Sunday, February 28, 2010

Have you tried putting algae in your Mercedes’ engine?

Solazyme CEO Jonathan Wolfson thinks that research into bio-fuels has finally approached a level that makes production scalable to meet mass-market demand.

by Poornima Weerasekara

A few years ago no one would have used the words Merceds and Algae in the same sentence. But now Solazyme, Inc., a South San Francisco, based biotechnology company has developed an algae oil-based biodiesel which it has road tested on a Mercedes Benz C320.
“We have Road tested algae fuels unmixed in unaltered engines for over 10,000 km. The oils produced by Solazyme’s algae would be a full replacement for petroleum-based fuel, not an additive,” Wolfson said, at the recently concluded Stanford e-Week seminar that focused on the challenges of commercializing bio-fuels.

The department of Defense in Sept. 2009 also switched to using jet fuel made entirely of algae derivative supplied by Solazyme.
Earlier the company had its research and development funded by the Navy in exchange for 20,000 gallons of fuel for its ships.
“The department of defense cares about bio-fuels because it gives energy security. The Environmental protection agency wants greater progress in this area because it’s a source of clean energy. There is a lot of momentum in the bio-fuel sector,” he said.

According to Wolfson, the biggest challenge facing bio-fuel companies is finding a production process that makes the “cost per unit” competitive with conventional oil.

“Can u do it at the right cost? Our target is to design a process that converts a pound of bio-feed stock to oil at 0.25 – 0.50 cents per pound. That’s the key to making production scalable,” he said.

Algae bio fuels reduce carbon footprint by 80-90% vs. ultra low sulphur petroleum source – source: life cycle association.

Byproducts of algae based oil production can also be converted into consumer and industrial chemicals, including food additives and cosmetics,” he added.

Taking a greenleap forward
But Solazyme didn’t stumble on the right production mantra for several years.
“When we started we were making a lot of algae in these bio-reactors. But this path was not commercializable in the near future,” Wolfson said. “Then we found this angel investor – who had launched several bio fuel companies- that had failed. He said if you guys succeed you would disintermediate conventional oil.”

“That is when we realized that conventional oil companies owned over a $1 trillion worth of distribution infrastructure. We realized that if we wanted to make it big we needed to leverage on this infrastructure. We threw out our first production platform and from then on the only thing we care about was SCALE,” he added.

Solazyme entered into a biodiesel feedstock development and testing agreement with Chevron Technology Ventures in late 2008. Industrial fermentation – the same tech used to make beer or wine – is at the heart of their new proprietary technique to turn algae into oil.

Why algae?

“Algae are single cell organisms that have evolved to compete in very harsh environments and as a result have evolved incredibly strong pathways to store oil,” Wolfson said. “It has the highest energy density compared to other plants used to make bio-fuels like Canola or Soy. Algae production processes are yielding 10 times more oil per acre than soybeans,” he added.

The future ain’t slimy

“When we started the company – the weren’t many algae fuel companies. Now there are over a hundred of them,” Wolfson said adding that There weren’t many Venture Capitalists that were funding clean-tech.

“Literally less than half a dozen VCs were making energy investments 5-6 years ago. But now everyone wants a piece of the algae pie. So the future of this sector is neither slimy nor slippery,” he added.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Never Miss an Opportunity to be Fabulous

Tina Seelig stimulated the minds of hundreds of parents in the Hewlett Teaching Center at Stanford University this afternoon by showing them how to see the world through a lens of possibility.

"This isn't about turning lemons into lemonade," Seelig said. "This is about turning things like lemonade into helicopters."

Seelig is the Executive Director of the Stanford Technology Ventures Program, as well as author of the book What I Wish I Knew when I was 20.

She was the featured speaker at the class called Entrepreneurship as an Extreme Sport that was offered to the parents of Stanford students who are in town for Parent's Weekend, an annual on-campus event that gives parents a glimpse into their child's academic life.

Animatedly clarifying the visuals on her PowerPoint with multiple anecdotes from her own life, Seelig drew a comparison between the courage needed to jump off of a cliff and the fearlessness you need to be a successful entrepreneur.

"Value can be found anywhere," Seelig said. "You just need to get out of your comfort zone."

One of Seelig's most engaging tales was the one most relateable to everyday life. She was shopping at the grocery store one day to pick up some frozen lemonade mix when she bumped into a guy who was also in the market for concentrated refreshment. They began to chat about something random and she found out that he was in Silicon Valley from Chile to learn about entrepreneurship.

