Thursday, November 29, 2007

Proverbial Emails...

Got an email from a colleague today. After his e-signature, and contact info, was a quote (this seems to be a growing trend). Most of these are trite, but I liked this one, and I hadn't heard it before. Kind of presented my "What sucks? and How can we fix it?" questions in a more zen-like and inspirational way.

"Vision without action is a daydream. Action without vision is a nightmare."

Being curious, and in one of those procrastination modes (I am grading student work), I decided to Google it. Who said it? When? Why?

And I learned that it is a "Japanese Proverb". That's it. 159,000 hits, and they are all just quotes. Oh, and a few of those tacky motivational posters that are hung on cubicles at crappy companies. No explanation, no sense of when it started getting used. No context. Has it been in use for centuries? Was it the mantra following the Meiji Restoration, as Japan modernized in the 1870s? Were any Japanese generals muttering it as their pilots attacked Pearl Harbor? Did Akio Morita use it in the early days of Sony Corporation?

It is a paradox. In the Google-age, my curiosity can only be partially sated. I can quickly get the information about the quote, but not with context. Information without knowledge. Info-porn. Perhaps this is the nature of proverbs as well. But I hope all the good quotes don't lose their anchors in history as they spawn in the digital streams of the internet. If I ever end up with a good quote, I sure hope it doesn't end up in anonymous email sign offs and tacky posters.

If anyone knows more about this proverb, or can provide some context for its past use, please let me know.

Amy Smith, Frank Devlyn and Intersectional Living

The Medici Effect is a great book about how innovation happens at the intersection of cultures and disciplines. I used it in one of my courses this fall for a section on innovation, and it got good reviews from the students, too. Once you read it, you get more aware of intersectional innovators and situations (see blog link to right--->)

As a multi-tasker (my wife has another word for it, "distracted"), I find that one can use this intersectional stuff as a way to explain weird stuff you do. Like reading several books at the same time (well, I mean concurrently, a chapter in this one, then a few pages in another). Or reading while you listen to NPR. Or while said wife is telling you stuff (no, not really). Seriously, this is important stuff to think about as an entrepreneur, leader or designer. And it has implications for how teams communicate, organizations work, and communities grow.

Great intersectional opportunites this week in Fort Collins. Amy Smith had a great visit (another member of the Honorary BOPreneur Society) and gave a very interesting talk on Monday night. Then Frank Devlyn, past Rotary International president, spoke to our club on Tuesday night. Got quite a few intersectional ideas firing in my head, and many other heads too, from all the buzzing going on among students and friends. Will post a link to Amy's lecture when we get it edited.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Exciting News for Inviragen

In the past week, Inviragen has announced two signifiant funding events. First, funding of new research on avian flu from the National Institutes of Health. Then yesterday, they announced funding from the Pediatric Dengue Vaccine Initiative (PDVI). The PDVI grant will provide funds for manufacture of Inviragen’s dengue vaccine in preparation for testing in human clinical trials.

From press release: "Dengue fever is a mosquito-borne illness, prevalent in tropical and subtropical countries throughout the world. Approximately 3.5 billion people live in endemic countries and about 100 million people are infected with dengue every year according to recent estimates published by the PDVI. Infection by any one of four dengue viruses can lead to a debilitating fever or, in a subset of cases, can lead to life-threatening hemorrhagic fever.

'This financial support from PDVI will accelerate the development of our dengue vaccine,' said Dr. Dan Stinchcomb, CEO of Inviragen. 'We decided early on to partner with one of the leading vaccine manufacturers in India, Shantha Biotechnics, Ltd., for the manufacture of our vaccine for human clinical trials. The grant from PDVI validates our strategy and will partially support our vaccine manufacturing efforts at Shantha.'

Inviragen’s dengue vaccine was designed by collaborators at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Ft. Collins, CO to protect against all four of the dengue viruses. The vaccine has been shown to be safe and effective in preclinical animal models. Inviragen intends to begin human clinical testing of its vaccine in the second half of 2008."

For more info, PDVI is funded by Gates Foundation and Rockefellar Foundation and their funding provides both needed capital and credibility. It is exciting to see Inviragen hitting its stride on building a biotech company focused on developing world diseases. I have worked with co-founders, Dan and Jorge, for many years and they are very talented and extremely dedicated to this venture. Dan has visited our entrepreneurship classes and we used the dengue vaccine as a "hypothetical venture" several years ago. Very cool to see it now moving toward clinical trials as a very real venture. Dan and Jorge, welcome to the Honorary BOPreneur Society.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Amy Smith is coming to CSU

"Can Low Tech have a High Impact?

