Saturday, July 30, 2005

I love it when a plan comes together

If your getting old like me, you remember a cheesy TV show called The A Team about a whacky military unit anchored by Mr. T. Each week the A Team saved the world, but not before narrowly escaping from several exploding buildings and rolling vehicles. At the end of each show the commander would exclaim, "I love it when a plan comes together!"

We had a planning retreat for InnoVenture 2006 Friday and Saturday, July 29th and 30th. The InnoVenture Conference in April 2005 was a huge success. We had 25 major companies, universities, and national labs with displays of their innovations looking for ways to collaborate with one another. We had 15 emerging companies presenting to venture capitalists, looking to raise money. Collectively these were synergistic communities of innovation.

The first sign that InnoVenture 2005 was a success was that almost every organization that participated left understanding why they were there. The second sign of success was that major organizations have stepped up in a meaning way to plan InnoVenture 2006.

At the planning meeting this weekend, the Michelin Americas Research Corporation, the Savannah River National Lab, Nexsen Pruet, the McNair Law Firm, the University of South Carolina, Clemson University, Midlands Technical College, the SC Department of Commerce, the SC Chamber of Commerce, Innegrity, eBridge, SDI Networks, The Technology Resource of the Southeast, Patrick Marketing, the Brand Development Company, Engenuity, the SC Research Authority, the SC Technology Alliance, the SC Council on Competitiveness, the Greenville Chamber of Commerce, Sam Lee and me all participated in the presentations and the discussions.

I am impressed with the sense of ownership the group has in InnoVenture. I made a conscious effort this weekend to step back to allow the group to carry the weight of the planning and the discussion, and the group responded.

I love it when a plan comes together!

Monday, July 18, 2005

Greenville News Op/Ed: Industry partnerships enhance research institutions

By John Warner
Originally published by Greenville News

Recently Gov. Mark Sanford observed that research universities in the state should be focused more on education than economic development. As the father of two teenagers preparing for college, it is easy for me to agree with one of those common-sense observations we have grown to appreciate Gov. Sanford for making.

Do close partnerships between a research university and industry diminish the educational mission of the university or do they enhance it? And can closer alignment result in a more efficient use of the resources in our community, which is another major priority of the governor?

Clemson University was created in 1883 by the will of Thomas Green Clemson, when our community was devastated and impoverished by the War Between the States. The primary industry at the time was agriculture. Mr. Clemson understood that education and economic development are inherently tied together, with the road to higher per capita income in his time being the increased productivity of agriculture. So the university's economic development mission was ensconced in its founding charter.

Clemson's will states that, "My purpose is to establish ... a high seminary of learning in which the graduate (can finish the course of studies) ... in those sciences and arts which bear directly upon agriculture. I trust that I do not exaggerate the importance of such an institution for developing the material resources of the State by affording to its youth the advantages of scientific culture."

Fast forward to today. Are there proven models where the research university is an engine of the economy? In 2001, I visited George Kozmetsky, architect of the Austin economic development model.

In the late 1970s, Austin was devastated by the decline of its oil-based economy. Dr. Kozmetsky sought areas where industry in his region, like Texas Instruments and IBM, needed world-class talent. There, the University of Texas created endowed chairs to recruit pre-eminent scholars, who attracted top students, who graduated and went to work for industry in the region.

The beauty of this model is that neither the university nor industry is focused outside its core mission -- the university stays focused on research and education, and industry on the commercialization of intellectual property. Fusing academic/industry partnerships together around the common need for best-in-the-world talent has helped Austin become one of the country's most successful knowledge-based economies.

At the core of the Clemson International Center for Automotive Research is the Campbell Graduate Engineering Center, where pre-eminent scholars will attract the brightest students in areas strategic to BMW, Michelin and other automotive suppliers. Within a few hundred feet is the BMW IT Research Center, focused on systems integration in automobiles, which is key to maintaining BMW's global competitiveness. BMW did not have to be convinced to do research, they only had to be convinced to do research here, and top graduate education at Clemson was the magnet to do that. So when Clemson's top automotive engineers graduate, some will go to work for BMW without even having to find a new parking space.

This model is replicable. In the S.C. Health Sciences Collaborative, the University of South Carolina and the Medical University of South Carolina will attract and train top students in areas strategic to their industry partners, Greenville Hospital and Palmetto Health.

