No longer worried about Sputnik, but there’s still an urgent need for STEM

09/09/2013 § Leave a comment


I was recently invited to serve on the board of the Minnesota Chapter of the ARCS Foundation. For those of you who don’t know about ARCS (I myself needed some educating), the National ARCS Foundation was established in 1958—a “Sputnik Moment”—by a group of women in Los Angeles.  They were determined to focus their philanthropic efforts helping the U.S. regain its technological superiority.  Since that time the organization has awarded nearly $80 million dollars to students throughout the U.S.  The mission of the ARCS Foundation is to advance science and technology in the U.S. by providing financial awards to academically outstanding U.S. citizens studying to complete advanced degrees in science, engineering and medical research.

It all started with this little fella.

Having watched this organization in action over the past half year, and having a deep commitment (as those who know me are aware) to expanding STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) education opportunities, I was happy to accept this new role!  Of the 17 chapters throughout the U.S., Minnesota is one of the newest, and is currently selecting and supporting outstanding students at the University of Minnesota.  I look forward to providing my energy and skills to help these and future students advance STEM in their careers and beyond through the work of the ARCS Foundation. (By the way, ARCS defines the in STEM not as Mathematics, but rather as Medical Research. I have a minor quibble with this reassignment – but ultimately, math is integral in all of these disciplines!)

As a new board member, I’m excited to let my readers know about an upcoming event where you can learn more about ARCS. The ARCS Annual Scholar Award Event is being held October 17, 2013, 4:30 – 6:30 PM, where we’ll be providing awards to our new scholars for Fall 2013.  This is our major annual event, and a chance to showcase what we’re doing in conjunction with the University of Minnesota which has an impressive research presence in a number of STEM-related disciplines. At this event, you’ll have a chance to meet our current and past awardees and hear about their exciting research.  Join us—these students will give you hope about the future!  Refreshments will be provided as well as further information about the ARCS Organization, our goals in Minnesota and information about what’s needed to keep the U.S. moving forward in science and technology.

This year our event is being held at the Padilla Speer Beardsley headquarters near the Guthrie Theatre and Gold Medal Park.  You can find more details and an online registration form at here.

Breakfast and Science, mmm…

The second event is a Circle of Influence Breakfast  November 12, 7:30 – 9:30. The goal of this event is to introduce the Minnesota Chapter of the ARCS Foundations to people (like you?) who support the idea of advancing innovation in STEM research in the U.S.  I went to such a breakfast in the spring and had fun talking with the current awardees as well as meeting new connections who share my passion. We’d love to have you join us on the morning of November 12 to meet some of our students and hear more about ARCS.  Contact me for further info about location and to sign up.


Poll: What should Pres. Obama prioritize to spur innovation?

08/11/2012 § Leave a comment


Click here to cast your vote.


Feel like voting some more this week? This one won’t have you standing in line for hours!

Xconomy’s Post-Election Innovation Priority Poll | Xconomy.

Unrequited Love

24/07/2012 § Leave a comment

Oh, snap! Steve Blank learns the painful lessons so the rest of us, if we’re smart, don’t have to.

via Unrequited Love.

Why Facebook is Killing Silicon Valley

21/05/2012 § Leave a comment

Steve Blank’s latest  blog post, Why Facebook is Killing Silicon Valley, talks about how Facebook’s enormous financial returns for its investors signify a sea change in the expectations of VCs, to the detriment of other types of innovations that require lots of investment and a much longer road to a payoff.

As Steve puts it, what’s great for making tons of money may not be the same as what’s great for innovation or for our country, and I agree with him.  But how are we going to turn the tides and get major funders to start thinking longer term again? After all, can we blame VC’s  for following quick money?

Is there a VC willing to dedicate some percentage of a fund to longer term innovations? Or do we have to come up with alternative funding models? Unfortunately we cannot hope to rely indefinitely on individual gajillionaires to support everything, nor is the legislation-backed crowdfunding model able at this point to, I don’t know, build a biofuel-fired spaceship or solve world hunger. Another option – government support – would hardly be palatable to most American taxpayers, though it begs the question of whether this is how other, less democratically inclined countries will eventually overtake the U.S. in innovations.

Oh hey! That takes us right back to the quote at the beginning of Mr. Blank’s post, from President Kennedy talking about  sending a person to the moon:  Kennedy exhorted this country that this mission was the right thing to do because it was  not easy, but hard, but if you want to be more cynical, the key message was also “because that challenge is one … which we intend to win.” By God, no Soviet was going to land on the moon before the Americans.

I’m hopeful that this country’s enormous sense of competitiveness, its  sometimes  obnoxius insistence on always being the winner, will inspire at least some  (be they VC’s or otherwise) to commit to the big, important innovations that don’t necessarily come with instant gratification. What’s needed, perhaps, the presence of a threat – or an inspiration.


While Blank was discussing the threat to early-stage innovations, Xconomy’s Luke Timmerman talks about a threat at a later stage, when a mid-size biotech company becomes an acquisition target (you can read the article here) . On the one hand, Timmerman asserts, mid-size biotechs have generally been the ones successful at advancing new drugs. On the other hand, their success makes them lucrative acquisition targets. Such acquisitions, however, assign virtually no value to their R&D pipelines. So – voila – here’s another way that innovation can be killed.

Checking In with Employees (Versus Checking Up)

12/05/2012 § Leave a comment

Checking In with Employees (Versus Checking Up)

Teresa Amabile & Steve Kramer published these thoughts in the Harvard Business Review.

I think this could work both for small companies, as well as teams within larger companies – it requires a large amount of trust based on having high-quality, mature individuals on board. As Jim Collins said, Find out where the bus is going –  get the right people on the bus – now we can add “step back and let them do their job”.

What should a Chief Innovation Officer do?

11/04/2012 § Leave a comment

What should a Chief Innovation Officer do?.

Tony Ulwick proposes that a CIO pursues “a two-pronged innovation strategy–one that protects and grows current revenue streams while also identifying and pursuing new ones.” 

I had previously, and what I now realize narrowly, restricted my interpretation of the CIO’s  role – and my definition of innovation generally –  to the latter “prong”, but as Ulwick points out, innovation is also required to get the most out of what a company’s already got;  CIO’s (or for that matter, anyone unofficially tasked with CIO functions) should also “nurture sustaining innovation and product improvement strategies that enhance current products and maintain and/or grow existing revenue streams.”

Of course! Makes perfect sense.

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