While her inventions may be "low technology" there's nothing low-brow about Amy Smith's work to develop simple, affordable technologies for the world's poorest people. The CSU College of Business and the Department of Mechanical Engineering are pleased to present MIT Faculty Member and MacArthur "Genius Grant" winner Amy Smith in lecture as part of the Sustainable Enterprise Speaker Series.

Her remarks, entitled Design, Dialogue and Duct Tape - Tools for International Development, are inspired from real-world experience using technological innovation to address everyday problems in developing nations."

Date: Monday, November 26th
Place: Clark Building - Room A101
Time: 7:00 to 8:30 pm.

We hope to videotape and post on GSSE site for those who are not able to attend in person.

Friday, November 09, 2007

TechAwards 2007: Moveable Feats (sic)

Glad I went back to the TechAwards. I had an unexpected adventure and missed much of the Gala. But the Gala is the desert, not the main course. And what a menu for the main course- 25 entrepreneurs and their feats of technological innovation for the benefit of humanity. And since Envirofit was an laureate in 2005, I got to sample the menu items for free.

There were five sections to walk through in the showcase. Here is what was on the menu:

Environmental Laureates: EZVI-NASA, SudEco Industrie, Skyonic, Solar Sailor, Fundacion Terram

Economic Development Laureates: Voute Nubienne, blueEnergy, Environmental Camps for Conservation Awareness, Kiva and CellBazaar

Education Laureates: Canal Futura, Eluminate, Inst for Study of Knowledge Management in Education, NASA, TakingITGlobal

Equality Laureates: Counterpart International, Devendra Raj Mehta (Jaipur Foot), Grameen Shakti, Innocence Project, Tropical Forest Trust

Health Laureates: Diagnostics for the Real World, HELPS, PATH, P&G Pur, Vaxin

Descriptions of each of these can be found at link above. If you like what you read, it is easy to contribute through Global Giving or their websites.

So, what were my impressions?

1) Laureates are now talking about scaling. Perhaps in part because they were encouraged to do so in some of the training sessions. But this issue has come to the fore in social entrepreneurship. Funders are pushing it. This is very different from 2005. In 2005, few of the organizations had business models that scaled outside of their country or region. Talking and doing are, of course, different things. I am dubious that many of these models will scale or be replicated to other markets (up or down the pyramid). The Environmental Laureates provide an example. Those in the developed world (e.g., Solar Sailor, Skyonic) don't have plans to go to BOP; those from Senegal (SudEco) and Chile (Terram) don't plan to move beyond region. I have concerns that if funders push "scaling" too hard on these models, not much good will result. A few laureates that appear to have business models and management amenable to scaling? CellBazaar, Elluminate, Grameen Shakti, Project Innocence. Personally, I think it would be a good idea for funders and laureates alike to read Small Giants, as a reminder that Great is not always correlated with Big.

2) Intrapreneurs and Govpreneurs were in evidence. NASA had two projects as laureates. P&G was a laureate for their PUR sachets, Eluminate for their Fire & Ice project, and Vaxin for its bird flu vaccine. This is a reminder that innovation is not exclusively the domain of entrepreneurs. And it was interesting to talk to these laureates about how they obtained support within these organizations. None seemed to be interested in spinning out their ventures from the parent organization.

3) Guess someone at read my post from last year. Well, at least there were a few of them around. But if they gave out checks to everyone, they kept it on the DL.

4) Microfranchising is now in vogue. Interestingly, while there was a lot of buzz about it, no one seemed to credit BYU and its work at the Center for Economic Self Reliance. Even though they wrote the book on it. This is an area worth watching. People have talked about franchising to achieve scale in the past. Adding "micro" doesn't change the fact that you need a pretty high operating margin to make room for all the people in the chain. If I were going to look at this seriously, I'd also be looking at models like Great Harvest Bread Co., which has a one page franchise agreement. At Envirofit, for instance, it would be great to open up franchises, and we have discussed it. But that may mean higher prices for the retrofits. It may still be the best way to achieve broad distribution, since a great thing about franchising is reducing your asset footprint/expense per unit.