Coincidentally, she teaches a course on entrepreneurship at Stanford, gives him her card, and they go their separate ways. Later, she was traveling to Chili, so she e-mailed him prior to her departure to see if he wanted to grab a cup of coffee with her while she was in the country. He does, but is so busy that he can't meet up. However, he said, she should invite some of her colleagues to join her on the trip and go to a certain building at a certain time when they arrive.

Not knowing what to expect, she agreed to do it. When she and her colleagues arrived, a member of his family greeted them and escorted them to the family helicopter. They get in and are swooped away to the family ski resort, and later flown around the country. Talk about being fabulously lucky!

Or is she? Seelig told the crowd that successful entrepreneurs learn to be lucky, for luck is a learned behavior that is the byproduct of experience and value assessment.

Turn problems into opportunities #stanfordeweek on Twitpic

Professor Richard Wiseman, author of the book The Luck Factor, is a former magician turned psychologist who studied the science behind the lives of lucky people. His most revealing experiment took two groups of people and tested them to identify how luck factored into their success rates.

The groups were separated by the way they self-identified. One group consisted of people who called themselves lucky, while the other group labeled themselves unlucky.

Wiseman gave them a task: Look through this news paper and count how many pictures are in it. The unlucky group took a very very long time; but the lucky group found the answer within a matter of seconds. What was different about the lucky group's experience that allowed them to find the answer so quickly?

Written on the front page of the paper in bold were the words: "Stop reading. There are 42 photos in this paper." The unlucky group was so busy counting the photos that they didn't see what was right in front of their faces.


Much like a cliff jumper, an entrepreneur sees the world as a place full of possibilities in which they can challenge assumptions and create value.

"The most successful entrepreneurs are the ones who are aware of things in their environment, and leverage the surprises that come their way," Seelig said.

She illustrated her point with a 25-second clip of Vinod Khosla, former general partner at the venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins.

With an open mind and shrewd networking skills, the world is a place full of possibility.

To see Tina Seelig in action, check out her videos on Stanford's Entrepreneurship Corner. Here's one in which Seelig talks about why failing will actually make an entrepreneur more successful.

Women Who've Launched

by Susana Montes-Delgado

Women entrepreneurs are seldom the majority at Silicon Valley events. But when they get together, their combined experiences appear to increment the sound and the energy of a room.

Last Wednesday, women flocked from all corners of the world to see Gina Bianchini, co-founder and CEO of Ning; Judy Estrin, CEO of JLABS and Mae Tai O’Malley, founder and managing attorney of Paragon Legal, who came together to speak about entrepreneurship at the Stanford Alumni Center. Their goal: To shed light on the challenges and rewards of being a businesswoman in the 21st century.

Gina Bianchini said she launched the social networking platform Ning after several successes and failures in her business career. Her vision materialized when she decided to break the mold and innovate the social networking world. In 2004, she started Ning with one idea in mind: To provide freedom to social networking users.

What differentiates her company from other social sites like Myspace and Facebook is that Ning allows users to create their own social networks with customized layouts and features based on their interests, she said.

If you give people space to create their own experience online," said Bianchini. "Really interesting things happen."

Judy Estrin, CEO of JLABS and author of Closing the Innovation Gap, agreed with Bianchini.
Behind any new innovation there is an adventurous spirit who is not afraid of failure, she said. Estrin believes all good business ideas grow if there is a clear mission and purpose--and a strong leader who moves that enterprise forward.

"If you are afraid of failure, the entrepreneurial path is not for you because it is definitely not a straight line," said Estrin. "Entrepreneurship is a state of mind."

Estrin believes the most profitable businesses grow when they stop focusing on making money. The best way to grow a business is to work with flexibility and patience, she said. This comes from a woman who has co-founded 7 successful technology companies and who has been named to Fortune Magazine's list of the 50 most powerful women in American business.

"We need to change our focus. Businesses should be about making a difference," Estrin said. " They should be about creating products that can change the world."

Mae Tai O’Malley, a lawyer and founder of Paragon Legal, one of the nation's fastest-growing alternative model law firms, said this was her case: Her company took on a life of its own without her even knowing, she said. O'Malley began her career at Morrison & Foerster and then worked in-house for Symantec and Google before founding Paragon in 2006. She has been featured in numerous publications including the Wall Street Journal, National Law Journal, and SF Business Times.

