Saturday, October 24, 2009

Getting my next zero

I got a letter last night from the East of England Development Agency (EEDA), notifying me that our Research Grant application had been funded.  This is a huge deal: I started CamStent with a few classmates in 2006, and for three years we’ve been looking for funds to finish our research.  The company is based on a unique polymer coating with resistance to biofilm attachment.  If it works as we think it will, it could have a big impact reducing infections associated with  stents and catheters.

The EEDA funding is for almost 200,000 GBP, enough to fund the prototype development and microbiology research,ending with a performance characterization of the complete system.  The amount includes matching support from angel investors as well as government funding: we’re grateful to everyone for the vote of confidence and the chance to move the business forward.

The grant comes with a condition that I get a valid UK work permit, a process already underway, and that I commit to spending more time in Cambridge directly managing the project.  I’m delighted to do that. I’m also making the rounds of my accountants and lawyers to let them know that my life is becoming further complicated.  It seems like I should be able to pick one country, one company, to make a go of it, but this is going to be fun.  Hopefully it won’t be too expensive.

A couple of years ago, we won a 20K GBP award to fund market research, our first support for the new company.  My VC friends said it was a great start, but I should look ahead towards putting another zero on the next award if we really wanted to make things go.

Proudly, we have.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Wednesday business (and Rosetta) thoughts

  Midweek: lots done, lots still to do.  Nothing organized for today, ‘just a few reflections on business and life.

Eindhoven shoesI took the train up to Eindhoven yesterday to meet with a business coach provided by my ex-company’s outplacement service.  He was prepared for people uncertain of what to do next (maybe start a business?): I wanted help with a marketing plan, contact information for a website designer, and links to grant agencies.

They were very nice folks, but there was a bit of an impedance mismatch.  Still, they may offer some useful resources and seminars once we have a working relationship going, and I feel like I need an objective review of my business structure and materials.

More generally, I’m finding that there’s a lack of resources for people ready to move beyond the basics of incorporating and writing their first business plan.  Everything seems geared towards getting people into the boat and pushed off the dock: there’s not much about paddling in the current once you are out there.

On the bright side, it was a nice day to wander the city, noting local oddities like a string of tennis shoes above the road, reminiscent of “Wag the Dog”.


River My social media experiment (taking Seth Godin’s advice to create a niche affinity group on a social networking site) continues to thrive.  I’ve been getting about four requests to join each day, and it’s become a cottage industry for me an hour each morning, approving members, updating news, and posting a few thoughts as a discussion.  The people joining are mostly new to me, yet sometimes reaching out to make contact and offer ideas.  It seems remarkably self-organizing and self-perpetuating.

I’m starting to see where the Commitment part of Seth’s charter comes in: these do require time to keep the content fresh and the discussions interesting.  Fun to build, but it could easily consume the bulk of each day.

It also seems somewhat hit-and-miss: a second group, focused on expat networks in the Netherlands, sits silently empty.


If the business seems to be growing organically, finding it’s own path to the sun, what is the value of writing a business plan?  My business has to have a purpose, a scope, and a way to make money, otherwise it becomes an “Anything for a buck!” business.  The statements of principal need to be explicit and adhered to.  But the product plan, market plan, investor plan, all seem much more fluid and opportunistic, any business plan will be out of date in weeks.

I remember similar discussions about research project planning: there is a process for feeling your way and a goal to that you know when you are done, but the plan is less explicit.  Essentially, early-stage business planning is similar: I find myself taking ideas into small experiments, then pushing resources behind the ones that work.  I give some thought to the ones that didn’t, but don’t “push on the the rope” just because it was in the plan.


Rosettabmp Like every expat, I subscribed to Rosetta Stone when I first arrived to help me learn a bit of Dutch at home, self-paced.  I was not too excited by it: there was a lot of pedantic matching text to pictures and, while this helped with vocabulary, it didn’t help me to be an independent speaker.

Last summer, I subscribed to their re-launched online service and I really like the new format better.

There is a greater emphasis on audio learning, and the say and repeat format is much improved.  There is a rudimentary voice recognition that checks pronunciation, and segments where you type sentences rather than matching them.  It’s really forcing my articulation to improve (I can tell because my mouth hurts after a lesson).

There is still a lot of emphasis on intuitive learning rather than explicit help and it sometimes gets confusing (e.g.: when do you spell the adjective for “yellow” as gele, and when as geel?  The exercises feel random until I looked it up in a grammar book.)

(Note: I paid for my own subscription, and receive no compensation from Rosetta for this note)

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Hunting weeds along the Maas

Weed hunt 14

During this presentation, I will inform you of what the current policy is, the proposals for change, the rationale given by experts and advocates on both sides of the issue, and my own perspective based on first-hand experience.

Mijn dochter called last night for some help with her class presentation for school.  She needs to make an informative speech and had chosen the evolving drug policies in the Netherlands as her topic.  She visited the Netherlands, memorably, a couple of years ago, and peered into the coffeeshops scattered around town.

It’s actually an interesting and changing debate here.  Weed hunt 09 The Dutch Ministry of Health, Welfare, and Sport has a good website with the official view, and there are any number of media articles, pro and con, with alternative points to make (The infamous Bill O’Reilly rant, for example, or a recent article in the Taiwan News).

How can I help?  Pictures:  Can you get some for my slide presentation?

It made for a nice hour, cycling around town and taking discreet photos of the local color.  There is a surprising amount of foot traffic in and out for 11 am : all sorts of folks, busy as a Starbucks.  My favorites are still the boats down by the river, but the shops each have a character all their own.

Weed hunt 10  Weed hunt 13

Weed hunt 03 Weed hunt 01

Monday, October 19, 2009

Trading places

Brush bitI follow a couple of dozen feeds and blogs, connecting out to a range of interests and opinions.  Most are fellow expats in the Netherlands, whose insights and advice are always helpful.  Less commonly, I follow Dutch friends who have relocated to the US.

One friend who I faithfully (and very enjoyably) read is a former work colleague who moved to Minnesota.  He posts weekly updates in Dutch about his life in the Big North (where its already snowing).  It’s helpful to me to translate his writings, and its been fun to follow his adventures and observations.

Lately, though, I’ve noticed more and more (unintentional) role reversal in the topics and events that we both write about.  We both scribble about the weather, getting around town, seeing the doctor, and views from our windows.  But while I post a picture of my Locomotief, he posts one of the Audi; I show the apartment’s balcony, he captures his house’s deck.

It’s a bit spooky, beyond simply bringing home the many contrasts between Dutch and American life.  As we each settle fully into our respective environments, I’m finding that my written life becoming more Dutch as his becomes more American.  It’s an intriguing and consistent swap.

I doubt that he considers himself less dutch and I don’t see myself as less american.  But the superficial lifestyles certainly evolve that way.

It reminds me, again, how much we are shaped by the tools at hand and the culture around us; the many ways that our local society defines how we live our everyday lives.