Monday, June 13, 2011


I made the new hires anyway. I've got two new full-time employees starting in a couple weeks. The word I got on the decision that was expected in May is that it will likely be announced before the end of June. That left me with an unpleasant choice. I need the new hires to complete the current project. But without additional funding, I can't guarantee them a year of employment. I figured my best option was transparency. So I made the offers, with the stipulation that without further funding, I couldn't assure them a job after early 2012. One declined, opting to wait for more long-term news. The second accepted, as did the alternate for the first.

I'm expanding staff, but crossing my fingers that I'll be able to keep them employed in a year. Of course, my job is as on-the-line as theirs. Meaning, this is a rather stressful time, knowing I've got work to do, commitments to fulfill, and a very real, somewhat looming expiration date.

Three currently outstanding proposals remain, each of which would buy us some more time, and offer opportunities for long-term contributions to the field externally, and growth and development internally.

Monday, June 6, 2011

The fragility of uncertainty

I wait... Three outstanding proposals.

One decision was supposed to be announced last month. It's still unannounced. Not a small deal! A three year contract, enough to hire several new employees, and engage a subcontractor. Still, I wait.

The second, a collaboration with a non-profit medical clinic to modify our technology to an entirely new arena. Waiting for their decision whether it's worth the effort. (It is!) But I have to wait on their market surveys to establish the value.

The third, we don't expect to hear until the end of the summer or beginning of the fall.

I've conducted interviews for new hires. But I can't make offers until I hear about these commitments and know our budget moving forward. Frustrating (for me and them).

I calculate in my mind alternatives, options. All is uncertain. Will my company be around in a year or two? More imporantly, will I be able to continue the R&D that I firmly believe will contribute to bettering lives. One way or another, I'll figure a way.

One way or another.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Seeking Ground

It's been a while. My mind wanders. I need to write to clear the dust and cobwebs. I find myself at the moment a bit adrift. There is a point in accomplishment where novelty has worn off, and one begins to think "yeah... done that, what's next?". This too shall pass, I know. There's still much to be done right here. Frankly, it's amazing to me how far I've come in the past few years.

Tomorrow for instance, I'm heading to the state capital, having been invited to participate in a planning session for a new state agency entrusted with the mission to create 250,000 new jobs. I was requested by the head of the state's entrepreneurs' network to accompany her. Wow!

A couple months shy of three years ago, I started my company in a home office, with a few ideas and the sense that I was better off heading in a new direction. Today, I've got a staff of seven, a half million in annual revenues, interesting and worthwhile work, respect, and only growth ahead.

Today we reached a rather anticlimactic, but significant milestone. We gave our midterm presentation, halfway through our two-year contract. Since the client had already authorized the second year of funding last month, which prompted me to give everyone a bonus and raise, the review became somewhat routine and pro-forma. As if to put a point on it, the basic gist of the client's response today was "All's well, looks good, keep it up, and I'll stay out of your way," Ah, okay, will do.

In a few weeks, my family is taking a week's vacation around Passover. The whole clan will be heading to California. It'll be the longest time I've been away from the office since moving the operation out of my house. Since wrapping up the first year of our project, I've given the team rather open-ended assignments, to challenge them, and to propel the whole enterprise forward. Hopefully the experiment will pay off, and they won't feel aimless with me in absence.

Meantime, I'm seeking my own ground, trying not to lose the strength and commitment of doing what is still palably exciting, just no longer novel.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Bringer of Candy

Back in December I wrote about an opportunity to partner with a local campus and the tech transfer office of the state university. It's been progressing. The latest was gaining approval from the campus administration ("Oh... the Chancellor says 'hi', she remembers you, and is excited to be partnering with you ...") and putting together the details of the proposal: objectives, milestones, budget. That should all be submitted by them to the funding agency next week. There's a bit of fire under their feet as the state budget process is looking to make cuts, so spending pre-allocated money hastily is one way to ward off the butcher's cleaver.

I'm in the unaccustomed position of creating a new post-doc position at a university, with good pay and benefits, to work on a project that promises to be engaging, for which I would have been eager to apply for a few years ago. It is distinctly odd to be a party of repute, when in my mind there's little difference between who I am today, and that invisible, nameless, faceless post-doc I was a few years ago (albeit on different campuses).

