Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Three Days, Four Events

Well, so much for making this a weekly posting. I'll try and catch up.

The week of November 10 saw four great events that I was able to attend. There were, of course, many more great events this week, but my clients are only willing to pay so much to ensure that I'm staying connected with the industry – my 'day job' is finding candidates.

Wednesday evening was another great MIT Enterprise Forum event in their Innovation Series: Neuroscience Drug Discovery and Development: The Route to Disease-Modifying Therapies. Having been trained as a neuroscientist, registering for this one was more or less a Pavlovian response, but it was a great event in its own right. The Kirsch Auditorium in the Stata Center was packed. It was well organized, and a great panel representing industry and the investment community. Skip Irving of Health Advances did a great job as moderator. We heard about Merck's plans in the broad spectrum of neuroscience therapeutics from Darryle Schoepp, PhD, Merck's SVP and Franchise Head, Neuroscience; a novel approach to attacking neurological diseases associated with protein misfolding from Chris Adams, PhD, CBO at FoldRx; the perspectives of investors from Doug Fambrough, PhD, GP at Oxford; and those of patients from Todd Sherer, PhD, VP, Research Programs for The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research. What a great panel!

(Leave Cambridge late Wednesday after the reception from the Enterprise Forum, drive to Worcester, sleep for a few hours, be at the Boston Harbor Hotel at 7:00 the next morning for another ACG event.)

Thursday morning, bright and early, Howard Berke, CEO at Konarka, gave an enlightening overview of investing in the cleantech space at another one of ACG's excellent Dealmakers Breakfasts. Did you know that there are currently more than 400 solar companies on the planet? Think we'll have 400 in 5 years? The most interesting part of Howard's presentation was that I saw something that I don't normally see in cleantech presentations – data. Armed with tools from NVCA and other sources, Howard's presentation is what you can count on from ACG – a well organized event, an articulate, industry-leading speaker, Jack Derby's lively emceeing, and two strips of bacon.

(Back to the office to try to squeeze in some actual work, then back to State Street that evening.)

Thursday night was the PEHub Across America event at Clarke's in Boston. As the registration page says: no content, just networking. While well attended, lively audience and great food (best sliders I've ever had), I would lobby for a different venue next time. Too difficult to get around in the room. (Full disclosure: we sponsored the event, so I get to make snippy comments.)

(Leave downtown Boston late Thursday night, drive to Worcester, sleep for a few hours, back to UMass Boston at 8:00.)

Friday was the all-day MassMEDIC Investors Conference at UMass Boston (What a great facility! If you haven't been to the Kennedy Library, go.). Another great event. Lots of interesting early-stage companies with some really cool technologies. Some, frankly, look cool, but I wonder about the likelihood of their commercial success. We also heard from Susan Windham-Bannister, PhD, President & CEO of the Massachusetts Life Sciences Center, which recently released the draft certification application. I've heard her presentation many times, and the good news is that it has always been the same message. She is providing an open atmosphere for stakeholders to provide comments and participate in the implementation of this important legislation. The lunch speaker was a pleasant break from the constant med device diet - John Della Volpe, Director of Polling, Institute of Politics at Harvard. He provided some very interesting data showing how much better executed the Obama campaign was in attracting younger voters, and the analysis leads one to the unmistakable conclusion that the Democrats simply had better tools and understood their market better than the Republicans. It's all about the marketing, isn't it? Well, the proof will be in the pudding, and we'll have to see if the "change" is for the better.

(stop in the office, drive home, have a scotch, crawl into bed.)

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Humor - not so funny

As an early adopter of the Internet (I remember using line editors on a mainframe to send an “electronic mail” message), I was also the beneficiary of some of the first Internet humor – those sometimes funny, mostly annoying forwards of forwards of forwards that can clutter our already stuffed inboxes.

As a public service, I started a highly selective distribution list of like-minded individuals who appreciate the occasional off-color joke (and if you’re nice to me, I’ll add you to the list). I distribute only the very finest of Internet humor.

In the last month or so, in addition to all the political humor, which I generally don’t forward since that will only generate more unsolicited email to my inbox, I’ve noticed a dramatic increase in the amount of email humor I’m receiving. I attribute it to the economic meltdown being so bad that people have no recourse but to laugh.

I’ve been using the analogy that we’re sitting at a red light. Those of us who have been around the block a few times have seen this before. We’ve also been at red lights and wondered if they will be a long one or a short one. We know they will eventually change, it just a matter of when. And when they change, we always get where we’re going.

Having said that, I have to admit that as Fred Sanford would say, “this is the big one, Elizabeth.” To make matters worse, we have comments like those from Sequoia on the ‘future’ for entrepreneurs. Still, I don’t think it’s quite the end of the world that some would have us believe.

Bad economic times don’t stop innovation or good ideas. They may raise the bar on funding of those ideas, but it’s not the end of the world. Additionally, as Warren Buffett clearly understands, this is a time to buy, not to panic. It’s just like in It’s a Wonderful Life when George Bailey reminds his customers that “Potter isn’t selling, Potter’s buying! And why? Because we’re panicky and he’s not.” I don’t exactly have my head in the sand, but we’ll get through this and come out stronger. We always do.

And how did we end up here? There are lots of experts much smarter about the economy than me, but in my opinion, it all started with the NOW account. Remember them? Negotiable Orders of Withdrawal. When I was a kid, checking banks were for checking, savings banks were for savings, never the twain did they meet, and God knows they didn’t cross state lines. Once we started to relax, it was the beginning of the end.

There are some industries that need to be regulated. Pharmaceuticals. Food. Liquor. Finance! While SOX has put an undue strain on small companies and has had the unintended consequence of preventing many entrepreneurial companies access to the public markets, we need some kind of oversight here; it’s completely out of control. One hundred percent mortgages?! NINJA loans?! How does any of that make sense?!

Yes, we will get through this, but it ain’t gonna be easy. And we’ll need to gird for the inevitable second wave of the tsunami – new government commissions, agencies, and regulations. Yuck.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

From today's Daily Biofuels News Digest

Despite the financial crisis, clean energy attracted $2 billion in new capital investment in the first half of 2008, compared to $3 billion for all of 2007, according to Ernst & Young.The sector has attracted $7.29 billion in US investment, covering 301 companies. Globally, 11 percent of venture investment in 2008 has gone to clean energy, up from 1.6 percent in 2003. Greentech has also released updated investment numbers and the Renewable Energy and Finance Directory has updated its database.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

The Voyage of the San Antiago

OK, here goes.

My colleagues have been encouraging me to start blogging. I'm surprised, since they are normally telling me to shut up. So, for better or worse, here it is. My plan is to make this a weekly event, so put it on your calendars now. I'll try to provide some kind of meaningful commentary, but I reserve the right to wax on about some completely random observation.

For my first entry, I'm taking a gimme. I'll simply point you to my most recent missive in Mass High Tech. It was (of course) originally too long for them, so I had to do some major reconstructive surgery. But I hope the point still holds. Cleantech smells a lot like biotech did back in the day. Complex, protectable technologies, long runways to success, huge capital requirements, and a drastic need for talented senior leadership in a nascent field.

I promise something more original for the next posting. I also plan to keep these short. I hope you derive some pleasure/information out of this blog.

Oh, and the name? Well it turns out that there's a fair bit of controversy surrounding the voyages of Amerigo Vespucci, but one thing is clear – he sailed the San Antiago after Columbus had already discovered the New World. So I thought this was kinda the same thing. I'm certainly not the first to discover the blogosphere, but it's new as far as I'm concerned.

Happy reading.