Tuesday, February 16, 2010

...and what sort of entrepreneur are we?

So many thoughts rush upon me. As is my practice, I'll just commence writing, then sort it all out. But, let me first say that the Armenian stuffed peppers I just served for dinner last night were a success.

There are a few triggers to my feelings these days:
  • My friend Trillwing is anxiously awaiting word re: a campus interview just received an offer of employment for a t-t job, years after taking a somewhat-tenuous staff position.

  • My friend BrightStar has been reflecting on the plight of highly qualified, talented, and capable PhDs seeking jobs on the tenure track.

  • My friend Mamae in Translation is dealing with the liminality of her husband's career and her own state as recent PhD/mother/expat/seeker.

  • A friend from real life (whom I'm coaching informally) is struggling with a decision to shirk off a rather unsatisfying career as a public school math teacher, and wondering where it will land him.

  • And finally, the beginning of my transition from lone researcher with some funding, to owner and director of a research firm with a staff of five, and two funded projects to sustain us for a couple years.

By necessity, I consider my state, test the wind, and wonder what range of freedom I embrace as I set the sails for a new journey. Next week, I fly to meet with my agency technical lead for a new project on a contract I've just received. I wonder at just what he'll expect me to deliver, and whether he'll be satisfied with my proposed approach. What a world of difference, to muse that if I lost the $70,000 this "little" contract represents, I'd be fine any way.

I have now an income easily more than twice what I might have expected (and been happy with) as a freshly hired assistant professor just two or three years ago. I have every reason to believe that this state is secure for at least the next two years (not too different from what I might have expected pre-tenure). I am, on my own, responsible for hiring and supervising a handful of employees, paying them what is in line with reasonable expectations, especially considering that the cost of living here is 15% below the national average.

Truth be told, my commitments are to my research more than to any salary, they are to my family more than any particular career path. Part of me wonders if I too hastily dropped out of the academic race, whether I might not have gotten a tenure-track offer somewhere somewhen.

But I forget how happy I am, how free I am to pursue my own research, how much better compensated I am, how I am able to decide where I live and when or if I'll move, and how much control I have over all those factors. I forget how many committee meetings I don't have sit in on, how I can avoid the worries over tenure, how if a coworker rubs me the wrong way, I have the power to redress it.

Sure, the life of an entrepreneur isn't free of worries. I worry about the path this venture will take. I struggle with a vision for the business, not just the challenges of research for its own sake. I work to balance exciting and meaningful research with the need to produce saleable products. So far, I avoid the draw of seeking outside investment. I fear that an investor with money to put in may be primarily concerned with taking money out. But how long can I sustain this on my own? How long will I be able to attract R&D funding?

But these new worries are my own. I own them with my very being. I am myself, more wholly than ever I was in academia. And here too I am an outsider. Happily enough so!

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Almost done waiting

I wrote recently about waiting. The wait is almost over. Yesterday, I received a copy of the small contract I'd been waiting for. As soon as I review and sign it, that project begins. Latest word on the 2-year contract is to expect it around the end of this month.

There had been a delay in receiving our final payment on the most recently expired contract, but that is finally in the bank as of today. I should also receive the first disbursement check on the loan we're receiving from the state today. It's good to see the bank balances start to trip upwards again.

The credit cards are being paid off. I've been able to write myself a paycheck. The last pay I gave myself was mid-November. Now I'm paid through the end of last year. Once these contracts start flowing, I hope to pay myself regularly.

But other expenses and payroll take precedence. New hires arrive in just a few weeks. I'm doing my best to prepare for their arrival, and for these projects to begin in earnest. The test begins when the waiting ends.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Waiting ain't what it used to be

Yes... I'm still waiting. But, waiting with a great deal more confidence and enthusiasm. Is there not always something to anticipate, something new? I've sometimes considered the tragic flaw of characters from my real life their attachment to a worldview of "same old same old". What a pity their lives must be.

No, things change in life. Each morning a new sun rises; each day a new person looks back in the mirror. There's a bounce in my step these days, though not one immune to ups and downs. I still complain, and bristle at the waits.

It's been nearly one year since I completed my first six month contract as an independent researcher. It was about four months later that I received the green light for the second six month contract (supposedly transitional funding to get to the two year). And now it's been more than a month since that contract expired. I wait for the big two year in hand. Someday soon, I suppose.

It's been more than five months since my firm was selected to receive a separate six month contract from another agency. I wait too for that contract to be issued (perhaps today, tomorrow?). I grumble, yes. I haven't paid myself since November. I'm floating credit cards for a month or two, because we don't have the free cash to pay them off.

Last week, I was finally notified that we would be receiving a low-interest rate loan from the state to cover the gap between our expenses and the payment we'll receive on these (still pending) contracts. A loan in the end, not a grant. Funny thing, the loan is because we're further along (i.e. grants are for those companies waiting to hear about selection). We've already been selected to receive funding, so they suppose we'll be able to pay it back more assuredly.

I can bemoan these things, or just accept them. In light of where I am, how far I've come, the opportunities that loom ahead of me, the chances to pursue my passions, and hire and support others in that endeavor, it hardly seems appropriate to dwell on negatives.

So, I wait... but I fill my time with tasks, myriad tasks, administrative, and some creative. I'm thinking ahead to my next 5-10 year plan. I wonder if that will be reached in three like my last one?