I'm also planning to hire one new full-time researcher, and a couple part-time interns in-house. One of my current researchers is interested in applying for the post-doc, meaning I may have to replace her on the staff as well. To her, I must appear as the bringer of candy, strewing sweets before her, that she can gather up. At least that would have been my image of someone writing a position description that could be just for me.

There's no telling whether the company will continue to grow, whether I'll be able to sustain the research, creating jobs, delivering on our promises, and making a profit, all the while doing something useful and beneficial to society. I'm cautiously optimistic. The work is difficult and challenging. But quite a thrill to be doing, and rather surprising at times to be leading.

All in all, I'm still here, despite the frequent and enduring silences.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

The Other Side

Earlier this week, I had a meeting with the director of the tech transfer office for the state university system. The meeting was facilitated by the small business coordinator of a local state university campus. Apparently, there is a relatively new state program providing funds to support partnerships between small companies and university campuses. They're proposing to fund one or two post-docs to be assigned exclusively to my firm, for collaborative projects. My company would retain rights to any technologies or products that we jointly develop, with a rather generous cut of the proceeds (far better terms than a professor would get).

I'm just floored. I feel pampered and encouraged and wonderful. When I set out, and trudged on, and wilted on the faculty job search, I couldn't have dreamed I'd be where I am now, receiving this kind of attention and support. Maybe it's in part the result of having proven something, simply through perseverance. But I can't help but wonder why the system is so designed for famine and feast.

To be honest, while I'm quite content just now, I'd gladly give up ninety percent of the support and encouragement if I could be assured it'd be spread out among those equally worthy but ignored post-docs and adjuncts among whose ranks I toiled for a time. At the moment I am the beneficiary of largess, but the unfairness of the process is not lost on me. Someday I may again be cast aside, as easily as I am now lauded. I endeavor to retain grace and dignity should that occur, and I hope for the courage to foster and sustain those who find themselves in that state, while I bask in the glow of success.

I'm heading to the state capital next week to serve on an advisory committee for small businesses. I hope to raise some of these issues in an effort to provide opportunties for those many who could benefit from a similar path to the one I've taken, without so many of the bumps and bruises.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Not Invincible

Lately, I'm feeling somewhat less than invincible. Sure, my life is far more stable than it had been for a few years; yes, I am the head of a small company conducting interesting R&D; I lead a team of researchers to engage with ideas about questions that fire my passions; I'm well compensated for doing these things, I am autonomous and self-directed.

However, the fragility of it all weighs heavily on me right now. The firm was turned down for a follow-on contract on the second project we had been engaged in. That leaves us with just one funded project -- the one I started with by myself more than two years ago. The company has received nearly $400k in funds since I founded it in 2008; outstanding contracts account for nearly $600k more over the next year and a half. I've got seven on payroll; the expected income should keep them employed through at least part of 2012. But what then?

If this contract comes to an end, without anything in the pike, we close up shop and move on. Unlike a job, as an entrepreneur, it all rests squarely on my shoulders. If I don't source and land an income stream, it dries up. It's still pretty much in the basic research stage, nothing yet to sell other than the research itself, and the promise. We've got to deliver a mock-up demo in 4-6 months, and a prototype a year later. I'm confident we can deliver, but I wonder if that will be enough to produce a usable product and receive more funding, to keep the research and company alive.

The second project was not particularly well-defined on their end, but it provided us with six months of funding to engage with the problem. In the end, I feel good about the effort we made, the proposal we presented and the work it defines (enough so, that I plan to keep working on it, regardless of funding). The criticism came down to a few things which didn't really impinge on the quality of our work or the merit of our proposal. It was more a question of their needs and priorities, and disappointingly on their assessment of our ability to commercialize the results.

There's a big difference between academia and the world in which I now reside. The ability to commercialize and sell a product or service is always a factor. Innovation requires risk, but results are rewarded not risk (unless you work in financial services). Interdisciplinarity still haunts me; only now I must add the disciplines of business management and marketing to the pallette.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Religion & Ignorance

The following brief report from the October 2,2010 issue of The Economist caught my eye:
A survey from the Pew Research Centre that tested Americans' knowledge of world religions found that atheists and agnostics were better informed about religious teachings and religious leaders than were Protestants and Catholics. Evangelicals scored better on questions solely related to Christianity and the Bible.
Draw your own conclusions.