Saturday, February 5, 2011

Saturday’s statistics

A blustery day in Cambridge: the wind has rattled the roof for two nights straight, and occasional sprays of rain spatter over the windows.

NL pop

The biscuits failed to rise this morning, a combination of unfamiliar buttermilk (thicker in the UK than the Netherlands) and a lack of measuring cups.  The resulting batter, too moist by half,colonized the kitchen as I tried to add flour and work it to something sensible.  A fine white dust settled over the floor and counters, pole dough stuck to handles and dripped from counters.  The result was more like scones than flakey risen biscuits: tasty but solid.


I’ve retreated to listen to the radio (inexplicably, big-band swing on the BBC – feels like I’m in a time warp) and catch up on some reading.  And it’s there that I sound some statistics from The Economist that put the two charts, above, into perspective.

So, the question is, “What US state has the same size economy and populations as the Netherlands?” 

GDP compare

The answer, at around 750 billion dollars annually, is Florida.  Interestingly, Florida’s population is also about 18 million, similar to the Netherlands (16.5 million), so the GDP per head works out somewhat the same as well.

Now if only the weather were equivalent.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Moving the business into Year 2.

scan0009I suppose that if the entrepreneurial spark is, in part, founded on frustration then the opposed hope would be visible in the charter of the new business.

Stone Bridge Biomedical BV was clearly founded in that spirit: when I look at the company’s founding purpose, it included:

* Improving patient care through the design and development of innovative and elegant patient response systems.

* Employing processes that bridge the gap between ideas and proven concepts, establishing evidence for feasibility, safety, and value.

* Building global design and marketing partnerships between US and European developers and users.

* Being a knowledgeable and committed partner to physicians, scientists, students, and entrepreneurs who value and promote biomedical innovation.

It’s nice that frustration gave way to idealism in the end and  I’ve largely been able to hold to these goals.  The product / revenue side, however, has been more challenging.

A recent business finance seminar here in Cambridge recognized that there is an idealized funding ladder that most startups use as a guide:


In practice, of course, the cash sources rarely fit together so well, and most businesses find themselves hopping through the process from toehold to toehold:


In my case, this reality forced a greater emphasis on seeking consultancy income and raising capital than on development of new products. The opportunism also produced an unfortunate geographic sprawl.

I could rationalize it as spawning opportunities and finding partners, and I still believe that a good linkage with the right partner will push me years ahead of trying to build the whole system myself.

The problem is time and distraction, of course.  Partnerships don’t close quickly and consulting jobs eat time out of the day.  A determined effort to build the core business assets is really what is needed, otherwise the brand drifts and competition emerges (eg Isansys Lifecare).

No sense in replacing old frustrations with new ones…

Diagram credit to Martin Rigby

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Driven by frustration

BBC’s Business Daily discussed Entrepreneurship in their end-of-2010 episode, its intriguing to step back and think about what it takes to succeed as one.  Brent Hoberman, co-founder of, gave the best perspectives, covering the roles of start-ups in the economy, sources of funding and mentoring, and the qualities that founders must have.  The ideal traits are not surprising: courage, creativity, persistence, confidence, bold, focused, dedicated, competitive, passionate, obsessive, tenacious…

and Frustrated.

It wasn’t a trait I would have picked, but he spoke convincingly of  the way entrepreneurs say “I can do it better”, “I can fix this”,  “It’s not that hard”.

A friend called last night to ask why I didn’t apply for a job that seemed to tick all of the boxes of my past experience.  It’s because I’ve moved beyond my past experiences. Why would you do that? Because I was frustrated.

Ten years ago I was a research director for a wonderful medical products company: great staff, worthwhile products, I enjoyed coming in every morning.  And our projects succeeded, so much so that the pipeline to development clogged and the manager called a halt to research investment.  A sound financial decision, but an unfortunate human one: people left, knowledge was lost, projects died.  Within two years, nothing was left.

I took a sabbatical to get my business degree to become a better innovation manager.  What I found was that I needed to be a business manager, thinking about markets, investment,  customers, and value.  So, upon graduating, I took an expat position as part of a general management team for another medical products company.

Again, ‘larger considerations’ and ‘the good of the business’ led to closure of our successful division and dispersal of people.  Frustration: here was talent, resources, distribution channels, a brand that should have succeeded at commercializing home-grown innovation, but couldn’t.

