Tuesday, December 23, 2008

VentureLab is Hiring!


VentureLab just celebrated its seventh birthday, and our impact on the Georgia technology community has been growing every year. Our mission is to commercialize technology developed in Georgia Tech research labs. We review all the intellectual property being reported by faculty, decide how best to use the technology, and then nurture startup companies coming out of the process.

So far, we've evaluated more than 1,000 inventions, identified 117 potential startup opportunities, and launched 22 companies since 2001. Beyond those raw numbers are the dollars: we've managed $7.3 million invested by the Georgia Research Alliance to start these companies; the survivors have attracted more than $250 million in venture capital -- a 34-to-1 leverage!

You can read the list of current VentureLab projects here, or more about how the program works here.

We're expanding our staff to deal with the increasing percentage of biotech and life sciences opportunities at Georgia Tech (mostly, but not exclusively, coming from the School of Biomedical Engineering). You get to work with some of the smartest people in the world, and help shape their inventions into successful startups. We have a great group of people working here already, and now we need one more.

The position profile and requirements are posted here and we're accepting applications already. If you're interested and have relevant background and experience, please click on the link and apply!


Monday, December 1, 2008

Two VentureLab Companies win SBIR Awards

InterCAX and Graphene Works have won $100,000 Phase I SBIR awards from NASA. InterCAX makes software to help systems engineers run simulations against their SysML models. For example, they are helping JPL to simulate future missions to the outer planets. Graphene Works is building that stuff you put inside of pencils. Sort of.

Congratulations to both companies for the big wins.


Wednesday, November 26, 2008

An Invisible CAPTCHA


Do you know what a CAPTCHA is? It's those irritating wavy numbers and letters that a Website uses to determine if you're a human.

Pramana, a VentureLab graduate company that's now being incubated in the ATDC, has created a better way to eliminate fraudulent use of a Website while being friendlier to customers. Forbes quotes Sanjay Sehgal (former VentureLab Fellow and now CEO of Pramana) as saying:

Instead of submitting users to a test, the Atlanta-based company's technology plugs into Web sites and invisibly analyzes users' online behavior to determine who's a human and who's a bot. "We don't demand that users prove they're human," Sehgal says. "We simply watch them and decide for ourselves."

Read the rest of the article here.


Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Business Models to Avoid

Having spent some time with Startup Gauntlet, Pitch Camp and Startup Riot, I've had the chance to see some really terrific business ideas. And some remarkably bad ones too.

When building a startup idea, it is critical to think through your business model. How do you trade your widget or service for cash? There are some good ones, and there are some bad ones.

Here are a few models to avoid:

Spaghetti: "We have five ways of making money." If one model is good, isn't five better? This is like a football team with three quarterbacks, they really have none. Don't throw spaghetti against the wall to see if one of them will stick. Pick the most compelling model and focus on that.

Field of Dreams: "If we build it, surely they will come." One of the worst things to ever happen to entrepreneurship was the horribly, horribly misleading quote - "If you build a better mousetrap, the world will beat a path to your door." Uh, no, they won't.

Boil the Ocean: It's good to think big, but don't think too big. You need to prove you can be successful with a few customers and then scale.

China: "If we can only get 1% of the Chinese market for our widget, we will be a billion dollar company." Sure you will. Where do I sign up? Pick a small market and a way to dominate it. If you can't find a way to do that, redefine your market. Whatever market you go after, you must be a leader.

Venn Diagram: "We will build A. People want to buy B. We think they might overlap." Maybe. Probably not.

Bill Clinton: The man from Hope. That's all I need to say about that.

Do you have any other favorites? Send them to me and I will add them to the list.

Coming soon to a blog near you - some really good business models.


Tuesday, November 4, 2008

InVenture Prize


VentureLab is proud to be one of the sponsors of the new InVenture Prize. In addition to cash, the winning team will be automatically accepted into VentureLab for commercialization assistance. Georgia Tech OTL will also help pay for patent filings, if needed.

Read more about it at http://inventureprize.gatech.edu/.


Friday, October 31, 2008

What the Bilski decision means for software patents

I am not a lawyer. I think that needs repeating, I m not a lawyer. :-) So, please get an opinion from a true IP attorney.

I have been doing a bit of digging around the last couple of days to try to understand what this decision means. I can't possibly do as good a job as the Patent Law Blog, so go here and read the whole thing:


I'll summarize what I think is the most important point:

"the court made clear that business methods and Software will still be patentable – if they meet the machine-or-transformation test."
As long as the software is tied to a specific thing, such as software to control a fuel injection system on an automobile. But, you have to remember this:
"A general purpose computer is not a particular machine, and thus innovative software processes are unpatentable if they are tied only to a general purpose computer."
However, you also have the transformation test. So, what is "transformation"?
"transformed articles must be physical objects or substances [or] representative of physical objects or substances."
And, then there's this:
"a claimed process where every step may be performed entirely in the human mind. In that situation, the machine-or-transformation test would lead to unpatentability"
In my personal view, it would appear that there are still many potentially patentable software innovations. But, patenting pure algorithms is out. Sorry, your new method for improving the bubble-sort probably won't fly.

What do you think? Please add your thoughts in the comments.


Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Happy Birthday, Tech Square!


Technology Square at Georgia Tech opened five years ago this month. (The photo above shows former GT President Wayne Clough speaking at the opening celebration, with Mayor Shirley Franklin waiting her turn to his right.)

In five years, Tech Square has transformed Midtown, vastly improved Georgia Tech's physical and social connectivity to the rest of Atlanta, and become the hub of high-tech commercialization and startup activity for the region.

