Friday, January 16, 2015

Cambridge teaching

WP_20150115_002 (1300x947)On the heels of closing with the Visa and Immigration office, I turned towards Cambridge, hitting the road at 4 am for a 9:30 start to my spring teaching.  The roads were empty and a cold rain was falling as I looped around London and into the East Anglian countryside.  The peace was welcome: the run-up to the ILR was grueling, more relief than joy to finally have the process over with, and I needed to get my mind forward into the next assignment.

Still, the drive was a brief chance to reflect, happily, on what’s been achieved so far this month.

Formally, I am a Senior Associate at the University of Cambridge, leading the Medical Device and Diagnostics module for the Masters in Bioscience Enterprise program bridging the Biotechnology Centre and the Judge Business School.

Informally, I’m teaching and  mentoring while engaging in an exchange of ideas, networking, and building the brand.  All to the good, and nice to have a few days back in my old haunts.

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I got time to visit with friends over lunches and coffees, its been wonderful to hear what they have been up to, catch up with news, and take some valuable advice.  While everyone remains successful and healthy, everyone also knows many who are not, and I make a mental list of friends to look in on. 

It’s a part of our age, I expect: heart troubles and cancers displacing career and relationship problems. Its sobering: one commented that the actuarial tables suggest we could each lose half of our friends in the next ten years (‘like the old ‘look right, look left; both will be gone but two are looking at you’ admissions game)

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Back at the college, it’s a familiar comfortable routine: breakfast eggs upstairs and evening beer down, walking in to class in flat morning light across the Fens and back along the Cam in the evening’s glow.  My lectures go well: the eternal truths of the development process alongside the changing mosaic of market and technology opportunities.  DSC00959 (959x1300)I learn and reflect, discuss and renew.

I took some meetings with prospective additions to the business, and spent a few hours in the library, collecting literature on device development, antimicrobial coatings and  the expat experience. 

One interesting find was a study by Silbiger (2013) on Expat Stress and Burnout.  Surveying 233 expatriate workers, the study concluded:

Expatriates have a high level of general stress. a low level of burnout, and a very high perceived work importance.

Burnout was negatively correlated with expatriates’ work
importance, while stress has a positive correlation with it: The better the work and interaction adjustment, the less burnout and the more stress.

Expatriates burn out when they feel that their work is insignificant;  Expatriates view the stress involved in their work as an indication of its importance.

Stress has long been a topic for discussion among Human Resource types and within the expat community: the findings aren’t inconsistent with my own experiences.  The wezen suggests that my life is constant moderate stress rather than ups and downs.  Perhaps.   I find that if I push and get too tired,WP_20150116_006 (1300x731) stay indoors at desk and phone too long, or fail to take clean breaks away or time with people close to me, I can lose patience and perspective.

It’s worth reflection on the drive back south to plunge into the next round of activity: I make a note to include the thought in the mentoring slides for next month. 

‘Cambridge still teaches me.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Securing permanent residency

WP_20150114_002 (732x1300)Beyond the Netherlands, I work in the UK under a Tier 1 work/residence permit, obtained in January 2010 when I decided to adopt a ‘2-foot’ solution to running two businesses in two countries.   While the attempt to bridge two lives was insane, since corrected, the permit gave me some practical flexibility over the Dutch Verblijfstitel.  It can convert to Indefinite Leave to Remain, or to a full UK passport (the Dutch don’t permit loyalty to more than one country).

The difficulty began a couple of years ago.  The new Conservative government pledged to make immigration harder to obtain, but cutting net inward migration fell onto the backs of non-EU citizens.  In my year, for example, the British granted less than 500 Tier 1 permits to Americans.

In 2012, when I went for renewal of my 3-year permit, I was warned that only one more extension could be granted.  This time around that option (and the Tier 1 permit altogether) was gone.

It was convert-it-or-leave time.

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I began to lay track over the summer, matching payslips to bank transfers, saving original bank statements, and passing my Life in the UK test.  Last week, I made an emergency run to the Netherlands to secure the last few stamped documents: the Accountant's Letter arrived on Monday afternoon.

Today was the day.

I had a several-inch stack of original documents showing that I met the points-based criteria necessary to stay in the UK forever.

Or, failing, to be literally escorted out of the country, forever.

WP_20150114_010 (1300x704)It didn’t start out well: I had trouble finding Lunar House in Croyden where the Home Office maintains the Visa Services.  The security folks turned me around and out of the building twice, asking that I wait outside in low-single-digit cold until my entry time arrived.  I passed the shivering time posting pictures on Instagram.

WP_20150114_006 (1300x732)My escort met me at 11, and we were off into the process.  Security, wait, Registration, wait, Biometrics, wait.  My fingers don’t quite uncurl over the scanner glass.

