Archive for the ‘Networking’ Category

Mike Milken

During the 2nd week in May the Global Scholars were hosted by the famous Mike Milken (wiki) at his lake side estate at Lake Tahoe. One’s preconceptions of such an event are obviously going to be well above par given this man’s reputation and illustrious path to infamy. The purpose of the trip was to expose us to one of the most successful investors/entrepreneurs the US has to offer. Mr Milken has been acclaimed with creating the market for junk bonds in the 70s & 80s. The “Junk Bond King”, who according to Forbes is one of the world’s top 500 richest men (estimated at 3-8 Billion), has been called the epitome of Wall Street greed. Oliver Stone has stated that his 1980s film Wall Street was based on Mike – although in my opinion the ultra-cool Gordon Gecko character over-glorifies most aspects of the man’s Wall Street activities. Regardless of this, having the opportunity to meet and talk with the Junk Bond King was a unique and once off event – to be embraced and not wasted.

Mr Gecko’s, sorry I mean Mr Milken’s hospitality was next to none in Lake Tahoe. He put us up in his lakeside home at Incline Village and basically gave us free rein of the place. He had a personal trainer on hand to bring us for a scenic hike around tahoe. Its fair to say we were all impressed with his mansion and its impressive décor, which included thee first print of Encyclopaedia Britannica and apparently 2 of the oldest books in the world (religious illustrations)! Over the 3 days he co-hosted various entrepreneurs and investors with the Sierra Nevada College (SNC), in order to provide us with exposure to thought-leading business minds. Some of these included Bob Preger (7th Oracle employee), Roger Wittenberg (Founder of Trex), Bob Goff (Sierra Angels), Rob Loughan (Chairman of Dexterra, profile), John Osborne (CEO of Tarsin), T.J. Matthews (CEO of IGT), Andrew Hargadon (Prof at SNC), Ian Finnimore (Bally Technologies).

Mike spoke about a number of key topics over the 3 days including:
– America’s changing face – Hispanic & Asian
– A new global perspective – competition for human capital
– Democratization of capital
– Capital Markets
– The most powerful face in the world
– Role of future innovation
– Human capital – the most precious asset
– Accelerating medial solutions

Milken proposed the following top 10 problems facing the world: democracy, disease, education, energy, environment, food, population, poverty, terrorism & war, water.

A couple of interesting remarks Mike made over the few days:
– A bid he put in to buy a 99 year lease of Baja California (wiki) for 40 Billion USD!! He explained that the purpose behind this was to give his organisation exclusivity in developing Baja’s public services, utilities, services, schools, hospitals, infrastructure etc.
– Asian nations will make up 60% of the world’s economy by 2040
– Countries with excess liquidity: Norway, Qatar, Singapore, Kuwait, Taiwan, UAE

Mike asked some of the entrepreneurs/investors in attendance to state pieces of advice for aspiring entrepreneurs. Here’s some of their words of wisdom:
Rob Loughan: It’s the journey that counts, not the destination; Timing is everything; Surround yourself with the right people; Take advantage of chaos in the market; Start at the top end of the market (e.g. telco’s, utilities) and dive down to consumer
John Osborne: Regards first mover advantage- most ideas are too early; Support networks are key- its still all about who you know!; Hang on by your fingertips!; Do something different tomorrow; Have fun; Its how you come at problems that important.
Ian Finnimore: Stay wide enough with technology offering so that business can adapt; In relation to the entrepreneurial attitude in the States Ian proposed that this was inherent in the original Pioneers that travelled across the continent creating and occupying American States.
Mike Milken: Make time to think; Your talent pool is the “flat” world; Decide when you’ve enough information to make a decision – when you actually have enough you’re army is usually dead (General Schwarzkopf (Quotes)); One must make mistakes and have problems; Various parameters are important when discussing capital finance- markets, industry, economy, regulation, your company, but most important is society (a company’s benefits to society; values; problems being solved/caused); The best time to borrow is when you don’t need it; Don’t rely on one customer; Opportunity is what you love; “There’s more to life than increasing its speed” (Ghandi).
Sierra Angel #1: focus- small team & resources; team work; persistence
Sierra Archangel: collaboration
Sierra Angel #3: results are key; keep your ears/heart open; persist
Sierra Angel #4: listen to what the customer wants; 4 levels of interest from prospective customers (1) they’ll pay you to build it (2) they’ll buy it from you (3) they’ll consider looking at it (4) they don’t care.
Sierra Angel #5: do your due diligence/home work; build your bets “mouse trap” before seeking investment (prototype & bus => best possible investment deal); Succeed now, contribute in your 30/40s!
Sierra Angel #6: you need a superior product – keep working on it if not; exposure; easy to buy; network is critical – people & team
Sierra Angel #7: Go to market fast; Its the journey that matters


