Thursday, September 8, 2011

Milestone, and the bits that don’t fit

Camstent Coatings Ltd Logo  CamStent Ltd, an emerging medical materials company, has announced today the results from a study which demonstrate that the Company’s first product from its surface coating platform exerts strong antimicrobial effects against the organisms primarily responsible for hospital-acquired urinary-tract infections. The Company also announced that it has closed £350K ($570K) of seed funding from a consortium of business angels. The funding will be used to optimise the Company’s product for licensing and clinical use.

This one is kind of a big deal, as my daughter says.

This is our first major press release as a company: it went worldwide and it was gratifying to see the twittersphere light up with the news after it went out on BusinessWire.  Behind the announcement is 18 months of hard work by our university researchers, endless pitches by Clare and I , support from financial and service folks, and valued cash and ideas from our 16 angel investors.  I can’t overestimate the importance of attaching the coating to silastic substrates, and of demonstrating an antimicrobial effect on the relevant protozoa.  We’ve got a lot of work ahead, but a solid base of knowledge and funding to work from.

camstent prThe press release took a month to finalize: this turns out to be one of those tasks that everyone feels competent to do.  And, when they all do, incompatible versions pile up and the whole exercise starts to circle.  I brought along a micro-business PR firm, Zyme Communications, and left it to Lorna, the professional objectivity helped and we got to a version that mostly everyone was mostly happy with.

The final, shipped version had one minor error, despite reviews and re-reviews.  Frustrating: it is really hard to achieve perfection, conveying the facts and being internally consistent.  In science, a bit of evidence that doesn’t fit a model generates new hypotheses.  Measurements are made, models are refined and knowledge revealed.  In procedural law (on television), that bit that doesn’t fit is the loose end that brings down the criminal.  Shows from Columbo to Suits challenge us to remember and conspiratorscorrelate the a body of facts to find the thing that doesn’t belong, the telltale that the detective never misses.

I think that we have become oversensitized to the value of these inconsistencies, though.  Approaching the anniversary of 9/11, it’s striking how imperfections have become cast as inaccuracies, then as ground for conspiracies.  From Lone Gunmen to Birthers, fact-finding commissions that fail to be complete or consistent feed speculation. Wikipedia even keeps a list.

I try to be complete: I really try to be both correct and consistent.  But efforts fall short of perfection (perhaps intentionally –  a subconscious Persian Flaw?).  But often it’s just a simple mistake rather than a ‘tell.

My investigator quietly pointed it out and we quickly corrected it without developing a conspiracy about how it slipped in there.

And, in the end, that let us all keep the focus where it belonged: celebrating the moment.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Fiddling with consumer technology

Exercise display

I returned to a regular exercise program this week – it’s been too long since I did the regular daily regimen of aerobics and weights that my PT recommends, and I’m feeling both slothful and sloshy.

The regular array of machines was rearranged…no, replaced, with all new equipment, filling the exercise room.   The new machines had pointlessly added a reclining back and taken away a dish behind the seat for keys and pens, but the interesting change was the display screen (above).  TV, iPod link, standard, but now, also, …Web Surfing?

Game on!

Okay, I usually go to the fitness center with a book and music specifically as a break from work.  But the draw of having a keyboard and web browser is pretty strong.  I pedaled hard and dialed up my Live Mail: nothing new, but I dashed of a couple of messages because I could.  Fishing around the politics of Washington Post and the BBC produced some dead ends that reset the browser.  I finally found happiness pulling up essays from the Atlantic Monthly and Economist that I hadn’t had time to read.

40 minutes flew by – but the surfing took 20% off my productivity: 335 calories rather than my usual 400.  I’d also lost the feeling of being disconnected from the office, so I’m not sure that I like the overall experience.  Still, if I can connect to the inburgering lessons, this could be a wonderful way to keep up with the Dutch, otherwise being squeezed out of my day.

Across town, I presented a dead home-handset to the electronics guru at Tesco. Just over a year old, it had stopped recharging.  The batteries were clearly replaceable, despite the bold warnings in the user manual against attempting anything of the sort.  Still, there was a special connector, so Tesco was the only recourse for a repair.