“I can fix this: I can do it better”.   it was a matter of scale, of leverage, of networks, of building something fresh and successful.  Of entrepreneurship.

Okay, weirdly, in the Netherlands, but that’s a detail.

frustrationSo I do agree that frustration was the essential spark for me.  With the ideas funnel, with dogs and cows, with the star system, with Good to Great.  (interesting to contemplate whether something similar motivates expats).

But only the spark.  Passion and talent still have to be there to go beyond first-step commitment, on to fulfill a dream in a free-market environment.  Passion, and persistence.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Sunday morning

As busy as Saturdays can be, Sundays are absolutely graveyard quiet around Maastricht.  I was up early to get some exercise in before the day got rolling, and there was nothing but fog and silence to share the ride with.


and, like the first shoots of spring, the first signs of Carnivale are also starting to appear.  It will be late this year, not until the beginning of March instead of mid-February, but the anticipation is there.

Monday, January 31, 2011

A month of daily posts

JanOverI successfully completed the Nablopomo challenge: “Post something every day for a month. That's all you have to do.” 

Sounds easy: it isn’t.

It not hard to come up with a topic every day: there is lots going on in life and it’s easy to come up with single-thought ideas without resorting to the daily suggestions (“Friends”).

The problem is really time and quality.

It takes me an hour to write, edit, and illustrate a blog post that I think is worth posting, and that is a big hit out of each day.  A travel day, one with meetings, or shopping can leave no time for composing and reviewing an essay.  Slipping in a photo post or a previously prepared piece feels slipshod.

Trying to rush the process is also uncomfortable. An idea really needs to gestate overnight before its ready for a public airing, so I’ll write a draft, having a think about it, then post it the next morning.  That pipeline doesn’t hold two thoughts.

On the good side, it has forced me to write about everyday topics that I wouldn’t have otherwise.  Paradoxically, seeing my writing each day has motivated me to work harder to avoid lazy writing and repetitious topics. 

Still, the whole necessity of a daily post becomes a bit tyrannical by mid-month.   So, I hereby return to a more relaxed schedule going forward.  After all, it should be fun.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Creative Sunday

What is a creative act?  Is it, hypothetically, the act of bringing something into existence that wasn’t there previously?

Consider two cases.

1) I decided to try to make biscuits this morning (Boy Scout nostalgia leavened with MasterChef  ambition). The Internet delivered a suitable recipe for flaky professional rolls; I picked up the requisite buttermilk (karnemelk), flour, and butter.

Some steps were difficult without a pastry cutter, and I had to hope that self-rising flour would compensate for my lack of baking powder and baking soda.  The dough folded and cut nicely, though, and looked good during the baking.  I was pleased with the result, cooked through and warmly risen.

2)  I’m working on a simulator to demonstrate some algorithms that compute heart rate automatically from the ECG.  Pre_dwgI sketched a few ideas on paper and worked through the user interactions and the underlying data structures.  MATLAB has a tool for building graphical interfaces, YouTube has tutorials that explain the process, and there were a few examples and some data that I could download off PhysioNet, an open-source repository.

I took it one step at a time, assuring that each part was working properly before going on to the next.  Figuring out how to scroll the ECG in an embedded window was difficult, and getting the controls linked to code was tricky.  But I worked through the bugs and complications and had a nicely working demo by the end of the weekend.

Proto  Code


Okay, so which is the creative project?

In both cases, something was created that wasn’t there before.  Both took planning, collecting materials, development of skill, and satisfying a vision of the end product.  Arguably, programming is harder knowledge, but cooking is the more adaptive process., but are both equally creative?

I was pondering this today, and got to thinking about artistic creativity as a guide.

Artistic works are almost invariably preceded by some sort of a sketch.  It may be a charcoal drawing, storyboard, fragment of a refrain, or a character profile, but there is always work on the background and components before the finished work is attempted.

That suggests that creative thinking and planning before starting may distinguish the truly creative works from the simply generative ones.  By that measure, my programming qualifies and my biscuits don’t.

And there’s no doubt that cooking can also be creative. There are many chefs who know flavors and textures, techniques and ingredients, who also design new dishes based on small tests and deep experience.  I just wasn’t amon them (and the jury is still out on MasterChef).