Instead of a traditional lawfirm, Paragon Legal puts lawyers on-site to work at senior level positions within companies. Today, her company provides legal counseling and services to Netflix, Yahoo, LinkedIn and Cisco, to name a few. And most of the attorneys are women.

"I didn’t know what I was doing at the beginning," O'Malley said. "But you've got to stick in there, keep on going."

The three women agreed that women entrepreneurs not only need to have discipline, drive and passion. They also need to balance their time and ask for help, when necessary. The three of them have raised children and businesses at the same time. And they said they have gradually learned to find a balance between work and play.

"Think about jugglers: They know how many balls they can keep in the air," Estrin said. "The key to work-balance or life-balance is to pick the number of balls that you can juggle. What are the balls that are most important to you? You've got to know yourself. Put down a ball-- or ask for help."

Estrin added that sometimes taking unnecessary risks to start a promising business idea is not recommended. Women, in particular, need to be careful about their investments, she said.

"I encourage people not to invest what they cannot afford to lose," she said. "You've got to have enough of your own resources. If you can’t afford to do start your own business, stay in your job while you put together your business idea-- and then find somebody to fund it."

Friday, February 26, 2010

Cleantech and Cloud Computing Tie the Knot

Quote of the afternoon: "Entrepreneurship is in full throttle. It’s a great time to start a company when there isn’t a shining rainbow in the distance," Warren Packard said this afternoon in Bishop Auditorium.

As the Managing Director at Draper Fisher Jurvetson (DFJ), a venture capitalist company that has managed over $6 billion, Packard knows a thing or two about investing in start-ups. Or 600 things, the number of investments his company has made.

This was refreshing to much of the audience, who was accustomed to hearing what a cacophonous disaster job searching was. I was hooked, ready to hear how these two former GSB students found success along their own separate paths. Yet as is the case with most Stanford students, their career plans converged once again.

Both graduates of '97, Packard and Seamicro CEO Andrew Feldman began talking business again when Feldman stumbled across a great need in the data center industry: power.

"I had no interest in cleantech," Feldman said. "But I saw that data centers like Facebook and Google were such huge power sucks that I thought, 'I gotta solve this.'"

Feldman explained how these giant media companies would trek miles and miles to rivers just to get cheap power. It just didn't make sense for such successful, large companies to have to do this. So with potential customers like Yahoo, Feldman said he saw an opportunity.

He merged the two hot industries of cleantech and cloud computing. The problem? The idea was extremely capital intensive and needed hundreds of millions of dollars. But because Feldman had already identified potential customers, he had already checked off the first step to convincing a venture capitalist to fund his company, Packard explained.

The next steps?

(1. Identifying potential customers, as I already mentioned above)

2. Build a team: This involves lots of breakfasts, lots of lunches with lots of people, Feldman said. He had to pitch this idea as something revolutionary and new. Just a decade ago, data centers' CPUs were all about handling a small number of large tasks. Now, because search engines offer free services, there is an enormous number of small tasks occurring every second. This causes huge energy consumption that can be greatly reduced.

3. Ask for money: Though it’s the most painful part, it doesn't have to be the most difficult part. Packard explained that you shouldn’t classify your company as a "cleantech" company or "cloud computing," but as a company that will solve a customer need.

4. Raising money: This is where DFJ and Packard come in. The most interesting analogy of the afternoon was used when Feldman explained the relationship between start-ups and VCs. His wife works in the emergency room; she treats patients everyday who will remember their emergency room visits for the rest of their lives. Start-ups are like emergency room patients. When you go in for treatment, it’s something you’ll never forget. For medical professionals, or VCs, it’s just another Tuesday. You’ve got to stand out, and VCs will want to invest in your company.

5. Once the VC has committed, they'll take a Board seat. They will line up prospective investors, establish strategy, and jump on your bandwagon.

6. Execution: FINALLY! DFJ's job is to exit the picture and make sure the company can stand on its own two feet. Right now, not the case, but possibly in the future. Feldman explained that he's looking for engineers right now. And though he must pay them $100K less than bigger companies like Cisco and Juniper, he can provide the best experience possible. "I remove every ounce of BS from their lives so they can focus on their job," he explained. "Anything not engineering related is my problem. They don’t get the garbage from big companies in return for a substantial pay reduction."

Like a marriage, Packard said, the journey for a start-up and VC is a wild one, but if there's a spark, something innovative, and a supportive mutual understanding, it can be an ultimate success.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Water, water everywhere, and not a drop to spare

A handful of companies are clustered in a corner of the Arbuckle Cafe in the Graduate School of Business building on Stanford Campus. The subject is water.