Off the top of my head (I'm sure I've forgotten some neighbors; my apologies), it's now the home for:

Georgia Tech

  • College of Management
  • Global Learning Center
  • Bookstore (Barnes & Noble)
  • Enterprise Innovation Institute
  • Advanced Technology Development Center (ATDC), incubating around 30 startup companies
  • VentureLab
  • Georgia Electronic Design Center (GEDC)
  • Graphics Visualization and Usability Center (GVU)
  • Georgia Centers for Advanced Telecommunications Technology (GCATT)
  • Georgia Tech Foundation

  • Georgia Department of Economic Development
  • Technology Association of Georgia
  • Atlanta Technology Angels
  • three venture capital firms
  • every semiconductor company in Georgia (all five of them!)
  • TechDrawl (ssh!)
  • Accenture
  • Georgia Power
  • Interface
  • Carbon Motors
  • LifeSync
  • GSE Simulations
  • Samsung
  • Siemens
  • Georgia Tech Hotel
  • a dozen shops and restaurants, including
  • the all-important Starbucks!

Not bad for a few blocks that used to be dangerous, dirty, and under-developed.

Congratulations to the Georgia Tech Foundation, The University Financing Foundation, Fifth Street Management, and everyone else who helped make Tech Square a success!


Monday, October 13, 2008

Now is the time to invest in R&D

In the early 1930's, there was another financial crisis you might have heard about. In the midst of that, Thomas Watson of IBM made the decision to invest $1M to build a stand-alone research facility in Endicott, New York. That was a significant amount of money back then, in fact, it was 6% of IBM's revenues. There is no doubt it was a brilliant move. A great lesson for today?


Monday, October 6, 2008

Teaching Cats to Swim

So I was at the NCET2 University Startups Conference in Washington last week, and one of the hot topics was the role of faculty members in university spinout companies.

I have strong feelings about this, which I've documented here. But since not all the readers of this blog will have suffered through one of my presentations, I figured it was worth writing about.

Jack Biddle (co-founder of Novak Biddle, a top-notch VC firm in northern Virginia) started the controversy by saying that his goal was to pull faculty members out of the university... and that smart universities (he explicitly mentioned Stanford) will have liberal leave-of-absence policies to encourage just that. He minimized the value of licensing the university's intellectual property... "If we have the people, we don't need a license. And the license isn't worth anything without the people."

Niloo Howe from Paladin Capital responded by saying that they typically don't want the people... they just want the technology. "Companies led by professors focus on science experiments, and we don't fund science experiments.)

My take? They're both right, and they're both wrong.

As I've said so many times over the last few years: Teaching faculty members to be entrepreneurial is like teaching cats to swim.


  • It can be done.
  • You will lose blood.
  • You’ll never be satisfied with the results.
  • You will annoy the cat.

At Georgia Tech's VentureLab, in most cases, we try to discourage faculty members from becoming CEO of their startups. CEOs require a particular mindset, a particular focus... and, usually, a particular set of experiences and scar tissue that most faculty members don't have.

(There are exceptions to every rule, including this one.)

Faculty members make great Chief Scientists, or Chief Technology Officers, and even board members. (And Georgia Tech faculty can spend significant time on such tasks without taking a leave of absence.) As the originators of the technology underpinning a startup, they deserve significant founders' equity. But once you've made tenure at a university like Georgia Tech, you have developed a certain skill set that frequently doesn't transfer to an entrepreneurial startup. (As Cali Tran of North Bridge Venture Partners pointed out, faculty members frequently manage laboratories with dozens of employees and million-dollar budgets... but "laboratories don't scale. Companies have to.")

At Georgia Tech, we actively recruit VentureLab Fellows... experienced entrepreneurs who use their market knowledge to evaluate innovations and build new companies. Typically, a VentureLab Fellow has already built one or more startup companies, so they have a deep understanding of the non-technical issues involved... recruiting, fundraising, dealmaking, etcetera.

This model works. The professor focuses on continually pushing the edge of the technology. The entrepreneur focuses on building the business. A few graduate students may be attracted from the laboratory to the startup, and that's not a bad thing (as long as academic conflicts of interest are avoided). And investors put their money into a proven entrepreneur who is building a professional management team, not an academic who may be distracted by science experiments.

We've done this a dozen times or more at VentureLab. Investors have endorsed our approach with over a quarter billion dollars in private equity investment. We plan to keep it up.


Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Qualtré closes on $5M A round from Matrix

Qualtré, a company working on advanced motion sensors, has closed a $5 million Series A round from Matrix Partners. Mike Slawson, a VentureLab Fellow, built the company based on research from Farrokh Ayazi in the Georgia Tech School of Electrical and Computer Engineering (among others). The company was initially funded through grants and loans from the Georgia Research Alliance as well as a DARPA contract.

Qualtré was in our latest round of VentureLab graduates, and is now a member of ATDC.

You can read more in the Tech Journal South story here.

This makes a nice compare-and-contrast to the Appcelerator saga that has dominated the Atlanta tech blogs lately. There's not a single right answer for everyone, and different companies will take different paths. For now, I'm just happy to cheer on Mike, Farrokh, and the rest of the Qualtré team!


Monday, August 18, 2008

How will your pitch go over at the pool party?

We've all done it. Corralled an investor and pitched him on our spectacularly brilliant concept for a startup. Anybody with half a brain would rush home to get their checkbook, right? But, of course, that never happens.

