Monday, May 26, 2008

Keeping focus

Had a good time yesterday. Barbeque over at my brother-in-law's, about an hour's drive. It's nice to be able to visit family without too much ado. In two weeks, we'll be heading to one of RocketMom's cousin's houses (about two hours' drive) to celebrate the birthday of one of her boys.

This is why we're here... well, in part. I've been keeping focus otherwise, on these grant proposals. Tough, because I keep thinking I've got three weeks, which I do. But there's a whole to these proposals. I've got to keep to a particular format (there are ten defined sections, each which addresses a particular part of the proposal). I've got to prepare a budget, which I've never done of this kind before.

Today, I finished a complete draft of the eight-page technical description. It'll need tweaking for sure. But it's got a lot in there. A lot of my heart is in there. But RocketMom keeps reminding me (sometimes with prompting) this isn't all there is to me or to us. She'll love me whether I get this grant or not, whether I get the patent on this idea, or not. Life will go on. That's good to know.

I have to keep reminding myself that this deadline is looming, is now. There's a lot of work to do. I've got to keep editing the technical description. I have to fill in the other sections. And I'll have to do it all again (cutting and pasting much of the technical description, rewriting as needed) for the second grant proposal as well.

This is an exciting, but also scary part of being an entrepreneur. I keep reading more and more about what others are doing. Of course, I know much of what they're doing now, I won't know for a couple years, because they like me are keeping it close to the chest, until patents and such come through. I'm convinced that no one is working on what I've got (but then sometimes we all delude ourselves--that I know).

So, this could turn out spectacular. Or it could turn out a dud. I've got to be like Thomas Edison. One more dud just adds to the pile of things that have not YET worked. It'll come. It'll come.

Happy Memorial Day! I've got to get out to the barbeque before everything burns.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Grantwriters & Attorneys

Earlier in the week, I got a preliminary bid from one of the grantwriters I had spoken to: $7000! Um... yeah, really. Granted, it's likely the state would cover about 40% of that via a grant program to support new technology businesses, but... uh... From a guy (with a PhD) who recently worked 15 weeks, at least 24 hours/week, teaching two courses at a university, for a paltry $7700, it's rather difficult to justify paying someone else that kind of money to handle a bit of editing and formatting and assuring that electronic submission goes through for a grant proposal (okay, two actually, but they're quite related). The proposal was a flat-rate-fee, ostensibly based on the assumption of 70 hours of work ($100/hr with a comfy buffer I'm sure-- Not bad.) There are numerous things I could do with that 4 grand out of my pocket, not the least of which concerns living expenses for my family for about a month!

Now, I'm not banking on failure, and one approach might be to simply buck it up, fork over the cash, and hope for the best. But I've quite a bit of confidence in my own grantwriting skills. In fact, the grantwriter wouldn't really be writing the grant in any case. It's my research. I'm in for writing the technical proposal (the bulk of the application) either way. So what would that $7000 cover? Not quite sure. Formatting and editing mostly. Sure, that's all a pain in the ass, but I've handled the like before. I think of Lilian's recent drama with submitting her dissertation.

I've taken the tack that I'll just plan to do it all myself, and if I get a bit stressed or derailed, I can always call up one of those folks and say Hey, I've gotten this far, can you help me get it all in? What would that run me? [Reality dictates: I've been under deadlines before; more than likely I'll just pull through.]

My mind's actually a bit more at ease after my latest meeting with a patent attorney yesterday, and my reviewing of disclaimers on the grant submission website. Deal is, the submission itself is treated confidentially, so there's little threat that submitting a grant proposal would constitute public disclosure, thus my patent rights and IP security are retained. All of which means, there's no rush for me to file a patent application (even a provisional one) prior to preparing and submitting these grant proposals.

That said, I've got about three weeks to focus entirely (at least professionally) on preparing those grant apps. And, I remind myself: I don't need these. It'd sure be nice to get one or the other (or both) of them, to validate my approach, and to put some money in the firm's coffers. But we've got a couple years or so before we've got to worry about revenue. I'm utterly convinced that everything will fall into place.

This gives me some breathing room to concentrate on clarifying my ideas, explaining how they solve real world problems. These grant proposals are different from ones I've done in the past, in that I'm not trying to figure a way to fit my research into their expectations, I'm merely finding topics of their interest that I'm already working on, and writing up a proposal that says this is what I'm doing, and hey it solves the problems you're posing. It's a really good feeling!