Water is the ultimate resource, and more frequently, it is a scarce one. Not content to watch an opportunity go by, a handful of start-ups offer ways to save it, use it for irrigation and clean it up.

Not your dad's sprinkler system
What do you get when you combine 21,000 tracking stations across the continental US, a proprietary model to calculate evaporation rates and an internet-connected water sprinkler controller? According to Scott Meinzen of WeatherTRAK, "A system that lowers water bills, reduces runoff, and pays for itself in 24-36 months." Started in 2001 in Petaluma, WeatherTRAK controllers are being installed in businesses, schools and residential sites across the US.

Low-tech solution targets 600 million farmers in China and India
DripTech is a two-year old start-up homegrown out of the Stanford Design School. Their product is a low-cost drip irrigation system for developing countries. "The market is 600 million farmers in China and India," Danny Gilliland explains, "Our product allows them to double their crop yield by allowing them to plant during the dry season." The key to their system is that it does not require a high-pressure water line, a rare luxury in developing countries.

In a reversal of the usual way global economics works, the US manufactured DripTech's first sale was to 100 greenhouses in China. Their technology is a drip-line that can deliver water 100 feet using only 3 feet of water pressude. Their first in-the-field product test is coming up, the Chinese dry season is fast approaching.

Clean up after yourself
At the stairs Terry Appleberg stands next to pamphlets for APTwater. "We clean contaminated groundwater using ozone and hydrogen peroxide to destroy contaminants," he explains. Customers include industrial firms seeking to clean groundwater that they've polluted.

The night ends, the company reps pack up for the drive home without fanfare. These may not be the rock stars of eweek, but these companies are looking to make a splash where it counts. I'll drink to that. Offers Fresh Ideas

When launched, the web-based personal financial management service faced a huge security hurdle: it had to convince users to fork over all their financial information to a new start-up. That's why Mint launched at the 2007 TechCrunch conference to a crowd of Silicon Valley software developers already comfortable with online finance.

"If we could get these people who already have online banking to start using the service, we'd start to see a little bit of adoption from others less oriented to [online banking] and they would say, 'how could 10 or 15 thousand people be wrong?'" Mint's Vice-President of Product Aaron Forth said Thursday night at Stanford's E-week. "Coming from where we were, Mint was very proud to hit 2.5 million users because we had a lot of work to do to make people comfortable engaging once they registered for the site."

Mint agreed to be acquired by Intuit for $170 million in November 2009. Forth described the merger as a "fairy tale story."

"We built something we think adds a lot of value to the world and someone was there to take that up," he said. At the time Mint was acquired, it had around 35 employees.

Forth shared what he called "transferable ideas" to a room brimming with Stanford Business Students eager to learn from Mint's success story. Forth revealed other tricks of the trade like the importance of a business working in small project teams to empower people in the company and to decentralize power. And, as other Silicon Valley companies have touted, Mint tries to "stay nimble" and doesn't plan too much so that it can react to the market.

From the beginning product concept, Mint wanted to do something new. "One of the things we knew about financial software is that is was a male dominated sport. But, the weird thing is that females are often making the day to day financial decisions in the home. So we thought, let's be bold and do something that's not stealing blue or grey and actually print something that has some life in it and that's consistent with the mint leaf and being fresh."

The company's "refreshing"mint leaf aesthetic carries out through its company philosophy. At it's most basic level Mint says money is for living. "You work so hard because you want to make that money to have a great life. So let's talk about that. Lets talk about having a great life and how this tool's going to help you do it."

Contrary to expectations, Mint met the recession period with growth instead of set back because during a time when no one knew where their money was going, Mint allowed people to track their finances. Mint also tapped into the swell of frustration with financial institutions by taking a consumer advocacy approach and alerting users about ways to save money. Forth noted that the recession didn't end up being Mint's downfall. "We thought it might be hard for people to engage with their finances during this period, but it was one of the great growth periods actually." He said no one knew where their money was and Mint let them see where it was going. Also, the recession proved a boon for Mint because when people have less money they have to pay closer attention to where they are spending.

"Mint saw a change in behavior towards money. We started to talk less about autopilot and more about how it was important to be engaged with your finances," Forth said. "For the first time, in my life, having a budget and knowing where you spend it was cool."