Think about why people invest in startups. Especially people who haven't known you for 20 years. I'm primarily thinking of angel investors you're introduced to. An angel investor has already won the lottery. They created a startup and it went big. Or they got in early on a company that went IPO. Or they made a killing as a real estate developer. Or they're the only orthodontist in a county with especially un-straight teeth.

An angel is not just trying to make money by investing in startups. They want to feed their ego. And in order to do that, they have to brag about the cool company they've invested in. This being the case, there are two absolute musts if you want an angel to invest. First, it has to be a sexy idea. Nobody will brag about investing in company that makes lower cost polyalkylene glycol.

Equally important, your idea must be easy to share. If an investor is to brag to his neighbors, his friends at the gym, to his wife, they have to be able to explain it simply. They need to show how smart they are by getting in on the deal early. They need a story or a simple explanation they can share at the pool party.

Don't think just about your pitch to an investor, think about how they share your idea at a pool party.


Saturday, August 16, 2008

The Hollywood Startup Model

Have you ever thought about how movies get made? Here's the simplified version. A producer finds a script that they think would make a terrific movie. They option the script and then work to put a team together that could make the movie. They find a director. And stars to play the key roles. Then they approach the studios for financing of the movie. Once they have everything in place, they pull the trigger and the movie gets made.

Think of your startup in the same way. You are the producer. You have an idea which you've turned into a business plan (the script) and it is your job to pull together the other pieces to make a successful startup (the movie). Can you get a CEO to commit to the project (your director)? Can you find engineers to design the product and salespeople to sell it (the actors)? Once you have all the pieces lined up, you go look for funding from VC investors (the movie studios).

Some movies are independent films, not financed by the studios, but by outside investors (angels). If you want to get the backing from a studio, you have to have a top director and recognizable actors and a incredibly tight script? Does your movie have that?

There's nothing wrong with independent films, that's how most producers and directors and actors get their start. After you've made your first successful picture, it is far easier to gather top talent and get studio backing. They might even give you a development deal and pay you to put deals together (Entrepreneur In Residence).

If you think of your startup, and your serial-entrepreneur career arc as being similar to a movie producer, it might all start to make much more sense.

(btw, can you tell what movie is being filmed in the pic?)


Summer's over. Ga Tech is back in session

Fall is still a month away. It's 88 degrees outside. But school is back in session starting Monday. A whole new crop of graduate and undergraduate engineers coming in. And, there's going to be a few startup companies in there. VentureLab is here to help.

(btw, do you know who's dorm room that is?)


Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Open Publishing of NIH Funded Research

In the 2008 Labor-HHS bill, Congress is now requiring that all scientific papers that are based on NIH funding, must be submitted to the National Library of Medicine’s PubMed Central on line archive. Since most all papers are initially published in scholarly journals, the legislation allows up to 12-months for the paper to be submitted to the open database.

The research is funded by the US Government. The research is usually performed in state-owned University facilities. The Universities retain the right to claim ownership of any intellectual property. It is the the direction of Congress that the results of the research be available for all to see and available in a designated on-line database.

Who could be opposed to this? Apparently not all journals are on board. When a paper is published, the journal takes ownership of the copyright of the paper. They do not compensate the authors. They also do not compensate the peer-reviewers either. And they have a one-year exclusive to the paper itself. The American Psychological Association has decided that they will not allow the authors to submit the paper to the online database, and they will charge the Universities $2,5000 for each paper submitted to the database.

What do you think of this new law and the APA's policy? For more information on the topic, go here.


Monday, July 28, 2008

InterCAX ParaMagic - Now available

VentureLab company InterCAX has released their first product. ParaMagic is a software tool that works with MagicDraw, the world most popular UML drawing tool. It allows system drawings to be simulated for the very first time. As NoMagic says - "it makes ... models come alive".

It will work with any SysML drawing and can be applied to system engineering, business process analysis, and financial modeling. Anything that can be modeled using SysML.

Congratulations to Dirk Zwemer, Manas Baja and the rest of the team at InterCAX.


Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Requiem for a (patent) dream

If your software business is based more upon your patent portfolio than your ability to execute, your reality is about to change. The US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) has just added two important new tests for patentable subject matter will invalidate many if not most software patents.

With a recent (June 2008) decision, the USPTO has taken the position that process inventions generally are unpatentable unless they “result in a physical transformation of an article” or are “tied to a particular machine.” Most software patents are process inventions but can meet neither of these requirements: they do not generally physically transform anything, and they are usually defined broadly so that they can protect the invention while running on any general purpose computer.   Very specifically, the USPTO has categorically stated that a general purpose computer is not a "particular machine."  

The Patent Law Blog has a lot more information on this important ruling.


Thursday, July 17, 2008

SBIR Conference in Atlanta

Just a reminder... next week, the 10th annual National Institutes of Health SBIR/STTR conference is being held in Atlanta, and it's being hosted by the Georgia Tech Enterprise Innovation Institute.

Who should attend?

  • Small businesses wanting to develop novel technology products
  • Highly motivated small business entrepreneurs and research managers
  • Small businesses interested in new NIH SBIR/STTR initiatives and program changes
  • Institutional researchers interested in partnering with small businesses on collaborative R&D projects
  • Large companies interested in developing strategic alliances with successful SBIR/STTR awardees
  • Organizations and consultants providing support to interested SBIR/STTR applicants

It's focused on NIH/biotech grants but, honestly, there should be a lot there of interest to any entrepreneur thinking of going after SBIR/STTR money. Read more at http://grants.nih.gov/grants/funding/SBIRConf2008/index.htm.

At last count, nearly 500 people had registered! Online registration is closed, but you can register onsite with cash or check (sorry, no credit cards). Be there!