Silicon Valley & Cisco Internship

Cisco Internship: OK its time I got back on the blogging boat and provided some updates on life as a Global Scholar interning in Silicon Valley! Having been in San Jose since Saturday 8th March, Marcus and I have settled well into our penthouse at the Four Seasons in San Fran. OK, only joking, we are actually based in a corporate wannabe-village called River Oaks in San Jose, only 20 minutes walk from Cisco City! It has been an absolutely fantastic experience here in the Valley so far. Not only does the permanently sunny weather make it a joy to live in but the mountains surrounding the valley make it a perfect location for a cycling fanatic! I started my internship with Cisco on March 10th and the other Global Scholar based in San Jose, Marcus, joined InCube Labs.

Dave EvansRick HutleyCisco Internship: My Cisco internship supervisors are Rick Hutley and Dave Evans. Rick is a Senior Director within the Internet Business Solutions Group (IBSG) at Cisco where his main role is in directing activities within the horizontal Innovations Group. He has more than 26 years of experience within the telecoms and IT industry including various roles at CxO level. Dave is IBSG’s award winning chief technologist and is a Cisco veteran having been there for over 15 years. He is an overall technology evangelist and genius. Basically they’re the kind of guys you want to be around!

Now a little about IBSG– the group provides free consultancy at CXO level to Fortune 100 companies as well as many international Governments. Interestingly IBSG does not promote or sell Cisco technology. In fact, to the contrary, they actually intentionally avoid mentioning Cisco products or services during their client interactions whatsoever! This seems strange as the salaries of the 300 or so IBSG employees are paid by Cisco! John Chambers’ approach here is that if IBSG promote solutions that in general utilise technology, these will in the most part utilise Internet connectivity in some shape or form. So in a round about way Cisco, owning about 80% of the router market, benefits from the group to an estimated tune of $2-3B in revenue PA! Chambers’ attitude, given his sales background, is focused on keeping the customer happy. What better way than with free world class CXO consultancy?! So this gives you an idea of the calibre of the people I’m working with here in IBSG. They all hail from an amazing diversity of backgrounds, and all have excelled in their fields in order to be fortunate enough to make Cisco’s IBSG team!

I was allocated a project, called the Connected Technology Framework, to manage and develop based on a concept of Rick and Dave’s called the Tech Tsunami (i.e. the imminent exponential development/availability/onslaught of advanced technologies, somewhat based on Kurzweil’s beliefs). Essentially this project encapsulates a model for projecting technological development in the future, the adoption of technology over a given period, and its availability for utilisation within IBSG solutions; these solutions being a result/part of interactions with IBSG’s clients. The model is primarily based on Moore’s Law and the many variations of it. The model is manifested as a GUI using the Xcelsius flash engine. Currently I have it working based on projected data for about 30+ variables related to computing processing speeds & cost, storage costs, and networking speeds & costs. I’ll provide an update on this after I finish it and possibly make a version of it available online.

