient and Effective Knowledge Management Systems: Track connections among your own people, capturing their knowledge and experience partnership nuances, deals so they are not repeated, saving time and money.  Include your partners, networks, and competitors while protecting your IP and create a way to visualize and analyze these intertwined relationships.
  6. Obey the Law of the Land: Take what you need, only what you need, and leave the rest.  Share what you’re not using because it may find a great application in another home
  7. Staff for Success: Hire and train a unique blend of Hunter-Gatherer.  This is not a typical person, but you may already have them – people who have expertise in a technology with business acumen with the ability to develop relationships, influence people, inside and outside your company.  Deliberately hire for this.  And, keep investing in R&D – doing OI doesn’t mean closing down your own R&D.
  8. Be the Partner You’re Looking For: The Golden Rule!  Celebrate your partners, look beyond the first deal with them, facilitate more connections for you and them, keep that Win:Win mindset front and center and be transparent because a second (third, fourth…) deal with the same partner takes about half the time while creating twice the value.  Remember, strong partners make you stronger as well.

Bottom line? P&G has created more value together with their OI partners than they ever could have alone.  It is a real ecosystem that creates value on a global scale to accomplish P&G’s mission: “…improve the lives of the world’s consumers, now and for generations to come.”

Ok, so maybe you’re not P&G, but you can still start the journey.   What do you need? What do you have to offer? Who could you partner with? Just start small, doesn’t have to be huge, just a step.  Give it a try.

Innovation - Not always "Just the Facts"

At Bell Labs we used to say, "How much did you pay for that data?"

Most market research projects - for strategic planning and innovation (my passions) or even incremental product development focus on getting the facts. Lets take a look at an example: One college in America, who I shall not name, states on their website that "Since 1920, more CollegeXgraduates have gone on to earn PhDs than have the graduates of any other American baccalaureate college."

This is true, it's a fact...so let's look at "WHY" (I love asking why!)

  • Because CollegeX is older than most of the institutions it's compared to for this data
  • Because CollegeX is bigger than most of the institutions it's compared to for this data
  • The data is taken from 1920 to 2010 - that's 90 years averaged
  • Over the past 20yrs, this is no longer true

Electric companies say that electric heat is 100% efficient compared to natural gas which is about 90% efficient. But in terms of generation and distribution, electricity is 33% efficient and generation and distribution of natural gas is about 98% efficient.

Electric vehicles don't generate pollution! Hum...what about the production of the electricity to charge a car? How does that (remember, most electricity is generated from burning coal and once it's out on the wires, it's only about 33% efficient) compare with a combustion engine?  Given today's electric grid (the one we've got), EVs aren't saving that much carbon.

Remember the Juan Williams saga with NPR and Fox and his statement about Muslims on a plane? And the recent firing of NPR's CEO? Lots of facts on all sides, most taken out of context. And we can just look at what's going on in the Mideast/North Africa to see how data are being used as facts in so many different contexts by different groups.

So why do I bring this up? Because while facts are important, humans have a tendency to pick the facts that support the hypothesis they want to confirm. The order in which facts are presented can strongly bias the interpreter. We don't tend to ask questions about what the facts don't say.

Facts can get in the way of innovation unless they are put in the right context - as a tool to look at things differently vs. taking them as the end-all-be-all. When presented with facts, try a few things to get a different perspective - ask....

  • If we reordered the facts, how would things look? (e.g., NPR)
  • What don't these facts address? (e.g., Electric heat)
  • What do these facts assume as truth? (e.g., CollegeX)
  • What follow-on questions result from these facts?
  • Why are these facts true?
  • How long will these facts be true for?
  • Who cares about these facts anyway?

So, check the facts, get some facts, but put them in perspective, be prudent...provide balance and ballast...because sometimes, the facts can hinder, not help innovation...

Treating Start-ups like Adults? Wait!

Humans are one of the few mammals whose babies are not fully developed at birth. Unlike horses, whales, etc., human babies can’t stand, walk or forage on their own at birth. They are totally dependent upon adult humans for constant, continual support just to live.  We are used to this, we accept it, we don’t expect anything different.

Yet, when we discuss the birth and development of innovations and companies, it’s totally different. We expect an accelerated path from birth to adolescence to adulthood. It doesn’t need to as long as human development, but it’s rarely Google-speed.

We know innovation and entrepreneurs need nurturing and support, but usually just pay lip service. The similarities, and therefore lessons learned, between newborn babies and innovations/ideas are seldom applied.

Within companies, many innovations aren’t given the time or support (e.g., prototyping, experimenting, testing) to ‘prove’ their worth – they are subjected to processes (e.g., stage-gate) and reviews prematurely and are not given a chance to try to crawl let alone walk. While vetting is critical, vetting too early can be fatal to the company as a whole longer-term.

For startups, entrepreneurs usually have to grow up (too) fast if they want to get the funding to nourish their growth. As a mentor to startups, my role is paradoxical - to nurture and advise but also help push out of the nest.

As a partner in Glengary LLC, an early-stage VC firm, we provide the necessary support and network AND hold them accountable for milestones, without asking for meaningless data in business plans. It is always a balancing act.

So, as you are involved in innovation and with entrepreneurs, apply some of the lessons learned from raising your kids, if you have. Provide a path providing sufficient nurture and nourishment for growth that teaches self-discipline and self-sustenance for independence.

It isn’t easy to do as parents, and it isn’t easy to do in business, but few rewards are easy.