4) The Thursday conference at Santa Clara University was quite good. I hope that they will soon post some video. In particular, I thought Allen Hammond and Ted Moser made some interesting comments. Hammond had some good examples from WRI, including a pilot of using low cost WIFI as leapfrog for village communication system. He observed that pharmaceutical companies make wake up soon and find that much of the BOP has a distribution network for generics that big pharma doesn't own. Moser talked about ideas on how laureates might use microfranchising to replicate and scale their businesses. Opportunity International, who Moser represents, is discussing models with their most successful borrowers. As he and Hammond admitted, so far, there are no great examples, just early experiments. Perhaps one of these laureates will pull it off. My bet is that it is more likely that a new entrepreneur is going to start a social enterprise with explicit "must franchise" DNA baked in to the business model.

Lastly, a quick note of appreciation to Jeff Hamoui for giving me a pat on the back (literally) when I needed it. I owe you one.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

The First Time

I got into San Jose today. Will be attending several events related to the TechAwards tomorrow and Thursday. The theme of this program is "Technology Benefitting Humanity." More specifically, "innovators using technology to make the world safer and healthier, more prosperous and just." The idea is to recognize, and help fund, promissing organizations who are developing technology that makes a difference.

It kind of makes me nostalgic for the "first time." When Envirofit was a laureate in 2005, it was the first recognition of what we were doing. Intel was sponsoring the prize, and though we didn't win, we met some great people, including Harish Hande of SELCO, who was so helpful with our stoves work last year in India. And David Green, who's work has inspired me,and who continues to work behind the scenes for large scale change. For a picture, click here. (That's our co-founder, Bryan Willson, front and center, and Harish over his right shoulder. David is hiding up in back, I think. I am the guy with the crooked tie.)

Attending the awards two years ago was a great learning experience. I was once told "you can learn something from everyone you meet." A good way to approach the world. But particularly awesome when you are with 24 leading social entrepreneurs and get to learn from them. Find out what they are doing. At the time, I thought (and still do) that the adjustable eyeglasses that Josh Silver did were the coolest innovation.

The other thing that struck me, however, was that, even with all their passion, most of the laureates were thinking about solving a particular problem in a particular region. They weren't thinking of how to scale and replicate. They were, consciously or unconsciously, limiting their ideas. While focusing on innovation, the awards were really more about invention (which lacks the wide scale dissemination that gives us innovation). This got me thinking, and I'm not done yet. To me, this is the biggest challenge of social entrepreneurship. While I don't have an answer yet, I think part of the answer is designing an organization to scale-up/replicate from the start. Build it in. Make replication part of the original DNA. Hire accordingly.

Tomorrow, there is a Showcase featuring the laureates and their work. I can't wait to meet them and hear them talk about what they are doing. And you can now watch online (that strikes me as kind of weird, it is, afterall, just bunch of people in costumes having dinner).

Monday, November 05, 2007

Nashville Net Impact, Part II

We skipped the key note on Saturday to meet with Jessica from Kiva. Fun to chat with an entrepreneur in the growth stage of a worthy venture. Despite her "fame" she is so down to earth and was happy to brainstorm with one of our GSSE student teams. Two thumbs up!

Next, Mitesh and I attended the IDEO session on sustainable new product development. We decided to split up (fortunately for him, I think). Anyway, after some introductory remarks about Design Thinking ("building") vs Critical Thinking ("breaking down"), Ted Howes and Steve Bishop got us to work. With instructions to brainstorm a more sustainable product, they handed out products. Our table got a box of Tampax.

In the first round, our ideas- less packaging, more tampons per box, recycled paper and fiber- were pretty conventional (well, there was the "roll your own" idea). The next step was interesting. We were given a series of photos from an unnamed person of what was important to them in their life. Ours was a hispanic woman, middle class, living in a city, likes crosswords and theatre. Now we had to design a sustainable Tampax for her. It generated a very different conversation among our table mates. We focused on packaging, materials and disposal. What would be important to "Margarita"? (note to GSSE students, I did not name her!)

Ted and Steve left us with the following thoughts about sustainability: 1) it's about behavior (the consumer), 2) it's about desireability, not sacrifice, 3) it's about finding a credible intersection between sustainability and brand (what we call authenticitiy at New Belgium), and 4) if it fails, it is a failure of product, not people. Two thumbs up.

Ted and I ended up at lunch in a broad ranging discussion with some students about OneWorld Health, retrofit technologies, biofuels, and the unintended consequences of well meaning "interventions"(anti-retroviral drugs in Botswana). We were late to lunch, and late to leave, so I missed much of the Lessons Learned from CSR panel featuring execs from Dow and Timberland. From what I could see, however, the students understood the challenges these companies faced in looking to fundamentally change their business approach, while staying in business.