Some of the highlights from the last 2 months in Silicon Valley:

  • Being invited into a personal discourse with John Chambers, Cisco’s Chairman & CEO
  • Meeting SAP’s SVP of Imagineering – Denis Browne
  • Being invited to an entrepreneurial workshop at Mike Milken’s hangout in Lake Tahoe
  • Having a perspective-changing candid conversation with Cisco’s SVP for Strategic Alliances
  • Having the opportunity to work with the IBSG team
  • Partaking in IBSG consultancies with several Fortune 100 CXOs and one Government
  • Being asked to speak at a cleantech conference about Explicit Energy (my main startup)
  • Attending the Web 2.0 Expo
  • Networking with INSF at various events
  • Being hosted by Swimming Pyramid entrepreneur Thomas Lyle in San Fran
  • BluGo (another startup project I’m involved with) being a finalist in a business plan competition in NE England
  • Meeting Mike Bateman, surely one of the most seasoned entrepreneurs Silicon Valley has to offer
  • Being part of the 1st float in San Francisco’s St Patrick’s day parade
  • Skiing at Squaw Valley in Lake Tahoe
  • Cycling up most of the mountains surrounding Silicon Valley

Harvard Pitching & DEKA

etuk.jpgWeek7 Mar 3-7: On Monday 3rd we had a lecture by Ntiedo Etuk who is Co-Founder, Chairman and CEO of Tabula Digita. Tabula Digita is an educational gaming company focused on delivering innovative and effective educational games to students and institutions. The games have all of the action adventure fun associated with mainstream games while simultaneously providing an efficient learning environment to better prepare students for high stakes exams. Tabula Digita’s games can be used as stand alone teaching programs or they can be used to support and enhance conventional teaching methods and materials. Tabula Digita’s experiential learning systems are embedded in a stunning first person, action adventure video game format which Ntiedo demonstrated for the group. The games were very impressive and something which would prove beneficial to educational institutions without doubt. Its just a matter of how fast Tabula Digita can convince State educational boards that this is worth paying for, and get past the usual red tape.

On Monday evening the Global Scholars were invited to partake in a pitching competition against Harvard students. Angelo, George, Helena and I put ourselves forward to compete against 4 Harvard business and tech students. The challenge was an elevator or 1 minute pitch, which is definitely harder in my opinion than a standard non-restricted pitch. Angelo, our very own rocket scientist, won the competition, and a $200 prize!

dean_ibot.jpgdeka.gifOn Tuesday 4th we headed to Manchester New Hampshire to visit DEKA. During our time here we had Dean Kamen, the genius behind DEKA’s creation, answering questions and guiding us around his research labs. DEKA Research & Development Corporation is focused on the development of radical new technologies that span a diverse set of applications. copy-of-img_5420.jpgDEKA’s technologies, and the products which incorporate these technologies, are improving lives around the world. One example of this is the iBOT, a sophisticated mobility aid for the physically challenged, designed to climb stairs and traverse uneven terrain. The iBOT uses self-balancing technology, allowing users to better operate in a world architected for those with balance. During our tour of segway_small.jpgDEKA’s robotics lab Dean demo’ed the iBOT for us and allowed each of us to test it for ourselves – it truly is an amazing piece of engineering. Another of DEKA’s more notable and public products is the prosthetic arm (video or story) they’ve developed for Iraq veteran amputees to resume a semblance of a normal life. In case DEKA isn’t ringing any bells for you yet, they have also invented the infamous Segway personal transporter.

It was a privilege to have spent the day with Dean, he had invaluable advice to share with us regards our own entrepprises going forward. “Succeed by raising the bar, not by forcing others under it” was a business approach he reiterated a few times. He had a few things to say about VCs that, to put it politely, would have no place on a family website! He talked a lot about Richard Feynman, who is one of my idols, so it was intriguing to hear his opinions on the “citizen scientist”, which Feynman referred to himself as. He highly recommended his book “Tips on Physics”.Dean shared various anecdotes with us, of which his experience of college is the funniest. He basically treated the entire faculty at uni as his personal tutors. In this way he skipped class and simply visited lecturers at their offices to chat about what interested him and what he needed to know for his various projects!! In general the attitude in DEKA appears to be very liberal, there’s no forced hierarchy which knocks ideas as they arise from the shop floor, no matter how crazy they seem initially. “We fund the success of our gizmos through the success of our formal projects”. “Everybody’s allowed to have dumb ideas!” Just a couple of insightful quotes I thought worth sharing. He talked a little about always striving to do the impossible and achieving market dominance through their ability to continually do exactly that. Also he emphasised that with every project they aim to always outperform and over-achieve on expectations.

first_robotics.jpg Following this we had some time in the evening to visit another of Dean’s projects – First Robotics. FIRST Robotics Competition (FRC) is a unique varsity sport help high-school-aged young people discover how interesting and rewarding the life of engineers and researchers can be. FRC challenges teams of young people and their mentors to solve a common problem in a six-week timeframe using a standard “kit of parts” and a common set of rules. Teams build robots from the parts and enter them in competitions designed by Dean, Dr. Woodie Flowers, and a committee of engineers and other professionals. Dean encouraged all the global scholars to get involved with the mission which FRC encapsulates – to encourage young second level students to realise the potential in engineering and research careers, through mentoring, volunteering and coaching.