And that breathing room allows me to work on some other funding avenues as well. I'll be talking with a couple county and regional development representatives next week, to discuss what's available to me in getting this venture up and running. It's quite possible I'll qualify for a state grant/loan program that puts up funds for third-party services (like patent attorneys?), equipment, and staff (but not my salary), with the proviso that it gets paid back as a loan on easy terms if the venture succeeds, and possibly gets forgiven if commercialization fails. That may put me in the awkward position of paying employees more in salary and benefits than I've ever had the honor to receive.

I can't say for sure what will happen, but it's not out of the question that I'll have a couple full-time employees by the end of the summer. I've been alone on this journey professionally for quite a while. It'd be a relief to finally have some company, but it'll be odd as well, especially since it'll be my task to provide them with assignments, and to make sure that they remain busy and engaged. That'll take some thinking. Meantime, it's three weeks on these grants. We'll see from there.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Am I happy?

Last night, in bed, RocketMom said she was pleased to see me happy, that she was glad so many things are taking off for me and my business. I kept waiting for the "but"... it didn't come. I asked. No buts... just I love yous.

... Hmmm. Am I happy?

I'm one of these people who often whistles to myself, imbuing the space around me with sound. What is that you're whistling? I don't know. It's nothing. I'm just making it up. So many remarks over the years about how happy I must be. I've often wondered at those remarks, not feeling particularly happy in my doings (not sad either, simply being). I guess 1950s musicals trained us to see whistling => happy. Or maybe it's deeper than that? Maybe it's true. Maybe I was just unaware of my own contentment.

Am I happy?

I'm busy, that's for sure. More activity in my life condensed in a month than I've felt for years, YEARS! The post-doc depression (for me, and I'm sure many others) was a sink hole the size of Kansas, the kind of chasm you'd expect from a 1970s era movie on earthquakes, where faultlines disappear into depths below, swallowing cars, houses, people.

I'm no longer in it. I'm not looking behind, to see the devastation. I grieve for Myanmar and Sichuan today. I have a distance from their suffering (theirs is physical, tangible, mine merely emotional--why do we say merely?).

To some extent, I'm not ready to pause and revel in my happiness, because there is no stopping point just yet. I've a house again. For that I'm glad. My family is receiving state aid (a hand-up as I see it, not a hand-out).

I'm edging closer and closer to accomplishing practical applications of these ideas which have swirled for years in my head. They begin to congeal, clearly and concisely on paper. I'm attending meetings, and workshops, and seminars, and talks. I'm working on proposals. I'm discussing state funding for various projects. (If it were my own money, how would I spend it?) I'm talking to lawyers about protecting my intellectual property. (What can I patent? Is it the right moment? Do I risk losing patent rights, if I submit grant proposals before patent protection?)

When that first check arrives, I will surely celebrate. Happiness is an attitude, not so much a state. Am I happy is not the right question. Do I admit to my happiness? (To quote Dr. Lanning from the movie I, Robot): "That, is the right question."

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Little pleasures

Our dear Mira is gone. In some ways, knowing the end was coming, makes it easier. I remember when Mouse was run over by a car. I was devastated. Such a sweet, fluffy (she was the only longhair in the litter), intelligent (she was the only one who could open doors by grabbing the handles), beautiful cat.

Mouse in March 2002

She had a habit of running across the busy frontage road beside our condo complex to catch field mice and gophers in the greenway along the highway. One day she didn't make it back. She had been out for hours, I was worried. I found her, flat and stiff, wrapped in a newspaper beside the road.

It was the daily habits that reminded me. Each day, I reached for four cat bowls... then put one back. These days I reach for three, and settle on two. Two toms remain. Enormous cats. Not really fat, just enormous. Take a look at the tail size on the other tabby beside Mira in this photo and you'll get a sense of what I mean. The fourth cat of the litter was Spock. His tabby "M" marking on the forehead reminded us too much of Leonard Nimoy's character to forego the namesake. We had given him away shortly after weaning. It was very hard. We decided to keep the others. Five, then four cats... now down to two.

My three boys

But there are many small pleasures in life. Looking in my baby Composer's grey-blue eyes. I wonder if they'll remain that color. His mother has long been my "grey-eyed goddess Athena". My paternal grandmother had sky blue eyes her entire life. The older two boys have my hazel-green. Composer is just four months now... they could yet change. But those eyes seem willful in their determination to take after their mother's.

I love to tickle his cheek, and watch his delighted, gaping, toothless grin. I love the creativity of his elder brothers, their stories, and their questions. I enjoy those rare occasions when all three (or even just two) play contentedly together.