Monday, June 30, 2008

A cup of coffee and wheat toast

Seth Godin writes one of the world's most popular blogs. If you're not reading his blog on a regular basis, you're missing out on a great resource.

Traditional advertisements on TV and radio are classified by Seth as interruption marketing, which interrupt the customer while she is doing something of her preference. Seth introduced the concept of permission marketing where the business provides something of value to the customer and thus obtains her permission and then does marketing.

Recently, Seth posted a nice, tight taxonomy of marketing, breaking it down into five, easy pieces: data, stories, products, interactions, and connections. I encourage you to take some time to appreciate his succinct, wonderful post.


Tuesday, June 24, 2008

17 Mistakes Startups Make

John Osher started Dr John's SpinBrush in 1999 to make a $5 electric toothbrush. He sold the company to Proctor & Gamble 2-years later for $475M. John, who apparently knows something about startups, has come out with his list of the 17 mistakes that startups make. Great reading for anyone who wants to avoid these common pitfalls. Here are some of my favorites:

Mistake 1: Failing to spend enough time researching the business idea to see if it's viable.

Mistake 4: Overprojecting sales volume and timing.

Mistake 6: Hiring too many people and spending too much on offices and facilities.

Mistake 14: Lacking simplicity in your vision.


Monday, June 16, 2008

VentureLab company Suniva to build first plant in Norcross

VenutreLab company, and current ATDC resident Suniva has announced plans for a 60,000 square foot manufacturing facility in Norcross, just north of Atlanta. Suniva will be building the some of the world's most efficient solar cells. This is a big win for Suniva, for the State of Georgia and for Gwinnett County. This is such a big deal that it was announced at the State Capital by Governor Sonny Perdue.

Suniva was founded by Dr. Ajeet Rohatgi of the School of Electrical and Computer Engineering. Dr. Rohtagi is also the founding director of the University Center of Excellence for Photovoltaics.

Suniva has also recently raised over $50M in venture capital led by New Enterprise Associates. Suniva is putting together a stellar management team, which includes former VentureLab Associate Director Jon Goldman.

We are very proud of the achievements of Suniva and see them as a terrific example of how the VentureLab process can lead to commercialization success.


Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Maybe that is your third product

When I meet with entrepreneurs or Ga Tech faculty/researchers, many times they have a grand vision of their technology and what their first product will look like. It can be exciting and compelling. However, that product idea is usually quite complex and would require a significant effort to get it built and launched.

My response is to instead suggest that their idea would make a great third product. From then we start to talk about what their first product could be. Product 1 should be quick and easy to launch. It should be sold to the same poeple you think would buy Product 3. It should not have too much technical risk. It is probably not very exciting. And, at best, just plan on breaking even. There should also be a second product that acts as a link to the third product on your roadmap. We are creating a ladder.

Why do this?

  • The first product gets you into the market faster.
  • You start generating revenues much earlier in the process, reducing business risk.
  • You reduce dilution from having to otherwise take on more startup capital.
  • You learn from your customers. No matter what they say in a market survey, you don't know what people really think until they have to spend their money on your idea.
  • You will find out which of your assumptions are wroing and what parts of product 3 need to be changed. If you launched product 3 first, you would never know.
Product 3 will most certainly look much different than you originally envisioned. That is due to the knowledge you gain from being in the market that cannot be achieved any other way.

What are the first two rungs on your product ladder?


Simatra awarded $1.5M Phase II SBIR

VentureLab company Simatra Modeling Technologies recently was awarded a Phase II SBIR grant to develop their approach to solving math problems blindingly fast. The award from the NIH was for the application of computational biology. The great news is that many other applications can also take advantage of Simatra's technology.

Congratulations to the team at Simatra. You're going to be hearing a lot from these guys.


Sunday, June 8, 2008

The Ultimatum Game: Can community driven services make money and survive?

This post was inspired by Clay Shirky's new book - Here Comes Everybody.

The Ultimatum Game is a famous social experiment. Two people are involved. One is given ten dollars and told to split it between the two participants in any way he wants. The second person can decide to accept his share or deny the deal altogether - neither one gets anything. Rationally, the second person should accept as little as ten cents. However, unless at least $2 is offered, the second participant usually rejects the deal and no one receives anything. Why? Humans have a strong emotional instinct for fairness. They would rather suffer than to let someone else make out unfairly, in their eyes.

Clay Shirky uses the example of AOL Community Leaders, basically volunteer guides. These people were happy to help other AOLers enter the world of AOL and the Internet. Happy at least until AOL's valuation rose into the 10s of billions of dollars. Community Leaders felt they a big part of why AOL succeeded. Most dropped out. Why work for free just to make AOL more money?

So, what about Wikipedia? What happens if they start to monetize the site and take in a few hundred million dollars per year? How will the volunteer contributors and editors feel? Will they continue to support the Wikipedia with as much fervor as they do now? The Ultimatum Game suggests they likely won't. Which would destroy the value of Wikipedia.

What about other user-driven sites such as Digg and Craigslist? What about open-source projects such as SugarCRM or MySQL now that Sun has purchased them? They had best tread carefully or risk losing their franchise.


Friday, June 6, 2008

Failing up

Great graduation commencement speeches are rare.

Steve Job gave an oft-linked one to Stanford in 2005. "Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish" was, to me, the epitome of just such a legendary speech.

I must place emphasis on the word was.

The new contender was just delivered to the Harvard Class of 2008 by J.K. Rowling. It's a master class in composition, compassion, and purpose. Behold.


Thinking of Raising Money for your Startup?