When asked about the Intuit acquisition during the Q&A session, Forth said that Mint will end up merging in many different ways. "We are still very focused on the value we're bringing and how that hits the market is yet to be determined. We're studying lots of things about the brand and the technology and we are going to be opportunistic about what we decide to integrate and what not to integrate."

During the question period several students even asked about job opportunities. Mint said for every management job, the company interviews about 20 people. For engineering positions the number goes up to 50 per one hire. But instead of pummeling job applicants with tough questions and back-to-back interviews, Forth described a very different hiring process where they ask applicants to "draw a financial issue you're grappling with"

Another favorite Mint interview question: Describe a favorite product. "When someone talks about something that isn't the iphone or other technology, something that no one's ever told you is a cool product like 'I love my shampoo' because of the contours of the bottle and the way it suds up,' then I know when it comes to constructing a product themselves they'll have that sense of what they like and don't like and apply it to their own product."

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Steve Case Advocates Entrepreneurship for Economic Recovery

Steve Case Advocates Entrepreneurship for Economic Recovery
By Dong Liu

This afternoon at a heavily-packed Hewlett Auditorium audiences from all over the world came to attend Steve Case's talk during Stanford's Entrepreneurship Week. Steve Case is the co-founder of America Online and the founder and CEO of Revolution Partners. During his 30+ years of entrepreneurial experience Case summarized its essence and importance in national economic development. "We need innovation, risk-taking, and entrepreneurship to get the country back on track," he said. "Entrepreneurship is important because of the underlying economic climate of America and it's critical for our nation's future."

Case summarized his trials and tribulations in entrepreneurship into the "3 P's": people, passion, and perseverance. He is convinced that with a combination of all three factors all entrepreneurial endeavors will be rewarding. He described his own career path in three stages, each spanning almost a decade: 1. The growth of AOL. 2. The merger of AOL and Time Warner. 3. building the Revolution Partners.

Almost 30 years ago, Case read the Third Wave by Alvin Toffler and became intrigued in interactive services and in the idea of the "electronic frontier" which allows people to be connected to a vast amount of digital information. At that stage, it was more of an idea than reality and no companies were exploring a similar path. After graduating from college, Case worked in marketing for Proctor & Gamble and soon transitioned to Pizza Hut, whose highly entrepreneurial environment, relatively flat organizationl hierarchy, and independence of franchise decisions appealed to him.

Yet still, the idea of creating and developing internet interactive services captured him. In 1983, Case moved to Washington DC to work in the gaming company GameLine, which allowed customers to download Atari games and later moved to other interactive services such as emails. The experience at GameLink was a lesson in perseverance: GameLink's product was a disaster as it was shipped, which led the manager to comment that "you'd thought they'd shoplift more than that."

From 1985-1990 Case developed the strategy of creating private-labeled internet services and establish partnerships with computer manufacturers. The first service, PC Link, linked computers with interactive services and built modems into PC's. Yet they had to compete with Prodigy, a $1-billion company while they only had a couple million dollars of venture capital. But in many ways PC Link was a breakthrough because it had the first graphic-user interface, was free of charge, focused on community building, and introduced instant messaging.

Case showed two videos, made in 1987 and 1995, of interviews he participated in on TV programs to summarize the products. The first was for Quantum Link and the second was a PBS interview for AOL.

In 1987 Case's company built a new service called Apple Link, which used Apple's licensing of its name to connect Apple users to the internet. It was launched in 1988 but soon shut down in 1989 due to Apple's discomfort with the product. The falling apart of the Apple deal created a crisis in the company and made Case realize that they cannot rely on partnerships with other computer manufacturers but must stand alone as a business.

Due to a lack of marketing budget, they chose America Online as the name of the new company. Although online services were widely misunderstood and underrated in the 80s, by the 90s the tide began to turn in Case's favor and it gained more widespread acceptance. Yet up until 1992 it was against Federal law to connect a commercial service to the internet. AOL was in a sense the pioneer of all internet service companies, and was the first internet company to go public. It had 70 employees in the beginning and $70 million valuation.

But soon it grew into a $100 billion company with almost 20 million users at its peak. The bulk of AOL's accelerated growth came in the 1990-2000 period, until it became the number 1 stock in the 90s, above Microsoft and other technology stocks. With the rapid growth of AOL Case sought to move from the narrowband (phone line connection) to broadband and eventually to wireless, and as a result the merger with Time Warner was conceived.

