Startup Vitamins and Maximizing Energy

Running a startup is like nothing else I’ve ever done. It’s an exhilarating 24×7, always-on series of experiences, interactions and product evolution. If you’re running or working at a startup, you’ll probably understand the need to have your brain (and body) functioning at 110% at all times.

If you’re anything like me, you’re always trying to squeeze another hour out of the day — answer 5 more emails, return 3 more phone calls, finish up one more proposal — however you want to justify it to yourself. Then you get home super-late, just in time to shovel down something that shouldn’t be described as “dinner”, spend a few moments enjoying the company of family and friends, and then hit the hay for the night. Oh, and you may have skipped a few meals during the day as you were plowing through some back-to-back meetings.

Well if that sounds like your normal routine, it’s probably not a huge stretch to say you’re also constantly striving to maximize your energy, performance and endurance, and minimize the stress that you put on your body — so that you can do even more! If you’re a poor eater, then you may also find yourself with a foggy mind. That’s no fun for anyone.

I’m no nutritionist, but I recently went to see one and learned some great things. So… I thought I’d share my learnings with the community for it’s collective good.

In less than 2 weeks, I’ve gone from from having a foggy brain, feeling light-headed and slightly dizzy (after working solid for most of the day), exhausted when I got home at the end of each day to feeling sharp in the morning, no signs of dizziness throughout the day and feeling full of energy when I get home at the end of the day.

It turns out that there are a number of factors that contributed to this change. Nothing hugely substantial, just some basic changes, some scientific rationale/reasoning and finding a small bit of time to cook and eat better foods.

My learnings have shown the following to make a huge (positive) difference in my energy, mental clarity and general well-being (in no particular order):

  • Cut alcohol and caffeine
  • Drink 3-5L water each day
  • Sleep more than 6.5 hours each night
  • DHA and other healthy oils are important
  • Supplement with other energy boosting vitamins
  • Increase protein intake at breakfast and other meals
  • Avoid problem foods (food sensitivities)
  • Graze throughout the day to keep blood sugar steady
  • Stop making excuses, go back to the gym

The first three points above are fairly straightforward; however, if you’re sleeping from 3:00am-10:00am your sleep will not give you the same restorative effects and benefits as a sleep that is from 10:00pm to 5:00am. There are built-in processes tied to your circadian rhythm and if you’re awake and not sleeping during those times, your body essentially skips those cycles. Do this repeatedly and you’ll feel like crap in no time.

DHA is one of the Omega fatty acids (healthy oils) that is primarily derived from fish. I recently learned that it is absolutely critical for a high-functioning brain. Also, I don’t eat fish. Your brain is a very fatty tissue and DHA is required for a number of synaptic signaling mechanisms; if you don’t get enough DHA in your diet, your brain can’t signal as effectively and hence runs slower or becomes foggy. Boom.

Of course, I had an added issue which was that I didn’t really eat much fat or cholesterol-containing foods — stayed away from butter, fatty meats, yadda yadda — in efforts to be healthy, but was achieving an opposing end. Again, I was recently reminded that the cells in our bodies have a phospholipid bilayer (a cell membrane that is composed of fatty acid molecules as well as cholesterol to keep it loose and fluid) and mine was leakier than it should be because I didn’t have enough fats in my diet. The leaky membrane causes more water to flow out of the cells, leaving them slightly dehydrated and more susceptible to oxidative damage (hint: eat lots of anti-oxidants, they’re good for you too)! Nonetheless, this has been a fatty, tasty and scrumptious problem to solve and cure.

To get my required oils, I’ve supplemented my diet with DHA (2 capsules / day) from Metagenics, Omega 3 capsules, liquid flax seed oil (added to my green smoothies), coconut oil (used to stir fry at higher temperatures) and butter.

To improve my energy, I’ve supplemented with an active form of Vitamin B12 called Methyl-cobalamin, B100 complex (warning: your urine will turn a highlighter form of yellow), and Siberian Ginseng (caution: don’t take for more than 30 days; don’t use Korean or Canadian Ginseng, it’s not as good as the Siberian stuff, they know how to make it right!). Take these in the morning and not before bed, or you’ll find yourself wired all night. Also, I believe big contributing factors include proper sleep, drinking over 3L water everyday and working out at least twice per week (at a minimum, and even for 30 minutes if time is tight). Cutting caffeine and alcohol will help here.