Raising money for your company is brutal. It is time consuming, frustrating and can be a real blow to your ego. And that's if you already know what you're doing. You are dealing with people who invest money for a living. You, on the other hand, have likely never done this before. There is a lot to learn about the process - far more than you can imagine. Don't wait until you need capital to start learning, then it will be too late. You need to being the process of educating yourself now. Here are three resources that I would suggest you go to.

A great place to start is Venture Hacks. Here you will find dozens of articles detailing what you need to know when you begin the process of dealing with venture capitalists. Detailed instructions on how to pitch, how to negotiate, how to build a board. Also invaluable are the sections on the meaning of all those terms in a term sheet and how to get the best deal for you and your company.

Another amazing resource is Ask the VC. This is a Blog run by Brad Feld and Jason Mendelson with The Foundry Group in Boulder, CO. The blog is a running series of questions from entrepreneurs about raising money and forming companies. It is excellent. They also have a full archive of past questions.

It would be great if someone could summarize all of the best practices for raising capital into a book. Well, someone sorta has. Stephen Fleming has taken his series of blog posts on Raising Capital and combined them into a single PDF you can download and print. Even if Stephen wasn't my boss, I'd probably still recommend it.


Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Are you an aspirin, a vitamin or a condiment?

When we look at commercialization opportunities, one of the things to consider is the type of product that can be created. One well known test is to ask if the product is a pain-killer or a vitamin. In other words, does the product solve a big problem for someone? Or, does it simply make things a little better? Another way of looking at this is to ask is: Is it a "must have" or a "nice to have"? In the IT/Software space, examples of vitamins might be security monitoring tools, web portals, social networks, email spam filtering, Google Analytics, Twitter, YouTube. Examples of pain killers might be compliance tools like Oversight Systems, databases, storage virtualization, and CRM. Some products are both depending on the situation. Data backup is nice to have, until you lose your data, then it is a must have.

As bad as being a vitamin might sound, there is something worse. That is to be a condiment. Condiments are just there. Something you sprinkle on top to finish off a dish. Can you live without it? Sure. Do you notice it when it is missing? Rarely.

No offense to the nice people at StumbleUpon, but that's definitely a condiment. Other condiments would have to include MyBlogLog, iLike and just about every widget ever written for Facebook.

Don't be a condiment.


Sunday, June 1, 2008

Replace the Lightbulb, Win Money

Thomas Edison's invention has had a nice run. Maybe it is time for a new innovation to replace the venerable light bulb. The Department of Energy has announced the L Prize. The goal is spur innovation in solid-state lighting. Up to $20M in prize money will be available.

25% of the electricity use in a typical home is for lighting. Compact fluorescents can reduce power by 75%. The L Prize hopes to spur innovation to reduce the power required by a 60W incandescent bulb by as much as 90%. Got an idea?


Friday, May 30, 2008

Michael Blake on Early Stage Capital in Georgia

In one of the most amazing presentations that I have ever seen, Micheal Blake, with Adams Capital and a co-founder of Startup Lounge, talks bluntly and optimistically about the state of early stage capital here in Georgia. This is a one-hour Flash presocast (is that a word?). I would strongly recommend this to anyone who wants to know more about the where things stand and especially to local entrepreneurs. Thanks Michael for putting this together.

Go here for the presentation.


Invention is not Innovation

I was reading an article in New Yorker by Macolm Gladwell. I will read anything he writes, by the way. He is talking about how key scientific discoveries seem to be uncovered my multiple people simultaneously. He seems to have the facts to back up his premise:

Newton and Leibniz both discovered calculus. Charles Darwin and Alfred Russel Wallace both discovered evolution. Three mathematicians “invented” decimal fractions. Oxygen was discovered by Joseph Priestley, in Wiltshire, in 1774, and by Carl Wilhelm Scheele, in Uppsala, a year earlier. Color photography was invented at the same time by Charles Cros and by Louis Ducos du Hauron, in France. Logarithms were invented by John Napier and Henry Briggs in Britain, and by Joost Bürgi in Switzerland. “There were four independent discoveries of sunspots, all in 1611; namely, by Galileo in Italy, Scheiner in Germany, Fabricius in Holland and Harriott in England,”

The law of the conservation of energy, so significant in science and philosophy, was formulated four times independently in 1847, by Joule, Thomson, Colding and Helmholz. They had been anticipated by Robert Mayer in 1842. There seem to have been at least six different inventors of the thermometer and no less than nine claimants of the invention of the telescope. Typewriting machines were invented simultaneously in England and in America by several individuals in these countries. The steamboat is claimed as the “exclusive” discovery of Fulton, Jouffroy, Rumsey, Stevens and Symmington.

It can be found that Laplace employed Fourier Transforms in print before Fourier published on the topic, that Lagrange presented Laplace Transforms before Laplace began his scientific career, that Poisson published the Cauchy distribution in 1824, twenty-nine years before Cauchy touched on it in an incidental manner, and that Bienaymé stated and proved the Chebychev Inequality a decade before and in greater generality than Chebychev’s first work on the topic.” For that matter, the Pythagorean theorem was known before Pythagoras; Gaussian distributions were not discovered by Gauss. The examples were so legion that Stigler declared the existence of Stigler’s Law: “No scientific discovery is named after its original discoverer.”

We all know the sad tale of Elisha Gray, who submitted his patent for the telephone mere hours after Alexander Bell did.

Malcolm's point is that invention multiples are so common that many inventions are almost inevitable. True or not, my belief is that innovation is not inventing things. Innovation is doing something with the ideas. Making them useful. Commercializing them. Something we know a little about in VentureLab.


Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Learning about causes of asthma

As many as 20M people in the US alone have asthma. And, no one knows why people get asthma or exactly what causes an attack.

Researchers at the Georgia Tech Research Institute (GTRI) have built a portable air sensor that can be used to monitor the air around people with asthma. The goal is to better understand what causes asthma attacks.

With this device, researchers can see look at the quality of the air and look for things such as formaldehyde, carbon dioxide, ozone, nitrogen dioxide, temperature, relative humidity and volatile organic compounds including gases from products such as paints, cleaning supplies, pesticide formulations, building materials and furnishings, office equipment and craft materials.

If one could identify the one or two things that tend to lead to asthma attacks, then those items could be removed or avoided, making life much easier for asthma sufferers.


Friday, May 23, 2008

An Object-Oriented Helicopter?

As crazy as that sounds, that is the type of thing you can do with technology from VentureLab company InterCAX. InterCAX is building tools for systems engineering based on the 'Composable Objects' technology developed by Georgia Tech researcher Russell Peak.

For the first time, engineers can build graphical models of a complex system using a language called SysML and then link those models to back-end math solvers such as Matlab and Mathematica. This turns out to be a very hard problem indeed and the team at InterCAX have cracked it. Their first product, teaming with SysML drawing tool vendor No Magic, will be released in July.


Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Ga Tech Researchers Working on Emission-Free Cars

Researchers at Georgia Tech have created a new fuel processor for automobiles, called the CO2/H2 Active Membrane Piston reactor. Fortunately for us, they have a great acronym - CHAMP.

CHAMP is designed to go along with hydrogen engines or fuel cells. Instead of hydrogen gas, it works off of a liquid fuel. CO2 is separated from the hydrogen in the fuel and stored. Then it is recovered the next time you go to the gas station.

The research was sponsored by NASA, the DoD's NDSEG Fellowship Program and Georgia Tech’s CEO (Creating Energy Options) Program.

“Presently, we have an unsustainable carbon-based economy with several severe limitations, including a limited supply of fossil fuels, high cost and carbon dioxide pollution,” said Andrei Fedorov, associate professor in the Woodruff School of Mechanical Engineering at Georgia Tech and a lead researcher on the project. “We wanted to create a practical and sustainable energy strategy for automobiles that could solve each of those limitations, eventually using renewable energy sources and in an environmentally conscious way.”

Read more here.


Keith McGreggor shows off his Dash for CBS 46

VentureLab's own Keith McGreggor is a celebrity for a day. Watch him show off his awesome Dash navigation system in this short news report.

Go to the Video


Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Interesting companies at Startup Riot

Yesterday was an awesome day full of startup goodness. 55 companies presented for 3 minutes to an eager (and sometimes snarky) crowd of fellow entrepreneurs, investors and Atlanta technology fans. Here are a handful of companies that I personally found interesting. (In case there is any confusion - none of these are VentureLab companies)

Jungle Disk is a storage tool that lets you easily leverage the Amazon S3 storage system from your PC or Mac. Think of it as a infinite sized J: drive on your PC. It's dirt simple to use. A great concept.

Purewire was founded by a team out of CipherTrust. They are working to make the web safer by, as they say, "protect users from malicious People, Places and Things on the Web".

Quantum XML was definitely my favorite logo of the day. Brad Anderson and his partners are building an appliance to process XML streams at wire speed. A huge problem in financial services and oil exploration or any industry generating ridiculously massive streams of data. They help you drink out of a data firehose.

Servinity addresses a huge problem in the bar and restaurant business. How to find people and manage their schedules. They have also done something really amazing - they have created the Servinity Blog which tracks their process in building the business. Fascinating reading.

BeyondLS is an attempt to replace the real estate multiple listing service with a new focus on social networking. The existing MLS is so far beyond repair that I am really rooting for this to work.

BrokenCurve is working to build "Entities Of Gravity" around celebrities and brands. Their focus is the urban market and their goal is to monetize their clients digital assets on computers, mobile devices and television.


Monday, May 19, 2008

drum circle 2.0

Just read an excellent post by Rands in Repose on the importance of Twitter. It's well written, and well worth your time: We travel in tribes.

†While you're there, add RiR to your newsreader if you haven't already.


Sunday, May 18, 2008

Startup Riot 2008

Sanjay Parekh is one of the amazing people here in Atlanta, devoted to building the local entrepreneurial spirit. We are lucky to have him here. Sanjay has built an event called Startup Riot. The first, Starup Riot 2008 is tomorrow. Sixty startups, 3 minutes each. Should be a blast. I'll be there blogging away. Check back here for reports on the interesting companies that I spot - and there should be many. Thanks Sanjay!


Friday, May 16, 2008

Fuzzy Logic

Sometimes we get to work with some really cool projects. This is one of them. Keith McGreggor of VentureLab is helping a group of Georgia Tech students to launch this terrific new concept. Can't tell you more just yet, stay tuned!

Fuzzy Logic Toys


Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Don't read this blog in a browser

Most people unfortunately still use a browser to read blogs. Until 3 months ago, so did I. Then NewsGator made all of their RSS readers available for free. They have an amazing RSS reader for the Mac - NetNewsWire. The PC version is terrific as well - FeedDemon. Go to their site, download it, and start using it. Why use an RSS reader? Follow five times as many blogs in half the time. An order of magnitude improvement in efficiency!


Monday, May 12, 2008

Hang out in the StartupLounge

If you are an entrepreneur, or thinking of becoming one, you have to spend time in the StartupLounge. This is a virtual meeting place for Atlanta entrepreneurs. It was started by two amazing guys who might single-handedly re-energize the early stage technology scene in Atlanta - Scott Burkett and Michael Blake.