AOL's merger with Time Warner was initially hailed as the best of both worlds, because both companies addressed each other's weaknesses and complemented each other's strengths: Time Warner could give AOL its extensive cable system with broadband capacity, and AOL could broaden Time Warner's traditional media confines and give it a new outlet. It took a year for the merger to complete because various lobby groups marched to Washington arguing that such a merger would create too dominant a company that would endanger others' survival. Case also took the role of Chairman of the Board instead of the CEO to focus more on strategic decisions than to immerse in day-to-day operations.

The merger was made for $350 million dollars and became a total disaster.

Case summarized the factors behind the eventual failure of the AOL-Time Warner deal. First, he attributed factors that ran outside of human control: the impending recession, the diminsh of advertising revenue, and the emerging Internet bust all did harm to the conditions and the prospects of the deal. Second, he concluded the failure on the part of the 3 P's: there was trouble in people because of the cultural clash between the different workforces of AOL and Time Warner, there was trouble in passion because the company became more corporate and devoted less passion to its core business, and there was trouble in perseverance because with the Internet bust, it was seen as the sector not to invest in because it cannot sustain itself, which caused many capitalists to back away. All in all, Case summarized the deal using Thomas Edison's words: "Vision without execution is hallucination."

After AOL, Case founded Revolution Partners, which "invested in people and ideas that would change the world," either in for-profit or non-profit organizations. He emphasized the importance of taking risks, because he feels that too many venture capitalists nowadays are not taking enough risks, despite the fact that entry barriers are now lowered and everyone focuses on building audiences to sustain itself. Revolution Partners has invested in ZipCars because it believes that people who live in the city should not be compelled to own cars for convenience and environmental purposes. It has also invested in healthcare services to educate consumers about healthcare reforms, as well as in Exclusive Resort, which allows people to rent holiday homes instead of purchasing property for single-season usage. The investment in Revolution Money, a financial service, was also a lesson in perseverance because despite years of disappointing performances during the recession, it was eventually acquired last year.

In conclusion, Case said that entrepreneurship is critical for the growth of the country and the development of its economic recovery. "It is patriotic and not just economically motivated," he said. "Now is the golden era for entrepreneurship because big companies are all playing defense now so it creates a tremendous opportunity to enter the market."

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

BioDesign Roundtable

Seven panelists from the healthcare industry tonight answered the question, "How will Comparative Effectiveness Impact Medical Device Innovation?"

The panelists included:
- Ross Jaffee M.D. of Versant Ventures
- Prof. Alan Garber M.D., Ph.D.
- Robert Pearl M.D. CEO of Permanente Medical Group
- Lewis Sandy M.D. SVP of Clinical Advancement with UnitedHealth Group
- Chip Hance, President of Abbott Vascular
- Prof. Rodney Perkins M.D.
- Dana Mead, Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers
- Amit Sinha, MBA of Goldman Sachs

The Health and Human Services website indicates that Comparative Effectiveness Research (CER) funds should:

support research assessing the comparative effectiveness of health care treatments and strategies, through efforts that:
Conduct, support, or synthesize research that compares the clinical outcomes, effectiveness, and appropriateness of items, services, and procedures that are used to prevent, diagnose, or treat diseases, disorders, and other health conditions.
Encourage the development and use of clinical registries, clinical data networks, and other forms of electronic health data that can be used to generate or obtain outcomes data.

The pertinence of this question stemmed from the $1.1 bilion earmark in Obama's American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (distributing $787 billion total).

The $1.1 billion consists of:
- $300 million for the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality
- $400 million for the National Institutes of Health, and
- $400 million for the Office of the Secretary of Health and Human Services

The panel tonight focused on the question of whether this emphasis on CER will impede innovation. The panel seemed to agree that the focus of CER should be on implementation instead of the politics. Robert Pearl of Permanente Group said that systems should focus on infrastructure to link databases for patient information.

"Providers could have no idea if people are getting medication from Wal-Mart or the V.A.," said Pearl.

The panelists agreed that CER should encourage companies to collaborate (especially small and large ones) and improves the infrastructure for research and innovation for quality care.

It is possible companies may pursue a business idea that has found success.

Chip Hance from Abbott did say "what the large company is looking for is some form of predictability."

The panelists agreed that there is a danger that many companies will become "me too" businesses, but Prof. Garber says the healthcare industry needs "me too" companies also.

"Often best drug is the third or fourth on the market, not first," said Garber. "It would be a disaster if we didn’t have competition."

One solution to America's healthcare problems may be the internet, said one panelist, in which patients can give and get daily feedback through personalized care.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Europe in the Global Entrepreneurship Scene

What is the current state of entrepreneurship activity in different countries around the world? How does this relate to global development?

