What Tina Seelig Wished She Knew When She Was 20


Over the last week, I had the opportunity to start and finish Tina Seelig‘s new book “What I Wish I Knew When I Was 20“. The book delivers a series of stories — among other things — each seemingly designed to teach a lesson or prove a point; a number of stories discuss very innovative and creative solutions people undertook to solve real-world problems and to create value. Together, these pearls of wisdom can inspire the uninspired, and give a gentle nudge to those needing a push to get going.

In her book, Tina discusses the Stanford Technology Ventures Program (“STVP“), and how it looks to create “T-shaped people” — described as having a depth of knowledge in at least one discipline and a breadth of knowledge in innovation and entrepreneurship. I think this is a fantastic approach, and that this recipe is the right combination to create truly successful entrepreneurs. It would be nice to see some Canadian schools taking that approach. She also discusses her class-turned-global innovation assignments, that have become the Global Innovation Tournament — I’m hoping to participate in a judging capacity for the Toronto contingent this year — but of course, I’d rather be in the competition itself. Maybe I’ll get a chance if I make it into the Stanford GSB next year!?

Later on in the book, Tina begins discussing risk profiles of entrepreneurs (I can relate closely with this), and I found it quite interesting to read that apparently most entrepreneurs don’t see themselves as big risk takers. Only after some reflection did I understand what she meant. To paraphrase her text, “After analyzing the landscape, building a great team, and putting together a detailed plan, [entrepreneurs] feel as though they have squeezed as much risk out of the venture as they can. In fact, they spend most of their efforts working to reduce the risks for their business.”

Wearing my VC hat, this actually makes a lot of sense. We, as VCs, constantly look at how well entrepreneurs de-risk their ventures and we calculate our willingness to invest by how well an entrepreneur has evaluated their market opportunity, filled their management team and advisory board(s) with competent and complimentary folks, and developed their technology to a stage where it can be demonstrable. Essentially, the reward that entrepreneurs can receive for successfully de-risking their venture is generally referred to as a better valuation from VCs, and consequently, higher equity ownerships for the entrepreneur(s) at the table.

I recommend this book to CEOs and decision makers that need to reignite their creativity as well as to students aspiring to do great things, but who are waiting for permission to do so from some authority figure. In this book, the author acts as an agent of empowerment to allow the reader the feeling that they should embrace their skills and capabilities, and act on their desires to create products, services and organizations that can change the world.

What have you envisioned that could change the world? I dare you to chase that opportunity.

Have you recently dropped everything to take on a new challenge? Share your story below! Was it worth it?

Guns, Germs, and Silicon Valley?


Yesterday I finished reading Guns, Germs, and Steel by Jared Diamond, and in the final hour of reading something sparked my attention:

Throughout history and despite relatively uniform intelligence across all of humankind, Diamond argues that widespread innovation had been limited to only certain countries in particular geographical contexts. He goes on to mention that innovation (as seen in those countries) was driven by the presence of higher population densities, close proximity to a number of neighbouring countries, and higher degrees of competitiveness between countries.

Naturally, I wondered, could this concept explain why so much technology innovation has led to an abundance of successful tech companies in the Bay Area, and to a lesser but still significant extent, the Greater Boston Area? On the flip-side, could this concept also explain why so many technology companies created in other regions have higher failure rates?

According to Diamond, innovation is driven by population densities of sorts. The Bay Area has one of the richest selections of successful and pioneering IT/internet/mobile technology entrepreneurs on the planet. As far as competitiveness, the US is the epidemy of a Capitalist nation, and competition is as fierce domestically as it is internationally (if not more fierce).

Note: As far as the Bay Area goes, I believe it remains at the apex of innovation due to its abundance of human capital, sharing of know-how, entrepreneurial culture, access to world-class research facilities/universities and venture capital financing. However, I do buy into the fact that proximate competition can help to turn good ideas into great ideas when the developers of the ideas have the ability to see and innovate on top of other very good ideas very quickly.

Although I don’t have the time and/or resources to explore this in further detail, I find this to be an interesting theoretical discussion about how a local geography can evolve in such a way that promotes rapid innovation in a particular niche. If you have an opinion on the matter, I invite you to please share it below.

Google Wave


Google announced “Google Wave” at the Google I/O conference last week. Google says that their technology is a new tool for communication and collaboration on the web, coming later this year.

After watching the video and speaking to a friend at the event, I think this product is going to be hugely successful for a few reasons.