If you’re stressed out, Vitamin B complex will help you cope, add Vitamin D (if you don’t get much sun) and consider yoga/meditation — or if time is even more constrained — find 5 minutes every hour to get up and walk down the hall while doing some deep breathing. You’d be surprised, but it makes a difference, just don’t let people catch you in the act or they may think you’re a bit strange.

One last tip: I’ve been starting my day with these green smoothies and they rock because it’s a fully balanced meal packed with protein, fats, carbs, antioxidants, fibre and calories to burn. My green smoothie contains spinach, kale, frozen blueberries, frozen raspberries, fresh kiwi, banana, POM juice (optional), 1 serving of whey protein powder, 2% fat yogurt, kefir, flex seed oil and water. Blend it up and you’re good to go!

Let me know if you decide to adopt any of these recommendations, I’d be curious to know and hear about whether or not any of the changes worked for you as well.

Disclaimer: As I mentioned above, I am not a nutritionist so please consult one or a physician before you add any vitamin supplements to your diet, especially if you are taking any prescription medication.

Cleantech VCs ready for 2008

According to the National Venture Capital Association (NVCA), VCs are going to continue to pour money into Cleantech areas beyond solar and biofuels. There will be consolidation, more venture-backed IPOs and an eventual over-valuation of the sector. See the NVCA Report.

Will the sector really become over-valued though? With global demand increasing everyday from the emerging market – notably the drastic increases seen in the middle classes of India and China – it is very hard to state exactly where an upper boundary exists. Growth these days is not limited to the US, but it is measured in a global framework that is only beginning to be defined by newer business trends and strategies.

Global warming and energy reserves continue to be an issue that becomes more evident everyday. Until realizable change is evident, the cleantech market will continue to grow and expand at obscene CAGRs. We are only at the dawn of a new era in renewable energy and cleantech; hang on for the ride.

Cleantech Spending

Amidst a flurry of chatter about cleantech and investment from VCs, there is some interesting results coming from a recent report from Lux Research. As the graph at right shows, there is about a 50/50 split between government and corporate funding of cleantech investment, with only a minor contribution from venture capitalists. At least we are seeing an increasing trend …

Below we see the cleantech investment by segment in total, and from VC funding. In the past three years we can see quite clearly that VCs have been investing in energy and sustainability which matches overall spending patterns.

What will 2007 bring? Leave your opinion …

Cleantech: Biodiesel, Solar and Wind

Some news today highlights Biodiesel, solar and wind technologies in the era of cleantech and renewable energy.

The first article discusses a study that was just completed in Ontario, Canada that analyzed the use of biodiesel as an alternative fuel source for agricultural use. This study, which was co-sponsored by the NRC, Environment Canada, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, the Ontario Soil and Crop Improvement Association, UPI Energy, and the University of Guelph, is hoped to accelerate the adoption of biodiesel use in on-farm applications across Canada. More at Evaluating Biodiesel Fuel For Tractors In Canada.

Solar power seems to still be behind in the race for the most cheap, and efficient technologies despite being around for a number of years. There are a few problems that need sorting out (listen here scientists, and business-types), “the development of complimentary technologies, in particular low-cost storage of electricity, is critical,” says Erin Baker, who is a scientist at the University of Massachusetts that led a USDoE study in the area. Baker’s other finding notes that government dollars won’t bring this technology to fruition along, and that private investment is needed in the manufacturing sector specifically; tax breaks, and public-private collaborations will also help to push this technology forward. The article “Cheap, Efficient Solar Power: What’s Needed Now To Get There? gives a great analysis that discusses the order of investment to develop solar tech:

  • Focus first on getting power from the new inorganic materials that show promise but are far from viable for large scale production
  • Then focus on purely organic cells with organic semiconductors; these hold the promise of low costs but still haven’t achieved high levels of efficiency and face serious stability problems
  • Last, investigate third-generation cells, which use entirely different technology but may ultimately yield much more power

Wind turbines are another fast-moving technology with much promise. So much so that Mitsubishi Ups Investment in Wind Turbines threefold to increase its wind turbine capacity to 1,200 megawatts / year by March 2009. As Paul Kedrosky points out, that is about two-thirds of what the city of Atlanta requires on a typical summer day.