Several years ago, I described this strategy to a state representative who questioned, "Yea but, how does this impact ordinary people?" Well, the Michelin America's Research and Development Corporation (MARC) is a 1,000 person corporate R&D facility at the Donaldson Center. Forty percent of MARC employees have a bachelor's degree or better, which means that over half of the people at the MARC have a technical college education.

So a major corporate R&D facility does create large numbers of technically skilled jobs. On top of that, the MARC helps keep the Michelin production facilities in the area more globally competitive, where the percentage of technically skilled employees can be up to 90 percent of the workforce.

While graduate engineering schools and corporate R&D facilities need doctorate-level scientists at the top to lead them, and while they increase the community's per capita income by creating large numbers of bachelor level or better jobs, they also create large numbers of technically skilled jobs and help retain the ones that are here. Thomas Clemson understood this in 1883, George Kozmetski demonstrated it in Austin by 1983, and we can see it at work in Greenville today.

The governor is right that staying focused is a key to success for any organization, whether in academia or industry, and that we have limited resources which we must use more productively. The industry/academic partnerships being created in our community allow each partner to remain focused on its core mission in a way that increases our community's ability to attract and retain some of the smartest people on the planet and enhances the overall productivity of our economy. These partnerships will help move us toward our goal of having one of the most successful economies in the country.

Saturday, July 16, 2005

New and Improved Swamp Fox

Recently I launched the enhanced Swamp Fox: News of the Southeastern Innovation Corridor. I created Swamp Fox in 2000 as an online archive of innovation announcements and a weekly email update that highlights the work of southeastern innovators and entrepreneurs. Today Swamp Fox has grown to over 6,000 subscribers.

This is the first major revision to the site, making it much more useful. You’ll see new features such as the ability to submit an article directly online and an events calendar. You can search the press release archive either by organization or by key word in order to use Swamp Fox in your market research. Take the time to explore the site, and you will find other useful features.

For several months, Adam Gautsch and Evan Tishuk of OrangeCoat have put many hours into developing this enhanced site. I am very grateful for their efforts, and hope you like the new site.

If you like what you see, do us the favor of referring Swamp Fox to a colleague. Referrals are by far the most effective way of spreading the word about Swamp Fox.

I’d love feedback on the new site, and your thoughts about how we can improve it further. Thanks for your interest in Swamp Fox.

John Warner

P.S. A maven is “someone who is dazzlingly skilled in any field.” In the future, Maven Sponsors will author this blog as a unique way to reach a broad base of innovators and entrepreneurs. If you would like to explore being a Maven Sponsor of Swamp Fox, please contact me.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

InnoVenture Forum - Entrepreneurs to the Rescue

The first InnoVenture Forum was held today featuring life sciences at the University of South Carolina. The Forums are a significant enhancement that will allow InnoVenture to highlight specific partners at locations all around in the Southeastern Innovation Corridor.

As with anything new, there are start-up challenges. We planned a live meeting that would be recorded with an archive posted on the InnoVenture website for viewing later.

We thought we had the recording taken care of but a few days before the event we found out the system we were depending on to record the audio would not be available. So at the last minute I called Phil Yanov, President of ThinkHammer Communications, to bail me out. People that can be counted on to get the job done are valuable. And sure enough, Phil loaned me a portable digital recorded that did a great job.

Several others made the Forum a success. We gave Rob Yarmey, Chief Technology Officer of Multimedia Design Corporation, files from the event that weren't perfect for him but you wouldn't know it from the archive he created for us. Tony Smith at the SC Department of Commerce made sure we had a great facility. Chip Hood at Needles and Rosenberg sprang for lunch. Brenda Laakso of InnoVenture made sure we had the details in order. And Lisa Rooney and her staff, as well as the USC researchers who presented, did a great job of helping uncover exciting opportunities at USC.

That is what I love about InnoVenture. We all realize that it is in our mutual self-interest for our community to be successful. I love being surrounded by great people who are willing to roll up their sleeves and make great things happen.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

It can be easier to give than receive - advice that is

For several weeks, I have been thinking though what the next step in my career is. I have had a diverse and interesting journey. I started in public accounting with KPMG; founded a venture capital firm, Capital Insights; an innovation conference, InnoVenture; and an online newsletter, Swamp Fox: News of the Knowledge Economy. I've been involved with companies making electronic connectors and capacitors, and with companies delivering HR services and wireless phone services. I was Chairman of Earth Fare, the southeast's largest organic grocery store chain from 2000 to 2005. I frequently write op/ed pieces, and am publishing a book this summer.