1. VERY Open API
2. Widget architecture to allow plug-ins like Firefox allows for dynamic functionality
3. Multi-faceted use cases (consumer, prosumer, enterprise)
4. Google already has a massive reach
5. The technology allows real-time updates to multiple locations (i.e. edits or updates to a wave will be shown in real-time to friends, colleagues, and places that the wave may be embedded such as blogs or a website)
6. Drag and drop from desktop to web
7. Ease of adding and removing(??) Wave participants
8. Playback functionality of Waves (I am excited to see how this gets further developed)

If you are reading this, and are from Google, I would love an invite to the Wave sandbox to give it a trial pre-launch!

Watch the video at http://wave.google.com/

OCE Discovery 2009


Ontario Centre’s of Excellence (OCE) is putting on their annual event called Discovery 09 on May 11-12, 2009.

The event is expected to draw an impressive crowd of over 2000 people and over 200 booths. The event will be divided among three major Zones: Green Tech, Health & Digital. Attendees will have the opportunity to explore a huge showcase of promising ideas across numerous research, academic and industrial sectors as well as connect with the leaders, dreamers and doers who are driving Ontario’s innovation revolution.

I recently confirmed a speaking engagement on a panel that will be held on May 12th called “Building a Digital company for 2010.” Should be fun.

If you have a startup and you’re looking to go international, this is the place to be. You’ll have the opportunity to meet with 80 Canadian trade ministers representing 26 Canadian trade countries from around the world. Rick Segal talks about the value of these Canadian trade ministers in his blog, The Post Money Value.

I hope to see you all out there!

Remote Controlled Drugs


In recent news, there have been two great discoveries – similar in theory, but very different in appearance and use – for delivering drugs. Both use remote control mechanisms, the first invention describes how a remote control pill can release its contents once it reaches the area at which the drugs need to be delivered (see:Remote-control Nanoparticles Deliver Drugs Directly Into Tumors). The second discovery takes place at the nano-level – here, Remote-control Nanoparticles Deliver Drugs Directly Into Tumors; the drugs are released by an electromagnetic field once the nanoparticles get in the vicinity of the tumorigenic cells. This therapy works well for attacking primary tumor sites; however, this therapy won’t be very robust when trying to eliminate metastatic colonies, or rogue cells that may have broken off from originating tumors. I am still bullish on an approach to cancer therapy that includes the programming of one’s own immune system to identify tumorigenic cells and destroy them.

Alzheimers and Dementia


There has been much in the way of research in these two areas. Recently I attended a conference in Toronto called BioFinance which brings together companies looking to receive funding (either private or public) and investors. At the conference I saw a company presentation from Transition Therapeutics that discussed its new Alzheimer’s drug called AZD-103 which just received fast-track status from the FDA on April 3, 2007. It has some pretty exciting pre-clinical data … it demonstrates a breakdown of amyloid fibrils within plaques that form on and within the brain essentially reversing damage. The positive results were shown in mice using a Morris water maze test (bottom of page). Could this be that miracle drug we’re all looking for?

Next, I want to discuss a study released which claims that lost memories could be restored by ‘rewiring’ brain; the study was done by MIT researcher Li-Huei Tsai and interestingly enough also utilized the Morris water maze test to show clinical efficacy of their therapy. Their team targeted HDACs (enzymes that prevent histone acetylation) with an HDAC inhibitor under the assumption that HDAC inhibitors initiate the rewiring of neurons. Of course its too early to tell if their therapy is going to go anywhere … let’s wait to see a licensing deal come out of their technology – then I’ll get excited.

Climate is Changing Now, Business Opportunities


The latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is one of the first to use observations of the Earth’s climate, as opposed to theoretical models to predict what might happen in the future. The data shows that climate change is real and is happening right now.

Source: IPCC. (Click to enlarge)

Take a look at the different key areas being affected here: water, ecosystems, food, coasts and health. There might be some business opportunity in the new wave of cleantech, biotech, or Blue Gold!

World Innovation Forum


I’m planning a trip to California to do some business development and go to the World Innovation Forum amongst other things. The conference is from April 17-18, so if you want to join me, fire me an email because I would love a wingman on this mission! Seriously. (Oh, and there’s an unwritten student rate if you ask nicely …)

I ripped off a bit of content here from the HSM website for the World Innovation Forum, but I want to show you some of the people that are going to be speaking at this event:

CLAYTON CHRISTENSEN Disruptive Innovation

Author of The Innovator’s Dilemma, the business bestseller that outlines Christensen’s revolutionary theory of disruptive innovation

RENÉE MAUBORGNE Blue Ocean Strategy

“Blue Ocean Strategy challenges everything you thought you knew about strategy” (Business Strategy Review)

RAY KURZWEIL A Look into the Future

“The restless genius” (Wall Street Journal), “the ultimate thinking machine” (Forbes), “the rightful heir to Thomas Edison” (Inc. Magazine), and one of 16 “revolutionaries who made America” (PBS)