Social Entrep’ship Conf @HBS

herbie_hancock.jpgWeek 6 end: Mar 1-2: To kick back after a busy week we went to Harvard’s 23rd annual ‘Cultural Rhythms’ show, which celebrates the University’s rich cultural and ethnic diversity by showcasing the talents of over 40 student organisations. The students and faculty of the Harvard Foundation nominate an outstanding American artist to be honoured at the show as Cultural Artist of the Year. This year Herbie Hancock was presented with this award. The mix of talent was impressive, from Korean drummers to Peruvian dancers! There was even some step dancing from Harvard’s Irish Culture Society!

nnegroponte.jpgOn Sunday Owen and I attended the 2008 Social Enterprise Conference at Harvard Business School. A quick look at the schedule on the website shows how diverse the talks were. They ranged from using ICT for humanitarian responses, to micro-financing, to innovative solutions for homelessness. The high point of the day for me was Nicholas Negroponte’s keynote speech. He is the founder of the MIT Media Lab which is a world leader in media innovation, but more notably he is founder of the One laptop Per Child (OLPC) social welfare organization. OLPC manufactures XO-1 which is an inexpensive laptop computer intended to be distributed to children in developing countries around the world, to provide them with access to knowledge, and opportunities to “explore, experiment and express themselves” (constructionist learning).

olpc-crank.jpgNicolas mentioned some background information on the project, including that it was first thought of in 1968! He alluded quite a bit to the influence Marvin Minsky and Seymour Papert had on the origins of the work in general. In 1999 he trialled a project in a school in Cambodia which provided a laptop to every 3-4 children. The children involved brought their laptops home not only to show to family and friends but because it provided their only source of light during the night! He recounted with embarrassment the initial prototype of XO-1 which included a wind up crank! The antennae on the laptop enable line of sight connections up to 2KM. Uruguay was the first country to place an order, which was quickly followed by Peru. Nicolas recounted walking into a Uruguayan cabinet meeting at which all the ministers were using XO-1s, which obviously appeared quite funny, given that the form-factor was designed for primary level kids!! XO-1 was designed with the aim of encouraging kids to actually open up the device and play with the hardware, which runs pretty much 100% contrary to traditional laptop manufacturers’ warranty requirements!

olpc-xo-1.jpgAn important point he made was regards the adoption/integration of upgrades and updates for XO-1’s hardware & software. Negroponte emphasised that it was more important for the price of the device to drop as new technology appears rather than incorporating this new tech and keeping prices unnecessarily high. The current price is $188, but the goal is to reach $100 in 2008. Instead wikis will be utilised to distribute free software, text books and various learning materials. Nicolas discussed some of the issues OLPC has had with Intel, which some may be aware of. It appears everyone’s’ favourite processor manufacturer doesn’t have much of a vested interest in the success of a project of this nature, no matter how altruistic its agenda appears. He mentioned some examples of how Intel intervened, hindered and collapsed negotiations with various governments of developing countries, during the initial stages of OLPC. This is obviously as a result of the use of AMD processors in the XO-1. It seems slightly childish that Intel would react so arrogantly. One result of their interventions with the government of OLPC’s first target country, is that about 60,000 children got Intel produced laptops, rather than 1,000,000 OLPC XO-1s. Check out this short article on Intel & OLPC. In my opinion, Intel have done themselves no favours whatsoever with this idiotic stance.

psp-solar.jpg I also managed to attend a couple of other talks, including one on ‘Innovative Solutions for Homelessness’ and another on the use of ICTs in providing humanitarian responses. I bumped into one of the founders of a small but very interesting project called Practical Small Projects. PSP facilitates the implementation of practical projects that require minimal financial and environmental resources, but have maximum impact and results in the developing world. Specifically they have installed numerous solar panels in Mali. Not only did they fund this, but more importantly they provided training to locals on how to service these units and also on how to build solar panels themselves! Take a look; it really is a great example of how a small but dedicated team can make a big difference with few resources.