Multigrain sourdough

The past couple days I've enjoyed my baking again. I was never a baker until the past couple years, when my yearning for dense and flavorful Central European-style bread (the kind you just love to slab a hunk of cheese on), and the inability to find it anywhere, led me to purchase a baking book, and start experimenting. I'm finally at the point, where I can modify recipes on the fly and be fairly sure they'll turn out. I learned the secret to free-form loaves that don't collapse: long rising times (about 3-4 hours), with a couple intermediate sessions of folding the dough in on itself (like an envelope). That stretches and strengthens the glutens. The loaf above is a multi-grain sourdough (wheat, rye, spelt, cornmeal). I baked a dozen bagels the night before.

And now, it's back to work. I'm still honing the technology narrative. I have lunch today with an upcoming senior in computer science and business at a local college, who will be taking on developing a business plan for my firm as his senior project. Then, I head on a two-hour drive for a talk about the research priorities of one government agency. Busy days. Good days. It helps dispel the sadness of loss.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Goodbye Kitty

Mira, foremost, with three of her kitties.

Late summer 1999, a rainy day in Denver. I heard a cat mewing from beneath a car across the street from our first house. I crossed, and bent down, holding out my hand patiently, seemingly disinterested (as my father had taught me to approach a strange cat). She approached and sniffed, then rubbed with verve, purring. I scooped this tiny cat (about 6 lbs at the time) into my arms, sheltering her from the rain, and carried her to our porch.

What do we have to feed a cat? I thought, alighting on the idea of a can of tuna. I opened the door to retrieve it, and she darted in without a thought or hesitation. I opened the can in the kitchen, and watched her hungrily devour it. We let her out and in over the next few days. She decided it was home. We bought proper cat food, and began to treat her as our charge.

Honey, have you noticed that her nipples are swollen? I wonder what that could mean. I was naive, really. I had no idea... but soon figured it out. Did you know that feline gestation is a mere 9 weeks? No wonder she was hungry.

We discovered that Tigger (as the three children up the block called her) was one of the many (a euphemism in this case) cats that they harbored in and around their home. According to them this was already her third litter. About 4:00 in the morning on the Saturday after Thanksgiving 1999, four tiny kittens the size of my thumb were born in a box full of shredded sheets, rags, and paper in our bedroom closet. She had been in labor for 12 hours, crying constantly.

Mira as we named her (from the Slavic root for "peace" and also incidentally for space and the earth) was an integral part of our family for the next decade. Last night, lying on a pillow beside my eldest son who lay in his sleeping bag on the floor (as he had wished), she passed her final hours. Today we buried her in our backyard, along the fence, where we will later today plant some catnip, and eventually place a stepping stone in her honor. Mira, we will miss you.

Mira (on the right), then about 9 lbs, with one of her boys.

Friday, May 16, 2008

It doesn't really stop

I spoke with the third patent attorney today on the phone. She seemed honest and direct. She recommended I not spend more than $1500 at this point on legal fees, to cover a patent/IP search and a provisional application. (Wow, that's a far cry short of the $3500 for a provisional, or potentially $12,000 or more for a full utility patent, which was quoted to me by one of the other attorneys). Her take was I don't yet have a "product" so I'm best off pursuing rather minimal legal protections. They should be sufficient. (Her bio and publications support a view that she has extensive knowledge and experience, and thus can be trusted on this count). If all goes well, I will get one or another of these federal research grants, which will sustain me as I move toward developing such a product, preparing me for the full utility patent within the year a provisional allows me.

I'm scheduled to meet with one of the other attorneys on Wednesday morning, and possibly the second that afternoon. I'm leaning toward working with this third. She also recommended someone for me to call regarding my federal grant applications. So I did. We talked for about 20 minutes, and agreed to meet for coffee tomorrow. She's a fellow former academic (she was working on her PhD at my alma mater when I was an undergraduate there!), and a fellow inventor/entrepreneur. Should be fun.

Today, I drafted up a 2000 word technology narrative to form the basis for a patent application and for grant proposals. It's a good start, but still a draft. I'll bring that to the meeting (along with a non-disclosure agreement). She's agreed to look it over (rather she insisted on it), and give me feedback.

Oh, and there's a high ranking government official coming to town (well, two hours away) on Tuesday afternoon, to discuss research priorities. So, I'll be taking off just after lunch with my business plan partner to head to that.