The specialist looked doubtful, mumbled regret that it was out of one-year warranty, thumbed doubtfully through displays and catalogs, and reluctantly picked up the phone.  The main office gave him, one, two, then three non-working numbers to call.  He wrote down the last one and pushed it across to me.  “Call this number in the morning, they might be open? If not, then there’s nothing more we can do for you.”

Increasingly, simple things don’t seem to work.  I felt this at JFK where I joined a throng wandering the terminal at 11 pm trying to find the alternative to a disabled SkyTram to the rental car lot.  (It turned out to be an unmarked bus stop).  My web services provider revealed that my hosting plan had been orphaned a year ago with no migration path forward.  With regrets, I’d have to lose the email accounts and take-down my company site in order to purchase a new package.

“We regret any inconvenience caused by our actions”, as National Rail hollowly intones as daily indignity is heaped onto rising costs.

In this case, Tesco successfully sold me a new phone, ideal for them inevitable for me.  I still fly into JFK, upgrade to the new hosting package, rumble on dismal trains to London.  What choice do I have?  But, in each case, the “Yes, it’s our product, but it’s your problem.” outcome is increasingly unacceptable.

I just don’t know what I can do about it.  Yet.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Among the boffins

cic_logoI knew that this would be a different evening on walking into the anteroom.  For once everyone was my age.  Or even older.   ‘Shaking a few hands and making introductions, I found the second anomaly: everyone in the room had actually built something.

The circuit of networking events in London and Cambridge tend to follow a type and pattern. Groups such as the MIT Forum or the Pitch ‘n Mix are a blend of well-heeled investors and young hopefuls, talented, but all with something prove or to sell.  Social evenings become speed-dating events, looking for the right person who believes and accepts you for who you say you are.

This group had a more clubby feel, people who wanted a relaxed venue to share stories and ideas.  There were people who pioneered digital television systems, mobile telephone software, early computer operating systems, and text parsing systems.  The speaker, a principal from the Technology partnership, came prepared with a dozen slides recounting the pre-history of technology companies in Cambridge.  He apologized that his remarks would only take fifteen minutes.

For the next three hours, everyone chimed in with their reminiscences of people and events, amending and embellishing one another’s stories.  There were folks who met the founders of Aero Research, had used PYE wireless products, and knew the  Marshall family story.  The Sinclair people squared off with the Acorn people.  There was a debate about whether Cambridge Consultants spun out or kicked out Domino, the folks who invented ink-jet technology. 

And the funny glyph, above, is  the original logo of the Cambridge Instrument Company, founded by Darwin’s youngest son.  Engineers will understand the Cam centered in the Bridge circuit.

It was a delightful evening.

CHASE holds meetings monthly, and a compendium of stories is being built up for a book: the Cambridge Phenomenon.

And, separately, LinkedIn did a deep dive into their membership roster to see who the Entrepreneurs were.  The results are shown below – only 5% are over 50 !?  Yike…whatever became of all the boffins?


Monday, September 5, 2011

Autumn is here already

The weather has been terrible since landing back in Britain.  The windows have rattled in the wind and rain overnight, the days have been cold and wet with racing thick clouds overhead.  People hurry along the walkways, hands in pockets, head down, collars up.

It’s feeling a lot like autumn.

There’s already some gold in the trees along the road by the old cement works, although most of the landscape rolling off into the Cambridgeshire distance is still green.  The Cam is filled with punters, late tourists mixed with early students, poles flailing and boats bumping.

It’s looking a lot like autumn.

Work is nibbling further into the evening even as night falls progressively earlier.  New competitions for Masterchef and Strictly Come Dancing are underway.  With everyone back from holiday, the work starts to accelerate: A board meeting Monday, a diligence assignment Wednesday, a product description and plan due Friday.  My web site developer and our web site hosting have me caught between them, and service questions are being answered “Yes, it’s our product, but it’s your problem.”  I’m hacking HTML code in Notepad.

‘back to school September; it’s autumn.