The have podcasts, an active forum, events designed to bring together entrepreneurs and investors and much more. I look forward to seeing you in the lounge.


Thursday, May 8, 2008

Entrepreneurs' Showcase on May 15th

One of the biggest events of the Atlanta entrepreneurial calendar is just one week away!

Biltmore.jpgEvery year, ATDC and VentureLab hold a showcase of our companies... recognizing both past and present participants, honoring that year's graduates, and hopefully enticing some future participants as well! This year, we've outgrown our own facilities, and are holding the event at the Biltmore (two blocks away).

VentureLab graduates this year are:

  • Pramana
  • Qualtré
  • Suniva
  • Verco Materials
  • Zenda Technologies

Over forty ATDC companies will be holding forth in a trade-show format, as well as eight selected GT commercialization opportunities along "VentureLab Row." You can see their products under development, talk to the entrepreneurial leaders, and get up to date on what's happen at both ATDC and VentureLab.

Attendance is free, but you need to RSVP now, since we've already registered 500 participants, and we're probably going to hit space constraints in the next couple of days. Registration is at 2:00, the graduation celebration is at 2:30, and the company showcase will run until 4:30ish.

Come join us!


Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Tenure and Promotion and Commercialization, Oh My!

I've been asked a couple of times lately... "Does commercialization activity count towards tenure at Georgia Tech?" The answer is a bit complicated, so I figured it's worth discussing it here.

What is tenure? It's traditionally referred to as "lifetime employment." In the University System of Georgia, it means that the individual is guaranteed employment for "two out of every three consecutive academic terms (normally for fall and spring terms) until retirement, dismissal for cause, or release because of financial exigency, or program modification as determined by the Board." So "lifetime employment" isn't a bad description.

Being granted tenure is a big deal. It has to be approved by the college dean, the president of the university, and the Board of Regents.

At Georgia Tech, the dividing line is typically between the ranks of "Assistant Professor" (not tenured) and "Associate Professor" (tenured). (Note: there are all sorts of details and exceptions in all directions, but let's stick with the mainline case.) An Assistant Professor is expected to spend five or more years building his or her case to be granted tenure. Promotion and tenure decisions are made separately, although the criteria used as a basis for each decision are similar.

In both cases, one of the critical requirements is demonstration of original and creative contributions to the individual's field of study. In the academic world, that mostly translates to peer-reviewed publications: research papers in scholarly journals, invited presentations at conferences, and books or book chapters. It can also include other peer-reviewed documents, such as grant applications or inventions leading to patents. So, yes, a patent (or patent application) "counts towards tenure," but only inasmuch as it demonstrates the creativity and scholarship of the individual, not relative to the commercialization potential of the patent.

In short, to be granted tenure, you have to demonstrate your capability as a scholar. Everything else is secondary in that decision.

But once you've been granted tenure... then what? The "publish or perish" pressure is reduced. (There's still the "win grant money or perish" pressure, but that's different.) You have a chance to take a deep breath and decide how the next phase of your career should proceed. Some individuals will choose to maintain a purely academic focus. Others, however, may be attracted to exploring the real-world impact of their work through commercialization. This is particularly likely at a school like Georgia Tech that has traditionally had deep ties to industrial partners... originally in the Southeast, then nationally, and now worldwide.

For promotion from Associate Professor to full Professor, the Faculty Handbook requires "clear evidence that the person has demonstrated consistent performance in the making of original and innovative contributions that are nationally recognized for their excellence."

There are many ways to demonstrate that excellence. One would be having patents issued that have a clear impact on an industry. Another would be founding a company that advances the state of the art (and which, incidentally, hires a lot of Georgia Tech graduates). Yet another would be performing sponsored research that the corporate sponsor uses to develop or update a major product line. All of those are legitimate activities for an academic leader... but they are all related to commercialization of research.

Commercialization is not enough, of course. An individual must demonstrate excellence in several areas, including teaching, research, and service to the university, to the public, and to the profession. But successful commercialization can be one facet of a comprehensive approach to building a career in academia.

So, 600 words later: "Does commercialization activity count towards tenure at Georgia Tech?" It's not the focus. Those younger faculty members should be busy demonstrating their scholarship as recognized by their peers.

But "Does commercialization activity count towards promotion at Georgia Tech?" Absolutely! The mid-career Associate Professor looking for advancement to full Professor will need to demonstrate multiple accomplishments—and commercialization can be one of them.

How does this relate to VentureLab? If we identify a non-tenured Assistant Professor with an interesting idea for commercialization... we'll want to look at it, but we're going to hope there is an active graduate student or two to handle most of the heavy lifting. The Assistant Professor is properly going to be focused like a laser on getting tenure, and we aren't going to interfere with that.

Our ideal candidate is an Associate Professor (or full Professor) with an interest in commercializing his or her technology -- ideally with the same active graduate student or two -- but without the desire to "be the boss" and run the company himself or herself. That leads into the topic of the appropriate role of a faculty member in a startup... and that will be the subject of a future post.

Reference: Georgia Tech Faculty Handbook.


Terabit Photonics

Ultra high speed and short distance electrical interconnects are a vexing problem. Connecting a microprocessor to an I/O or memory subsystem can be a significant challenge when designing a supercomputer or core router or telecommunications equipment. Moving 100s of Gb/sec across a board or between boards, using the traditional technique of copper wires, requires quite a bit of power and generates tremendous electrical noise. It is a limiting factor in how fast you can build your systems.
GK Chang, a Professor in Electrical Engineering at Georgia Tech and a GRA Eminent Scholar, and Sr Researcher Dan Guidotti have developed a novel way to address this problem. Their solution is to use lasers along with a flexible waveguide. This low cost 'strap' can carry up to a Terabit/sec and is designed to be easily replaced in a system should any of the lasers fail.