Thursday, May 15, 2008


The race continues:
  • I attended my first local inventors & entrepreneurs club meeting on Tuesday.
  • The speaker referred me to an old friend of his, a professor at a university about 30-40 minutes north of me whose expertise is exactly those areas of [applied research field] which I most lack. We spoke on the phone for a while, and will be having lunch on Monday to discuss shop (and possible collaborations).
  • Tuesday, I have lunch scheduled with a local college student who'll be partnering with me to prepare a complete business plan for my firm as his senior project over the next year.
  • Tomorrow, I'll speak on the phone with a patent attorney.
  • I have a morning meeting tentatively scheduled for Wednesday with another patent attorney.
  • Tentatively, that afternoon, I'll be meeting with yet a third patent attorney (and his partner).
  • Tomorrow, I'll also have a second talk with a grant writer (once he's gotten a chance to look over some materials I sent him today).
  • I've registered to attend a regional entrepreneurs' conference next month.
Busy busy. Tomorrow, and over the next few days, I plan to work up a good narrative for the technology I'm developing, as a starting point for both the grant proposals and the patent description. I've got about a dozen separate documents that I've been nursing along over the past year or so, which cover different aspects of the work. I'm going to try to piece it all together, and clarify it.

This work is good, and exciting (if still daunting). I am so unaccustomed to being taken seriously. I have grown used to soft-pedaling my research ("well yeah, I do research, but I really love the classroom... I'd be just thrilled to teach your 101 and 102 sections... that'd be right dandy!"). I'm still a bit in awe of the level of support that has come to me, in such a short time.

There are state funds to help cover the costs of grant writing. I'll be talking with some local people next week as well, about additional state funds available to assist the startup of technology ventures. It's possible that I'll get help defraying the costs of a patent filing, as well as assistance to hire some programmers and others. It seems there are many people who are taking a vested interest in the success of my venture.

This is a world apart from the neglect I had grown accustomed to. And, you know what... I'm beginning to like it!

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Almost a family room

All the wall board is up. The wires have been pulled. We'll put up the last wallboard (outside the room, to set up a wall of shelves for our "pantry") tomorrow. I'll have a neighbor do the seam taping. We purchased all the ceiling tiles and hardware today. Still waiting for the second light fixture to come back into stock. Maybe we'll put up the doors tomorrow as well. Then it's painting, and a floor, and moving in the furniture. I can't wait for this to be done (but I'm quite proud of the project). I'm just ready to concentrate on patents and grants.

Good news (at least of the temporary kind) came yesterday though. We qualified and have been approved for state-sponsored health insurance. With my necessary expenses so reduced, I can concentrate a bit more freely on research and building my business, which should have a far greater positive effect on that society than leaving me in the dust to wallow in unemployment (or perhaps worse adjunct servitude).

Monday, May 12, 2008

Wait no more

Part of being an academic wannabe was getting used to waiting. It's a destructive habit, turning racehorses into sloths. I feel a surge around me, my body lurches. I'm not sedentary, but this activity is unaccustomed for me. I've grown fearful over the years, no longer my fully energetic and fearless self. I buck at my own urging, wanting to graze a bit by the side of the track, then get back to racing, you know, whenever. Granted, I'm not 20-something and single any more. I'm married and have three kids. There are obligations.

I need regain some of my fearlessness. It's a necessary component of an entrepreneur's blood. Money money money. I've been dealing with the state agencies, in hopes that my family will qualify for some assistance, in particular health insurance. That's a major expense that I've been worrying about. For now, we have no insurance, though we should be able to enroll in COBRA (for about $800/month) if we need it. I want to know that there's some safety net for us, so I can divert some of that money into building the business (so I can afford my own insurance sooner).

I realize that part of my worry is simply projection. I'm projecting my fears and concerns outward. I have no control over state agencies (though applying for whatever support I'm eligible for makes sense). I do have control to some extent over our expenditures. And the opportunities for me to spend our money keeps piling up.

I'm looking to hire a grant writer to help me apply for these federal grants. I'm looking to hire a patent attorney to help me prepare my patent applications. I'm looking to join some local and regional organizations (each with its dues). I'm considering conferences (industry conferences often run over a $1000 plus travel and lodging).

Thousands of dollars peer out the windows longingly (like my cats) with their wings spread, ready to jump. How much will remain? How long will it last? See... to some extent those are not the questions an entrepreneur should be asking (though a healthy dose of realism and practicality can be prescribed). An entrepreneur needs sometimes simply to leap, to spend. That's both the benefit and the problem with financing. If it's my money, I may be too cautious; If it's somebody else's, I may spend too hastily. It's the balance that I'm seeking.

I just wish I could delegate some of the decisions to others. Patience and perseverance!

Thursday, May 8, 2008


Life has sped up on me. It has been a very long week. It's as if I had been whisked on a tour bus, at high speed, then, a bit dazed, legs shaky from the ride, left to disembark at the starting point.

A week has passed since my last posting. So many things.