LYN HEWARD Creativity & Innovation at Cirque du Soleil

Lyn Heward is the creative fire behind Cirque du Soleil–one of the most innovative and creative companies in the world today–helping it grow to distinct 13 troupes that perform on a global stage

VINTON G. CERF Internet: An Engine of Innovation

Google’s Chief Internet Evangelist and widely considered to be the “Father of the Internet”

MICHAEL THIENEMAN A Model of Innovation: Whirlpool

Thieneman’s global position ensures innovative products and features across all of Whirlpool’s brands, reflected in an annual sales total of more than $19 billion

RICK RASHID Microsoft: Research, Product Development, and Future Technologies

As Senior Vice President, Research, Rick Rashid oversees Microsoft Research’s worldwide operations.

In November 2006 I attended the World Science Forum, which is another conference put on by HSM in New York. It was a great conference, where I had the opportunity to meet Francis Collins, Marvin Minsky, and listen to presentations made by some of the worlds greatest minds. I highly suggest getting the chance to get out to at least one of there.

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Scientists Rejoice as Google Solves Data Management Crisis


Okay … so maybe “rejoice” is going a little too far, but scientists in the astronomy world are quite happy with Google’s innovative solution to managing their massive amounts of data received from imaging done in space, whether its infrared, gamma-ray, x-ray, etc…

The processes has been coined “FedExNet” by scientists who have already adopted and are using the new service. So what is this new service? I have highlighted some of the main points from the originating Wired article below:

  • Google acts as both a repository and courier for large data sets
  • Google ships both the PC and array to teams of scientists at various research institutions, which then connect their local servers to the array via an eSATA connection. Once the data transfer is complete, the drives get sent straight back to Mountain View, where the data is copied to Google’s servers for archival purposes. The idea then is that if other scientists around the world needed access to such a large quantity of data, Google would simply reverse the process.
  • Chris DiBona, the open-source program manager at Google, says “We make a copy of [the data], and then we can use the hard drives for something else. They’ll get banged around a little bit too much (to store the data directly on the drives). They’re not intended to be a long-term storage medium — they’re like envelopes to us.”
  • With a set of Google drives, Gorelick (who came up with the FedExNet moniker) can copy his team’s data in about 24 hours or less, something that can make a big difference when the time comes to collaborate with other research groups.

    See full article at Wired: Google’s Next-Gen of Sneakernet

Think of all the separate databases out there that manage genetic information. There are many independently operated bioinformatic databases and if they can all be centralized and indexed in a way that only Google can do, think of the potential implications for the scientific community working to progress the knowledge of DNA, RNA and protein interactions. This might be an essential step working towards the completion of the proteome and transcriptome …

Video Games, Web 2.0, Upcoming Tech!


There are countless articles on the web talking about Second Life and the announcement of PlayStation Home, the new game for the Sony PlayStation 3 that allows you to put a player in Sony’s virtual world and interact within a next-generation online community. As Sony describes, it is going to be a “Free Download to Allow Broad User Interaction in Highly Detailed Community Environment; Opens Door to User-Created Content, Collaboration and Commerce”.

There is a more detailed description of the comparison and evolving world of gaming here, if you are interested.

It looks like we’re seeing a migration of Web 2.0 into Gaming 2.0. It’s going to be interesting to see what other video games are going to be released in the upcoming years that incorporate user-generated content and community-oriented structures. Which game is going to be the next blockbuster? Could gaming start to include website links and content? How integrated could these video games become with the web? Is it possible that we might see commerce systems integrated into video games, such as seen in Second Life? Who wants to guess the first day we start to see Google AdWords on the side of a video game? Or, how about a user in a gaming community advertising Amazon products in association with what attributes or “knowledge” your virtual character has developed. My guess: December 14th, 2008 at 8:37 am Eastern Standard Tiem. Random? Maybe. What do you think?

I just found a really cool innovation coming to the gaming world, and perhaps online shopping too! Researchers in Germany developed a 3D animation technique that allows a high-resolution scan of a person to be super-imposed onto another person’s or character’s movements. This technology was originally developed for use in 3D video, but it may be possible to get yourself scanned somewhere and use the generated file to integrate your own 3D scan into your own virtual world video games. Too limiting? Maybe.

Okay, how about this … online clothes shopping!

The problem with shopping for clothes online is that it is too hard to imagine how clothes are going to fit. Solution: using this 3D technology, you can use your 3D scanned shape to virually “see” these clothes on YOUR frame. (and if you’re entrepreneurial and decide that you want to develop this idea, all I ask is for an honourable mention , and a few shares of the company if you’re feeling generous…)