Rubbing Shoulders in $ilicon Valley

nickmckeown.jpgWeek5end 23-24 Feb: Over the weekend Stuart and I spent some time with Peter Davies, one of the most seasoned entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley. We got on very well with Peter and as a result we ended up at his house having dinner with his family on Saturday evening. Nick McKeown who was also there gave Stuart and I some great advice on new ventures and startups. Nick is highly regarded within Silicon Valley for spinning many companies from Stanford, where he is a Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science (bio).

davidperry.jpgOn Sunday morning we also met Peter for breakfast in Palo Alto’s University Ave Café. On this occasion Peter brought David Perry along to chat with us. David is first and foremost a friendly and fun guy to chat with. Business-wise he is a titan, as is evident from his first startup – ( Chemdex still holds the record for reaching a $10B valuation in the shortest time, which was at the end of 1999. Following the realisation that here was no air left in the Internet Bubble, in early 2000 the company fell to a valuation of just over $100M, and from 500 to 100 employees! It was interesting to listen to David describe how he took the company to this amazing valuation and how he coped following the crash in 2000. Read the full Chemdex story here. Not content with this he has started two companies since then and is currently in the process of making an IPO. David has impressively raised over $½Billion in VC funding since the early 90s!!!

David had a few insights into how to be a successful entrepreneur:
1.) The first is to not worry so much about what it is you are doing as long as you fulfill 2 criteria. They are that you are always learning and you are enjoying what you are doing. This mantra is true whether or not you are perusing entrepreneurial activities, or working for a company.

2.) Secondly he outlined a perspective for pitching and raising capital. The idea is to basically spell out the opportunities of the project first. No opportunity comes without risk, and if you pretend it does, any VC will laugh you out of the room. Then you focus on describing how you are going to eliminate these risks, one by one. Present risks based on their severity and potential to prevent progress. This approach tells the investor that you’re not naïve about the presence of risk, and that you’re aware that they’re investing in your ability to mitigate these risks, one by one.

The ingenious part is once you have outlined the fantastic opportunity, prep’ed them with the risks, then instead of asking for money to pursue the opportunity, you ask for the money to eliminate the risks. So if you identify the risks in order of priority and necessity, and ask for X amount to overcome the top Y risks, you can show how strong the company will be at that stage. Inherent with this approach is transparency of preempted risks & your control of them, as well as knowledge of how much investment will be required at stages to continue to eliminate further risks. If done properly, you will organise the risks into stages (e.g. milestones within an Implementation Plan as outlined in Zoller’s last seminar), and at each stage it will become easier to raise the capital required to overcome associated risks.

Finally David also warned about a situation that currently seems a long way off, and that is raising too much money! Apparently he has encountered the situation, and Peter also, where VC’s wish to invest a much larger amount of capital than is required. This usually occurs when investor groups work together and all want a piece of the pie. In this situation, to support the higher valuation this causes, it is too easy to spread the company too thinly and work on products that aren’t core to your business, and therefore you can lose focus on the key areas. Not something that is immediately relevant perhaps, but something to think about nonetheless.


Building Teams & Social Networks – Howard Aldrich

copy-of-img_4650.jpgDay 16, Monday 11th Feb: Week 4 was preceded by some quality R&R in Ponca City, Oklahoma, over the weekend. Owen and I visited my girlfriendsfamily down there for a couple of days. Without detailing too much and shaming the Kauffman Global Scholars program for all of eternity we went to a shooting-range, were in awe at some buffalo up close, laughed at stupid prairie-dogs, felt intimidated by real cowboys at a calf roping competition, had quality BBQ, and last but certainly not least swallowed a beer or three!