Ignacio de la Vega, Professor of Entrepreneurship and Strategic Management and at the Instituto de Empresa (IE) in Madrid and Chairman of Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM) has the answers, in the form of the GEM 2009 Global Report, published in January this year.

In a lecture entitled, "Europe in the Global Entrepreneurship Scene", Vega presented the report's findings, particularly in relation to the European entrepreneurial sector.

The 55 counties covered in the report are divided into three sectors: "factor-driven", "efficiency-driven" and "innovation -driven" economies. As a rough guide, factor-driven economies include developing nations such as Uganda, where entrepreneurship is largely sparked by necessity, and innovation-driven economies cover counties such as the U.S. and U.K., where entrepreneurship is likely initiated by a drive to produce new and enterprising products. In addition, the report distinguishes entrepreneurial activates as having either high or low impact with high or low early-stage activity.

For example, according to this year's report, Uganda - which has the lowest Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of the nations surveyed - displayed high early-stage entrepreneurial activity, which had a relatively low impact. In contrast, the U.S., which has a high GDP, displayed low early-stage entrepreneurial activity with higher productivity.

According to Vega, the report, which compared entrepreneurial activities in 2006-2007 to 2008-2009, demonstrated that the innovation-driven world, which includes much of Western Europe, has suffered from a lack of confidence in the entrepreneurial sector, with a fall by 50% in opportunity perception, a 33% increase in fear of failure and a increase in necessity entrepreneurship over innovation entrepreneurship. He used the example of his home nation Spain as a demonstration of this phenomenon.

The report also surveyed the views of the entrepreneurs themselves, comparing their attitudes to the start-up market.

While more than half of the entrepreneurs interviewed claimed that starting a business was more difficult in 2009 than in 2008, 20% found it less difficult. Interestingly, young, well-educated entrepreneurs displayed greater optimism than their more experienced peers, saying that they expected to see more opportunities for their businesses due to the economic decline.

When asked which countries and sectors, in light of these findings, would be best to invest in, Vega joked, "If I knew, I would probably be doing less teaching and more investment."

In compromise, he said, Eastern Europe is a good area to watch, as well as so-called "sexy" industries, such as nano- and green-technology. "Opportunities, in my opinion, are everywhere," said Vega. "Even in the midst of crisis, you still get tones of possibility."

Laying down the law on startups

Amid the crackling of lunch bags and sandwich plastic, Monday's second E-week event, Legal Tips for Startups in Today's Economy, kicked off at the Stanford Law School to a packed audience. Hosted by the Stanford Law and Technology Association, the event--billed as a panel discussion and brown bag lunch--featured four speakers from the Emerging Companies Group at global law firm Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP.

Harold Yu '93, a former undergraduate at the university who graduated with a degree in computer science, moderated the discussion, which ranged from examinations of intellectual property rights to explanations on the incorporation process.

As the crowd trickled in, Greg Heibel broke the ice by making it clear that the legal panel was not to be confused with a concurrent E-week event, The Power of Social Technology.

"If any of you are expecting Hammer, this is not the right room," he cracked in a reference to the other event's more notable speaker, MC Hammer.

Yu began the talk by examining the process by which startups were put together. Presenting situations and questions to the other panelists, he began a dialogue that asserted the importance of sorting out intellectual property rights from a company's outset.

While Heibel emphasized that starting a corporation was "very easy," he advised that entrepreneurs set clear agreements regarding equity and later compensation. Sort out compensation matters when "everyone is still happy," he said, comparing the discussion with his firm and companies as the "closet thing that Orrick comes to practicing matrimonial law."

Stephanie Sharron, a partner who specializes in business transactions, added to Heibel's statements by discussing the importance for individuals to know who they were working with.

"When you're first putting together a company, emphasize how important the team is," she said. "Focus on your idea and who your team members will be... When looking strategically at the company, put into place things relating to [intellectual property], the share of company and so forth that will allow you to add members."

Heibel also provided some more immediate advice for startups.

"Please, don't incorporate in California," he said to a round of laughter, alluding to the state's unfavorable tax policies.

As the discussion opened up to questions, audience members began to direct dialogue toward the problems that the current economy posed to startup ventures. Partner Richard Smith stated that while the recession was "thawing," he still felt that "resources for startup companies are still scarce." Smith later suggested that, in today's market, risks were inevitable and skimping in certain areas were all but unavoidable given the lack of financial backing to companies.