The next event was the closing key note from Tensie Whelan, Executive Director of Rainforest Alliance. They too, seem to be in the midst of changing their approach, and working with large companies. Some interesting stories about sustainable forestry and Gibson guitars, and the savings Chiquita realized from more sustainable plantations. Two things grated on me though. First, they are only partway there- the change in approach is only partial. There still seems to be a "gotcha" mentality in her stories. A desire to take credit for actions others took. MBA's hardly need to be shown role models of this attribute.

Second, and I see this with a lot of non-profit leaders, there seems to still be a discomfort with the business community. Her tone wasn't quite patronizing, but it certainly seemed to me to be a level below where the audience could go. These NGO's still aren't engaging as equals in their sustainability mission- they are a bit "holier" and want you to know it. Jim Collins's advice comes to mind: focus on being "interested, not interesting." Tensie only gets sideways thumbs from this listener.

For those of you who were not able to attend, here is the event blogspace. One note of concern for the conference: Net Impact could make it better by recruiting more faculty and professionals to attend. It would be great for the students and faculty, to get the benefit of exposure to what is going on in other institutions and companies. Some of the real leaders in the field were conspicuously absent.

In closing, kudos to Net Impact and Owen School at Vanderbilt U. for a great conference. Definitely two thumbs up.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Naive and unoriginal (but optimistic)

Friday News from Net Impact in Nashville.

On the plane to Nashville, I read the Business Week article on "Little Green Lies," about Aspen's Auden Schendler and his "bitter" (would bittersweet be a better description?) greening journey. Then the Net Impact Conference (1700+ MBA's interested in more sustainable business) started off with Yvonne Chouinard. YC is one of my heroes, but he started it off on a fairly tough note. A double hit of pesssimism. It was getting tough to maintain my "unrepentent optimist" outlook. Don't worry, I got over it. Being around all these highly energized Net Impacters helped.

A few highpoints from YC's talk:

"there is a proper size for every endeavor"
"from my climbing, I learned that the goal is not the summit, but how you climbed the route"
"hire people you want to go to dinner with, then leave them alone"
"leading an examined life in business is a pain in the ass"

Next up was our panel on Technology and the Base of the Pyramid. Rob Katz of WRI was a great moderator, and Tim Prestero of Design that Matters and Cindy Cooper of Speak Shop were wonderful co-panelists.

I liked Cindy's use of IT to empower Guatamalan language tutors to gain access to a global market. Very clever, and a wonderful example of using technology to help the poor go to where the money is. Note most aid has been aimed at taking money to where the poor are. And they do a free trial!

Tim was a riot. He has a gift for simple, funny stories... and then as you think about them, you realize they have several dimensions. For example, his Peace Corps experience (after getting his engineering degree) of digging outhouses. Tough work. But also realizing the gap between classroom learning and useful work, when he was asked about load tolerances of the concrete they were using, and realized he didn't know whether they could support someone sitting on the crapper. My favorite, though, was his response to an executive who said he didn't have time to talk to Tim about an LED projector for teaching the poor to read. Tim's response: "I can understand why don't have time for me, but how can you not have time for the 1 billion people in the world who can't read?" Ouch.

It was also fun to share some our our Envirofit stories- the good, bad and ugly. And it lead to my commment that my skill was being naive and unoriginal. These are actually good skills for an entrepreneur (even this isn't original). Being naive allows you to get in over your head without knowing it. And once you are committed, you just keep muddling along and occasionally you get something right.

As for being unoriginal, in BOP, it is a good idea to invent as little new stuff as possible. It is hard enough to just get traction in these markets, so figure out how to make it as easy as possible. I am pretty sure you don't get points for degree of difficulty (unlike Olympic diving, or developed markets, where such difficulties may provide competitive advantage).

During the panel, I may have implied that I am also lazy, in that entrepreneurs have to find the path of least resistance. Being a successful entrepreneur involves looking for the easiest answer for hard problems. This isn't really lazy, just efficient. And sometimes it is hard work to find these easier answers. So I don't think it is really lazy at all. Otherwise I would have to title this post "Naive, Unoriginal and Lazy (but still optimistic)," and that might give the wrong impresssion.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Your Big BOPportunity?

I will be in Nashville for the NetImpact meeting Nov.1-4. Please come to our panel on Technology and the BOP if you are in town on Friday morning. There are 11 sessions on the business and international development track, so this is a great bopportunity to meet others in the field.