While to others it sometimes seems I’ve been all over the board, I don’t perceive it that way. My sense is that I have leveraged a common skill set in a variety of organizations. My challenge is clearly articulating for others what that skill set is, identifying the situation where I am the go to person, and then focusing my search for a new opportunity where I can best leverage my assets and experiences. It sounds so easy.

I went to visit a good friend, Brenda Laakso, Executive Director of InnoVenture. I opened the fire hose of what I had done and wanted to do, and she gave me great advice: be focused. This is the advice that I freely give to others, often critically because they find it so hard. But like all entrepreneurs, I find it very difficult to apply to myself.

Being focused is critical to developing a top-of-the-mind position and being a "best buy in a given situation." Every successful entrepreneur must do this. Saying you are going to focus on doing one thing, means you are not going to do other things. It is difficult, and scary, to limit your options. With limited resources, intellectually you know the best chance for success is to mass your resources on a select target. But then your emotions roar, "What if you pick wrong?" This is the age old entrepreneurial dilemma.

I have begun working with Larry Stuenkel, of Lawrence and Allen, on a consulting basis to think through what I want to do. His advice: be focused. I know, I know.

I am a student of Geoffrey Moore, who in Crossing the Chasm: Marketing and Selling High-Tech Products to Mainstream Customers observed that the lack of focus by many entrepreneurial leaders is not a problem of the head, but of the emotions.

First, let us understand that this is a failure of will, not of understanding. That is, it is not that these leaders need to learn about niche marketing. MBA marketing curricula of the past 25 years have been adamant about the need to segment markets and the advantages gained thereby. No one, therefore, can or does plead ignorance. Instead, the claim is made that, although niche strategy is generally best, we do not have time—or we cannot afford—to implement it now. This is a ruse, of course, the true answer being much simpler: We do not have, nor are we willing to adopt, any discipline that would ever require us to stop pursuing any sale at any time for any reason. We are, in other words, not a market-driven company; we are a sales-driven company.

I hear Brenda, Larry and Geoffrey. But focusing is still really hard, and a little scary. Derrell Hunter, a wise mentor, used to tell me all the time, "If it were easy, anyone could do it."

Friday, July 08, 2005

Nothing is sweeter than your children succeeding

In the midst of all the busyness of work and other stuff that we spend time on, our children grow up and blossom. We all need to stop and smell the roses.

My son had an Eagle Scout Court of Honor tonight. When he joined scouting several years ago, we sat down and laid out a plan for what he needed to do to get here. Not that he would have gotten here on his own. It took lots of coaxing and prodding. The times I told him to "do it because I said so" and "you'll get to screw up someone else's life in the future, but now is my turn," I heard myself sounding like my mother.

There were camp outs and summer camps and an Order of the Arrow ordeal. The back packing trips and canoe trips were fun, but tiring. Now that he's an Eagle Scout, I appreciate it more than he does. I'm an Eagle Scout too, and this is one of those things in life that you savor more as time goes by. As I stood there while he got his award, my mind drifted back to the great scoutmaster and persistent mom I had who wouldn't let me quit either. Frequently the topic of scouting comes up in conversations, and more often than you might expect I run into other Eagle Scouts. It's an instant fraternity when that happens. My son will experience this over time.

My daughter will be a senior and starts in center field for the Riverside High School softball team, where she has since the eight grade. She is an All-State player this year. When she was little we would spend hours in the front yard playing catch. She was good, and I'd hum the ball at her harder than her mom was comfortable with. Recently we were playing catch in the front yard and I threw it hard at her. She caught it, stared me down, and told me not to dare think I could throw harder than her now. Don't tell her, but my sore hand says she's probably right.

Last year, I was sitting on the visitor's bleachers to avoid the glare of the sun. A runner was on third with one out. The ball was hit to center field. My daughter lined up under the ball, with her momentum going to home when she caught it like she'd been taught. The runner tagged up, and my daughter threw a strike to home to get the runner at the plate. The opposing parents exploded ... at the third base coach. "That's 'E' in center field. What was he thinking sending her home? That's 'E' in center field." Wow! That's respect, and my highlight of her softball career.

Nothing is sweeter than being there when your children succeed. Nothing.