Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The Next Best Thing

    Early dreams for a new business took root during the agonizing ten months Army Captain Dawn Halfaker spent recovering from over 20 operations she endured when she was severely injured in Iraq. She had spent five months in Baquba, in the volatile province of Diyalah as a Platoon Leader, charged with training an Iraqi police force. Shortly after midnight in June, 2004, Dawn rolled out in a convoy of 4 humvees on a reconnaissance patrol when her vehicle was hit by a barrage of small arms fire and rocket-propelled grenades. One grenade pierced the engine of Dawn's vehicle before it burst immediately next to her, leaving her right arm hanging by a piece of skin and a few tendons. Dazed and covered with blood, Dawn still managed to order the driver to flee before lapsing into a coma that lasted twelve days. She awoke as a patient in Walter Reed Army Medical Center in terrible shape: besides burns and lacerations, Dawn suffered 5 broken ribs, a shattered shoulder blade and a deadly infection that almost took her life, and eventually led to the amputation of her right arm. For her heroism, she was awarded a Purple Heart and a Bronze Star.
During her recovery, as Dawn began to realize the military career she had desperately wanted since the first day she entered the United States Military Academy at West Point was over, she worried about "losing a sense of purpose.":
I really loved what I was doing. To me the military was a dream job with so much of my life and my identity wrapped up in it. So I was fiercely determined to stay connected to the fellow soldiers I had left behind on the battlefield.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Winning Women

For 24 years Ernst and Young, a global company with 144,000 employees,which specializes in assurance, tax, transactions and advisory services, has held a competition for Entrepreneur of the Year. But three years ago as part of its commitment to the advancement of women, the company initiated a competition exclusively for women-founded businesses. According to Maria Pinelli, the EY Americas Director, Strategic Growth Markets, "although women are starting businesses at twice the rate of men, they start with much less capital and they don't grow nearly as large. Our program is designed to help them scale to become market leaders."
     The criteria for the application process, which usually begins in the Spring, are straightforward:
The applicant must be a founder or a founding partner with at least a 51 percent ownership of a company less than 10 years old with sales of at least $1 mil within the last two years. Their online applications are reviewed by a panel of five judges. The 2010 panel included Howard Brodsky, CEO of CCA Global Partners, Jeri Harrman, Managing Partner of Avante Mezzanine Partners, Pamela O'Rourke, CEO of ICON Information Consultants, Vicki Raport, CEO of Quantum Retail Technology (a 2009 EY competition winner!) and Rob Scott, VP and Worldwide General Manager for Hewlett-Packard.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Competitions Galore: And the Winner Is...

     TV game shows may have declined in recent years, but idea contests are riding a wave among big corporations. Competitions often arise when problems loom large and times are tough, so no surprise they are currently on the uptick. Encouraged by the ease and success of cloud computing and crowd sourcing, many major corporations see competitions as a spur to innovation, solving problems big and small.
Consumer companies have jumped into the fray with both feet. Starbucks has its "My Starbucks Idea" invitation, asking customers and employees to suggest ideas "revolutionary or simple," resulting in something as basic as a new flavor or as practical as a domed lid on its cups to house the whipped cream. Procter & Gamble is reaching out through its Connect & Develop program to "accelerate innovation" globally through partnerships with small companies to add value to P&G products.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

The Mom Motivation

     A new breed of entrepreneurs is gaining steam: moms who decide to create new businesses after giving birth. While pundits ponder why women are underrepresented in corporate leadership, despite the fact that women now account for the majority of the workforce, these "mompreneurs" find opportunity, rather than disadvantage, in their motherhood.
The idea often starts with something as basic as changing diapers. Since disposable diapers are the third largest contributor to landfills, no surprise that eco- minded moms, not quite ready to revert to scrubbing cloth diapers, needed an alternative. Australian-born Kim Graham-Nye was pregnant with her first child when she began searching for diaper options and instead found "an amazing hole in the market." Her solution was to license diaper technology, which she could only market outside of Australia and New Zealand. With her husband Jason, also her business partner, she moved to environmentally-friendly Portland, Oregon where they founded gDiapers in 2005 to "keep plastic off babies and out of landfills."

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Tech Transfers: Turn-Offs or Start-Ups?

     Recently, Donna Rounds, the Director of Technology Development at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York noted that "the dirty little secret for starting a new business is that you can get most things out of a tech transfer department pretty damned cheap." This December marks the 30th anniversary of the Bayh-Dole Act which in effect gave birth to the idea of tech transfer. In response to a sluggish US atmosphere for innovation, the law was passed to give ownership of inventions, developed with the aid of federal research funds, back to the universities that created them; it also allowed research institutions the freedom to negotiate whatever license terms would encourage development of the technology. The act was immediately dubbed by The Economist as "the most inspired piece of legislation to be enacted in America over the past half century."