Better than Jury Duty ambience, the waiting room has improved substantially over the bus-station chic of two years ago.  A snack bar and tables have been installed and the rows of chairs upgraded.  ‘still no WiFi, but they are more lenient about phones.  Monitors glowed along every wall to indicate progress through the system: I could follow my packet 174 from Verification through Awaiting Consideration to Under Consideration as the hours passed. 

I’d brought work but was too nervous to complete it, opting for a sipped milky tea and nibbled chicken sandwich.

WP_20150114_009 (1300x687)My numbers flashed up, report to Counter 42.  Questions: never a good thing.  But the clerk only needed to know what original documents I wanted back, and which they could keep.  We sorted the pile across the counters.  More waiting

Finally my indicator moved to Collect Documents and my escort came back to congratulate me.   I really didn’t accept it, though, until the confirming letter from the Home Office was in my hand.

WP_20150114_014 (1300x732)But I’m there: Officially British.  The status converts to a full Dual Passport next year, and I never, ever, have to go through the process again. 

The passport gives me the right to live anywhere in Europe, subject to Britain staying in the EU.

It gives me the right to keep working on my business.

It gives me a path forward.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Startup lessons learned

lessonsThere comes a time when we need fresh eyes to resolve intractable problems.

This is the situation with the startup.  Many months of trying to ell an attractive prospect to willing investors has failed to produce results.  I am effective in the presentation: people understand what we are doing and why it matters to patients.  But I fail at the close: Why is it compelling enough to invest?

Their reasons are many.  Market risk, clinical trial risk; the intellectual property may not hold, the manufacturing cost is underestimated, the valuation is too high.  With each rejection, we retool, revise, make the next pitch better.

decisionsAt this juncture, though, time and resource are tight, and we needed to bring alongside people who could see things differently.  Their four analyses were consistent, it makes me think that I should have engaged a consultant months ago:

  • The proposition is too narrow.

I have always believed in Focus.  If we bring one product forward with all of our efforts, we will communicate our business clearly, use resources efficiently, and achieve revenue more quickly.

The may have been misguided: It makes the proposition brittle.  If an investor points to a particular product risk, whether the market adoption, the clinical trial, or the IP, then it puts the whole business at risk.

The alternative is a platform strategy where multiple products flow from fundamental know-how and generative processes.  All of our advisors are recommending creation of a more broadly based prospectus, with a staggered pipeline and multiple markets, a strategy that both reduces risk and stimulates returns.

  • Getting out over the tips.

If the company was a new academic spin out it would be perceived as ripe for investment; it has all the ingredients for success and is close to the clinic with a promising medical device that will meet a clear unmet need. Investors would queue up to invest in such a promising start up.

Half way through the development, we switched our technology to adopt a more promising alternative that fit our already established process.  To me, that goosed the performance and should have built value.  Investors focused on money spent on the ‘failed’ alternative, and reset our valuation.

We should have realized, or at least better communicated, the reasons for the change and the benefits to shareholders as well as customers.  The error will likely halve our valuation.

  • Drive for commercial partnerships

Nothing validates a market as much as the interest of a commercial partner.  These companies are already selling to customers and understand the needs and the economics. If the proposition is compelling enough to attract their interest, then it must be valuable.

‘Interest’ is not simply a willingness to have a closer look at the technology, it must translate into five-figure co-investment that indicates serious  commitment. 

Of course, any consultant is first going to tell you to stop doing what isn’t working and start doing something else.  And they may simply be echoing what they hear from my story.

But, it’s certainly time to Think Different.

WisdomEntrepreneurship is not a science, it is not an art. It is a practice and, as a practice only practice will make you better, writes P.  de Holan in the FTIgnoring or underestimating its true level of risk is seldom a good idea. It is reasonable, then, to encourage entrepreneurs, whenever possible. to avoid predictable errors. A good understanding of the ways that entrepreneurship fails, how the process unfolds and why it stops unfolding, increases the chances of success.

Hopefully, its never too late to learn, and to apply, the lessons.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Trekking around Lulworth

DSC00947 (945x1300)The week hasn’t gone badly: steady progress across the Big 5 issues towards a better future.  I’ve decided that the first month of 20015 requires resolve: resolutions will wait until life settles into form at February.

Still, its hard not to worry, and the quiet of a Sunday morning leave stark uncertainties.  Europeans typically take a trek and air out their anxieties, so we headed to the coast.   The Cove was a bit sheltered despite the windy, bitter cold on the bluffs; bursts of rain separated by sunny intervals.

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DSC00924 (1300x973)A few hardy families and dog walkers picked their way across the rocks.  There were few boats at anchor this time of year, the restaurants and inns mostly shuttered for the season. 

The remainder, couples huddled in the pub over newspapers and the hissing tide rolling pebbles along the beach, was quietly seasonal, peaceful.