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.