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Turning Carbon Dioxide into Fuel

It’s been said that we have been polluting the air with billions of tons of carbon dioxide and that its a bad thing. Well … not if you’re Frederic Goettmann, a chemist at the Max Planck Institute for Colloids and Interfaces in Potsdam, Germany. He is designing a catalyst that could help turn CO2 into fuel!

Goettman stated “We have taken the first step towards using carbon dioxide from the atmosphere as a source for chemical synthesis. Future refinements could allow chemists to reduce their dependence on fossil fuels as sources for making chemicals. Liquid fuel could also be made from carbon monoxide split from CO2.”

Here are some highlights from the Goettmann article:

In an attempt to emulate this natural process, Goettmann and colleagues Arne Thomas and Markus Antonietti developed their own nitrogen-based catalyst that can produce carbamates. The graphite-like compound is made from flat layers of carbon and nitrogen atoms arranged in hexagons.

The catalyst’s next useful step was to enable the benzene molecules to grab the oxygen atom from the CO2 in the carbamate, producing phenol and a reactive carbon monoxide (CO) species.

The researchers are now trying to bring their method even closer to photosynthesis. “The benzene reaction currently supplies the energy that splits the CO2,” Goettmann says, “but in plants it is light.” The new catalyst absorbs ultraviolet radiation, so the team is experimenting to see if light can provide the energy instead.

The Max Planck technique has only been demonstrated on a small scale and it has a low yield of 20%, he points out. “But it looks quite promising,” he adds. “The catalyst can be made cheaply and it works at a relatively low temperature.”

Investors, investors? Where are you? This is a disruptive technology in the making. If these guys are really able to turn carbon dioxide into fuel in a way that yields a net energy gain, it is a monumental step for energy sustainability. If they can adapt the technology to breakdown carbon dioxide and convert it to other non-polluting sources such as graphite, it could even be used to fight global warming — albeit, it would have to be used quite broadly!

Global Warming, Cleantech and Canada

The world is ranting about global warming, and it should be. There is a very real problem, and finally politicians are appearing to try to combat them. Is their rationale money, power, influence or an actual regard for the sustainability of Earth?

In recent news President Bush announced an Ethanol deal with Brazil, which will work to increase the development of ethanol; Brazil produces much of its ethanol from sugar cane. Also today, the European Union heads of state agreed on a long-term strategy on energy policy, which followed agreements made in February 2007, when they agreed to cut greenhouse emissions by 20% by 2020. In Canada, Prime Minister Stephen Harper says that Kyoto targets are unattainable, as the former Liberal government committed to a reduction of greenhouse gases to 6% below 1990 levels … Canada is currently 35% over that mark (Vancouver Sun). So … what is Canada going to do to address this issue? Maybe allocate an increase to the investments in startups that are focusing on environmental biotechnology or cleantech solutions? Wow, that sounds like a good idea!

There are currently a number of Canadian company developing cleantech technologies, but certainly not enough. Of those companies innovating that space, most are grossly underfunded as many don’t even have websites! As the Toronto Star tech reporter, Tyler Hamilton, mentions in his cleantech blog – Clean Break – Sustainable Development Technology Canada (SDTC) , a fund created to finance cleantech startups, invested only $43.4 million on 15 new projects in 2005. The Alberta government is currently experiencing massive surpluses in the order of billions, its about time to start financing cleantech and environmental biotech startups so that Canada can remain competitive in the energy, or “Clean Energy” space in the future. Getting an early foothold in the market just seems like a good idea to me …

Canadian technology happens to be some of the most innovative in the world, so says Len Brody, who’s keynote address I saw at the Canadian Venture Forum. Nice guy, I managed to get myself a signed copy of his book Innovation Nation: Canadian Leadership from Java to Jurassic Park. I haven’t had a chance to read it yet, but if your patriotic and want to find out a little more about Canadian business … maybe grab yourself a copy. In any case, if Canadian technology is so innovative, then INVEST IN IT. The lack of funding at the early stage, is crippling the growth and development of Canadian companies. CEOs are constantly chasing money, to stay cashflow positive and burn rates are minimized, which doesn’t allow these start-ups to effectively execute on their business plans.