"Businesses are not risk-free," said Smith. "The last thing you want to do is promise a guarantee."

Entrepreneurship Week at Stanford will continue until Sunday, Feb. 28. For more information visit

The Power of Social Technology

After the a nostalgic reminiscence of the world before Windows and a now considered primitive little game called The Colossal Cave, Graduate Business School Dean Garth Saloner, spoke about his experience with Twitter - through which he informs students and alumni on what's going on in the Business School.

"It's hard to find your voice in Twitter," he said. And then he proceeded to give us some homework: "All of you tweet this: 'Saloner said that the future of social technology is to Twitter and Facebook what Guitar Hero was to The Collosal Cave. It is impossible to imagine how its going to evolve."

He warned that twitter and other social media should be regarded as what they are: part of a set of tools.

"This kind of technology increases the need for traditional content – we should spend more, not less on these resources," he said.

Robert Scoble, the technical evangelist and blogger of Podtech and Building 43 was the first one on the podium after Dean Saloner. The Economist has described Scoble as "a minor celebrity among geeks worldwide."

Scoble joined Microsoft in May 2003 as part of Channel 9 MSDN video team. He produced videos that showcased Microsoft products and employees. He became sort of a hybrid between a PR and a tech guru while he often criticized Microsoft or praised the competition.

He told the story of when he quite Microsoft in 2006. He told a room of 15 people he was quitting before telling his boss and told them to keep their mouth shut. Within three days, 15 million people knew he had quit Microsoft.

"Every eight mins it doubled. When it hit eight blogs I called my boss, because I thought he would be even more pissed if he saw it on the screen."

He took this as a lesson. Social media allows messages to multiply exponentially, cutting costs considerably for companies who want to get their images across.

"Would you rather have a thousand dollars today or a penny that doubles every day?"

He also explained how these networking tools helped him get interviews and the trust of people who, if he would have called out of the blue, would have probably shot him down.

"Study who’s following who, take that person out to lunch, and he might introduce you to the person you need."

He mentioned how many companies - like Ford, for example - use social media to engage and solve problems in real times, giving companies a human face.

But, like Dean Saloner, he also warned entrepreneurs - or future ones, to not get caught up in the tools, and focus on the content.

Loic Le Meur, founder of a Seesmic, a web application helping to bring all the social software in one interface, and Web3 in Paris - the largest tech event in Europe. It started with 300 people and grew to 3,5 thousand. He used no traditional marketing material - just social media.

On his blog,, Le Meur posted 22 points on how to change marketing strategies along with the growth of social media. If you want a summary, the best one I could come up with is this: be everywhere, always, responding, listening - simply unwrap the entirety of your social capabilities upon your web audience.

He said that volunteering information and criticism on your own business is better than trying to make everything look perfect.

"I’d rather have people criticize our brand than not say anything," he said. "People will forgive you for not being perfect but not for concealing. If you talk about the negative parts of the company, it might make it even stronger."

"You have to identify your best fans. Its not about getting a million fans like MC Hammer, but good ones..." A soaring chorus of lighthearted 'boos' drowned out the last words. He had a point though - a thousand fans can get the word out to millions.

Yes, MC Hammer did say "Hammertime!" - twice.

The Oakland born hip hop star who coined the pants and the slippy dance moves, told us how he transformed his image through social media.

For those who want to get a taste of what I'm talking about, check out MC Hammer's DanceJam has been called 'the Facebook for dancers.' Dancers make their own profiles and upload their videos, not only dancing to 'U Can't Touch This,' but to a myriad of other genres - some of which you've probably never heard before.

He sees social media as a way for entrepreneurs to insert themselves into conversations to test the waters for new products or projects. At the same time, entrepreneurs can give brands or future collaborators a heads up on what they're thinking about.

He said social media can even beat the media at breaking news, which may damage one's image. David Letterman, for example, beat the news in revealing his sex scandal, and even made the audience laugh.

But, back in the 90's, when he started seeing all these media outlets pop up, he was appalled, he said.

"Now there were two outlets for my art and that was a barbaric thought." It diminished the value of a nicely crafted product - his music for one.

"People are throwing themselves from buildings and landing on their back for views," he said.

But there's an obvious good side to being able to publish your ideas without having to go through a middleman.

"You show your idea to a guy whose wife said 'no' last night, and he says 'I dont like it' – who made you judge!" he said,

"Who says that because you don't like it, I can't show it to the world?"