First: troubles with my webhost. They suspended my account, leaving me without my PRW (personal research website) and for a few days without any email (which mysteriously reappeared a couple days ago, after I had established new email elsewhere). Long story short, they overcharged me about 20% more than they had quoted me. They admitted to overcharging me, but refused to take action without some ridiculous documentation on my part. Since their customer service policy is to NEVER speak with anyone on the phone, all communication is done via email, at their pace. I called the credit card company, provided them with the quoted rates, and asked them to refund me only the difference. So the webhost suspended my account.

I'm in process of trying to transfer the domain to another webhost, which supports customer service. In addition, I registered three new domain names (.com, .net, .org) for my business, and set up new email through them.

I registered an LLC with the state. I met with the regional coordinator for the state Entrepreneurs' Network. I had lunch with the patent attorney friend of my father-in-law's. I drove two hours away to meet with the director of another center for technology development, which focuses on garnering federal funding for state enterprises.

I spoke on the phone with the contact for one of the federal grants I'm interested in. That one looks promising. I've left several messages for the contact on a second grant. I agreed to participate in a program through one of the local colleges that teams up a senior in business with an entrepreneur for a year to develop a complete business plan.

Meanwhile, we're still working on the basement family room. We have two walls covered with wallboard now.

This flurry of activity is more daunting than the snow flurries we had when we arrived. I've hit the ground running, but I've yet to catch up with myself. My task list gets longer each day. I'm still here. When I come up for air, I'll post again.


I got the website transferred. (Called back my credit card company and disputed the remainder of their charge, accepting that they did provide me with just under 2 months of the one year of hosting. I reset up my old email addresses forwarded to the new ones (in case any more come to those addresses).

I've installed WordPress (which was the framework I had been using), but have not been able yet to figure out how to unpack the bizarre .tar.tgz backup file, to reset up everything on the site. Worst case scenario, I'll have to redo it all manually. I'd just hate to lose all the search links. Maybe I'll have to check out all the G**gle caches, to figure out the proper pagenames. I get normally 20-100 or so hits per day on my PRW, so someone is finding the info useful.

Got a call back from the second federal grant point of contact. I was beginning to think it a bit beyond my reach at the moment, but now I'm convinced I should apply. I made it clear what I'm working on, and how I think it'd fit with the topic (and incidentally that I thought the wording of their proposal came off a bit too ambitious). He allayed my concerns, at least enough to make me feel more comfortable preparing a bid.

That said, it looks like I'll be hiring a grant writer to assist me (the state offers matching funds to defray the costs). Meanwhile, I need to interview some patent attorneys, and get cracking on the patent filing. I'd like to have that done ideally by the time I submit my federal grant applications. Otherwise (and possibly even so), I need to prepare my fed grant apps with enough detail to be intriguing, but not so much as to give away proprietary Intellectual Property.

  • interview grant writers
  • apply for state matching funds
  • interview patent attorneys
  • get cracking on both:
    • the details of the patent application, and
    • the details of my fed grant proposals.

Tomorrow it's more basement work. The doors are in the store, so I'll pick them up tomorrow. If all goes well, we'll finish the wallboarding, and hang the doors. I'll have a neighbor contractor do the seam taping and sealing. Planning to have the boys help paint the walls (that should be interesting!). Then we have to decide on the flooring. We're thinking of carpeting, but we might just opt for the expedient (an area rug). Then it's time to set up the family room, and for me to take a break from home repairs, and bury myself in research and business for the next month or so.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

No turning back

It would seem my course is set. I met this morning for over an hour with the director of a center for technology and innovation, sponsored as a regional hub by one of the local colleges. He invited to join us a professor of science and technology entrepreneurship from another local college.

It was freeing to spout off (assured of confidentiality) about my research, and its applications. We set out a plan of action for moving forward. They've projected confidence in my work, and a commitment to helping me make it successful. As the professor put it this afternoon:
Your work sounds really interesting....We'll just have to see how to make it commercially successful! I'm sure we'll be talking more.
Yesterday, I spoke with the regional coordinator for the statewide entrepreneurs' network. He was encouraging and supportive. Among other things, he mentioned a state grant program to assist with a substantial portion of expenses involved in preparing the federal grant proposals, urging me to apply. This morning, there was an email from him saying:
...I passed your name on to a person at [corporation] who may need your expertise as a consultant for some product development they are doing...
Um, yeah, sure, great. I called up that referral this afternoon, and spent more than a half hour with him talking about research and applications. I sent him my CV, and he promised to send it around, and talk up possibilities with others there.

I'm on a path to file some provisional patents, and prepare some federal grant applications, in the next couple weeks. This afternoon, I filed paperwork with the state creating a limited liability corporation for this venture.

This is the world that has been waiting for me outside that door. It looks pretty good from here.