Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Don't Believe Everything You Read

Earlier in the week, my company was profiled (along with a couple thousand others), in one of the nation's (remaining) major newspapers, as part of an implicitly nefarious national intelligence build-up. It seems to these reporters anything even remotely linked to the intelligence community, has been broad-brushed into a dangerously out-of-control post-9/11 top secret fourth tier of government.

Um... you know, my office faces a main drag in a blue-collar midwestern town, with large glass windows, and the logo prominetly emblazoned on its front. We've got a website that while not giving away trade secrets, makes no effort to hide what we're up to. And despite the seemingly widespread belief among locals, we're not really spies.

The irony of it all is that after years of trying to safely land in academia, I finally found a mechanism via government grants and contracts that funds seed-stage basic research with an eye toward commercialization. The secret to me was that academics are simply not well-informed of the possibilities to engage in basic and applied research beyond the confines and constraints of academic institutions.

I think back to an exchange I had about four years ago with a research professor at a major East Coast U.S. institution, who essentially poo-pooed my suggestion that a lowly recent PhD might have ideas worthy of independent funding. The sad thing is, I believed it, until two years ago when my eyes were opened to the opportunities available to for-profit small businesses (even those that existed only as a lone researcher with untethered ideas and a lot of pluck).

And so, I've proven one of my favorite adages: everyone who got where they are started where they were. My former interlocutor, Karl-Heinz was wrong. At least to some who fund research, innovative ideas and the ability and willingness to pursue them to their logical ends, at the end of the day is really more significant that having convinced an old boys' network to let you play on their field.

If this sounds a bit like sour grapes, so be it. Today, where I am, pursuing my research passions, creating jobs, outside of academia... I couldn't be happier!

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