aldrich.jpgWeek 4 kicked off with our last seminar at the Kauffman Foundation by Prof Howard E. Aldrich titled “Building Teams and Social Networks”. Howard is professor and department chair of sociology, and adjunct professor of management in the Kenan-Flagler Business School at the University of North Carolina. Prof Aldrich researches entrepreneurship, the origins of new organizational populations, gender differences in business management, organizational evolution, and the process by which entrepreneurial teams are founded. He alluded to many of these areas during his seminar with us, but focused primarily on the use of in forming strong professional networks. Howard emphasised a few points including:
– Why aren’t individuals more connected?
– Overlapping ties, social barriers, uncertainty, trust
– Need a broker to make connection between you and target contacts
– Direct vs. indirect & strong vs. weak contacts
– Strong ties -> homogeneity -> easier comms -> consensus -> ignoring incumbent truths
– Weak ties ->heterogeneity -> diversity
– Contact list = weak ties -> couldn’t vouch for if asked
– LinkedIn (in Howard’s opinion) = strong ties -> could vouch for them
– He worked through one scenario with us of who we’d make one critical phone call to in an emergency-type situation where we could be sure that person would help


Carl & George W – because they can!

Day 10, Friday 1st February:
We had no seminars today so Stuart Varrall and I organised some meetings to make full use of the spare time. This included one meeting with a local SME working in the mobile space interested in Stuart and my projects.

Later in the day we met with Harold Bradley the chief investment officer for the Foundation who is responsible for directing the Foundation’s $2.4 billion portfolio. Stuart and I had originally planned to discuss finance and stocks with Harold. We had not anticipated the insightful and interesting conversation and exchange of idea that prevailed! As it happens we didn’t really talk about financing at all, just about starting ventures and his personal approach to business. Harold made a few points which I think are worth sharing:
– Focus on the idea and not the money and the latter will follow promptly
– Use the media effectively – make journalists your friend
– Adapt rapidly, not incrementally to major market barriers
– Adapting incrementally means awaiting confirmation & reassurance at each tier or barrier
– Think going global from the start, not later
– Howard also recommended the following books:
      – Benoit B. Mandelbrot, The Misbehavior of Markets
      – Nassim Nicholas Taleb, The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable
      – Felda Hardyman & Joshua Lerner, Harvard course text

Another meeting happened on Friday which perhaps was more important than those I was involved in. Some guy called George W. Bush joined ‘il Presidente Reale’, Carl Schramm, for a breakfast meeting with area business leaders on Friday morning in Kansas City. Ohhhh that Carl and his crazieee friends!!!


KTEC Pipeline – Networking Event

Day 4, Thursday 24th Jan: On Thursday we were brought to the KTEC Pipeline Innovators event and dinner in Kansas City. The KTEC PIPELINE is an innovative program designed to identify talented and entrepreneurial Kansans, match them with best-in-class training, resources and mentors and encourage them to pursue a career as a technology entrepreneur in Kansas. Although this was a private event we were invited to watch the entrepreneurs make their pitches (10 in total) over 5 hours.

ktecgroup.gifIt was comforting to watch these people pitching to very wealthy VCs and Angels and know that I would have been happy enough at any time to get up and take my turn, since we have been doing a lot pitching over the past year during the Kauffman Fellowship program. Since it was judged during the pitches we were unable to ask questions at the time. Fortunately we were also invited to the networking event and dinner that evening. Having experienced the frustration of spending entire networking events mingling randomly and not really meeting entrepreneurs/investors working in my areas of interest, myself and another one of the techie global scholars, Owen, decided to try target-networking. Basically this involves some stalking and conspicuous loitering in the general proximity of your prey, before an apt moment for attack prevails!!! This worked a gem. I managed to chat with Toby Rush, CEO of Rush Tracking Systems, one of the top five Radio Frequency Identification solution providers in the US, about some RFid ideas I had (in generic terms, obviously!). I also managed to stalk Joey Blue, Clint Batman, Tim Donnelly into talking to me!! Haven watched the pitches earlier in the day, in addition to reading up about these entrepreneurs before hand, allowed for fairly probing questions about their business models, motivations, approaches etc. All in all this was a fantastic event and definitely my best opportunity so far to mix with people I see as true tech entrepreneurs.