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

How to Invest in Life Sciences

     No area of investing has greater potential risks -- or greater pay-offs -- than companies in the life sciences sector, especially if you consider their potential benefits to society. Who doesn't want to contribute to a cure for Parkinson's or Alzheimer's disease or even to the development of a "marker" to help in the diagnosis of a disease? It's often a hugely personal decision for investors whose interest may be peaked because a family member or friend has a particular disease. But investors have to be prepared to understand what makes life sciences companies different from other investments. And they need to know what questions to ask.
     In a recent presentation for angel investors at a Golden Seeds forum, Anne Shehab, who holds a PhD in Chemical Engineering as well an MBA, and has filled strategic leadership posts at DuPont, Biogen, Arthur Little, and Valeritas suggests three distinguishing industry features: it's a highly regulated industry worldwide; the value chain has an imbalanced power structure, which gives more control to the payers (insurance companies, for example) than to the ultimate beneficiary, the patient. It's also an industry in transition in terms of delivery systems, technology, diseases in the spotlight and regulations, especially since the recent health reform act passed.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Spotters for Starter Uppers: Helping CEO's Make the Pitch

      On one of the last sweltering days of summer in New York, a group of 21 eager entrepreneurs gathered for an all day boot camp on how to position their fledgling companies to attract investors. For nearly four hours in the morning, they listened intently to impressive panels of experts, talking on "The Key Elements of a Venture Presentation" followed by "Presenting Financials and The Business Models." Among the panelists were representatives from such companies as Covington & Burling, AOL Ventures, Golden Seeds, Cava Capital, Microsoft, Intel Capital, Grant Thornton and NBC Universal.
     This boot camp, ALL THINGS MEDIA, focused on women entrepreneurs in all sectors of the media, is the 21st annual ritual for Springboard Enterprises, a nonprofit group whose mission is to educate, coach, and showcase women-led high growth companies seeking equity capital for expansion. Each forum targets a specific business sector; past ones have highlighted life science and technology companies.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Commutes, Cats and Cakes: Enterprising Ideas!

     After a couple of decades as a computer programmer who commuted every morning an hour across the Potomac to work in Maryland, Carol Covin began to notice as she stalled in traffic that there were as many cars driving in the opposite direction each morning towards Virginia. Why commute, she wondered? If there were good jobs closer to home, she wanted to find them.
Her search led her to a publishing career. Her first edition of The Computer Professional's Job Guide for the Washington, DC Area sold out its 5000 copy print run in four months.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Mid Career Entrepreneurs: Starting up After Settling in

     Kris Appel never fit the stereotypical entrepreneur image of a geek in a computer lab. With a master's degree in romance language linguistics, she was recruited by the National Security Agency where she started as a translator and eventually settled into management for 17 years. She says she enjoyed her career but felt something was missing because it "wasn't creative."
      After a couple of years at a tech company, in 2006 Kris signed up for a yearlong program which "changed my life by giving me tools, training and the nerve to unleash my creativity." Launched in 2005 at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, the program called ACTiVATE, is designed for mid-career

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

How to Start a Business: Be Willing to Fail!

     Entrepreneur Adrienne Choma, President and COO of Saladax, a company which provides oncology drug monitoring tests, started her career as a lawyer for a pharmaceutical company. After a short stint, she realized she really didn't enjoy practicing law so she proceeded to "beg my way" into the business area. After five years experience in market research and business development, she decided she wanted to take on the management of a production facility. When she went to her boss with her request, she was told, "you're a girl lawyer; how can you run a production facility?" Choma answered, "Give me one year. If I haven't improved the operating results of this facility, you can fire me; I'm willing to sign an agreement now that assures you have no liability if I don't do what I think I can do."
     Adrienne Choma was never fired; in fact she went on to have a 20-year career at Hoffmann-La Roche, including Vice President, New Product Development and Regulatory Affairs; Vice President, Operations; Vice President, International Drug Monitoring Business Unit; and Vice President, Marketing & Sales for the U.S.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Open Door for Women Entrepreneurs

    Here's one door that's always open to budding entrepreneurs -- as long as they are women! Over the past few years Golden Seeds, a rare angel investor group devoted exclusively to funding women-led and owned businesses, has poured more than $16 million into 26 companies. These select companies represent a small fraction of the more than 1000 companies that have submitted business plans and the 300 entrepreneurs who have presented at the group's monthly forum, a yield rate typical for angel investors and venture capitalists. The investment mission is simple: to champion women investors and women entrepreneurs because of a core belief that both men and women in management and in the boardroom together make better decisions and produce superior results.