Terabit Photonics has been created to commercialize their research. The company hopes to have product in the hands of customers in early 2009.


Tuesday, May 6, 2008

"It sounded a little pitchy to me"

I recently had the opportunity to walk one of the companies I'm mentoring through the development of "the pitch" presentation.  Here are some things to think about:

Embrace this:  10 slides, 20 minutes, nothing less than 30 pt font size.  Google this for many opinions about the strength of this rule of thumb.  Additional bonus: if you limit yourself to font sizes of at least 30 point, you can avoid dreadful bullet point hell.
Reading is bad.
Please, do not read from your slides.  This makes your audience feel dumb, and makes you look silly.  Don't do it. The presentation is supposed to be focused on you and your business, and not on your prowess at PowerPoint or your reading ability.  If you start reading, your audience will talk about you with other attendees on their BlackBerrys.  Practice your presentation, and let the slides support what you say.
Reading is good.
What if you've got a lot to say? Chances are, you do have a lot to say ... about your product.  But this presentation is about selling your business, not your product.   Create a really great one-page (two-sided) handout, make it as dense, literate and clarifying as you can, and hand it out. Edward Tufte would say do this first; your mileage may vary.
A baker's dozen
Which 10 slides then?  In reality, it's more like 13.  Do this on a white board:
♦ Draw 13 boxes... three on one row, four on the next row, five on the next row, and then one at the bottom.
♦ Label the boxes, from top to bottom like this:  title, team, overview, problem, solution, value, secrets, competitive advantage, market strategy, business model, projections, requirements, closer
If you're following along, then your whiteboard ought to look something like this:

competitive advantagemarket strategybusiness modelprojectionsrequirements
There's your pitch presentation structure. 
The Big Three
It's no accident that three of the boxes above are highlighted.  These are the big three, the slides that matter most to investors.  Nail these three, and you're golden.  Fail on these three, and no matter how cool your technology, you're sunk.


Monday, May 5, 2008

A typical day in VentureLab


Friday, May 2, 2008

Be like Edison, not Tesla

I read an interview with Larry Page, Google co-founder, in Fortune magazine. I thought this comment really hit home:

"You don't want to be Tesla. He was one of the greatest inventors, but it's a sad, sad story. He couldn't commercialize anything, he could barely fund his own research. You'd want to be more like Edison. If you invent something, that doesn't necessarily help anybody. You've got to actually get it into the world; you've got to produce, make money doing it so you can fund it."

This is great advice for anyone who is creating great technology. The reason behind doing it in the first place should be to get it out there. Totally agree, Larry!

Many more great thoughts in the interview, go take a look:


Thursday, May 1, 2008

Atlanta's own 'Bucks

Sand Hill Road near Palo Alto has long been the hub for many of the largest venture capital firms. Close to Sand Hill Road, in Woodside, is a little restaurant called Bucks. If you're an entrepreneur in the Valley, Bucks is known as THE place to go to meet and maybe pitch a VC. On any given morning you are sure to see a half dozen pitches going on over coffee and eggs.

Atlanta now has its very own Bucks. More like a 'star' Bucks. The Starbucks at 5th and Spring, between the Georgia Tech bookstore and the College of Management, has now become the place to be for the startup community in Atlanta. You can meet other entrepreneurs, talk to the movers and shakers, even pitch a deal. On any given morning you might see Knox Massey, or Stephen Fleming, or Sig Mosley, or Lance Weatherby and many others who are making Atlanta such a terrific place for creating startup technology businesses. 'Bucks is right across the street from ATDC and VentureLab making it an ideal meeting spot. I am there at least 3 mornings a week having coffee - come over and get involved.


Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Great University spin-outs

Our goal at VentureLab is to foster startups at Georgia Tech based on research going on in the labs. This can be a fertile ground for start-up companies. Most people are not aware of the fact that many of the great technology companies the we take for granted were born and incubated at a university. 

HP, Google, Sun, Cisco and Yahoo were all started at Stanford University. DEC was started at MIT's Lincoln Labs. These are just a few, there are plenty more - leave a comment if you wish to add to the list.

In 1998, I had the privilege of working with Tom Leighton and Daniel Lewin while they were launching Akamai. Tom is a professor of Mathematics at MIT and Daniel was one of his grad students. They were looking for a partner to manufacture the custom Linux boxes that they built their content delivery network on. They selected my company TruSOLUTIONS and for the next two years we built and shipped several thousand servers all around the world for Akamai.

Georgia Tech has world class researchers in many different technology fields. Will the next name-brand University spin-out technology startup be based in Atlanta? That's what we're working on!


Monday, April 28, 2008

Opening Hailing Frequencies

I'm proud to be part of Georgia Tech's VentureLab... which I think is one of the best (if not the best) university commercialization programs in the country.

So, as you can imagine, it frustrates me enormously when people say "I had no idea of all the cool things you were working on down there!"

We've begun publishing a better view into our current technology projects and companies via our tracking database at http://www.gtventurelab.com. That will let you see a list of all our deals (at least the ones we're able to publicize) and read a one-page description for each one.

This blog is less structured, and will be a place for various members of VentureLab to start conversations about individual deals, or GT laboratories, or commercialization challenges... or whatever strikes our fancy.

It's a work in progress. Let us know what interests you using the Skribit box at the right!