Is a Nobel Prize really worth it?

November 7th, 2017

Glamorous. Your name will never be forgotten. You are in the “Hall of Fame”. Plus Money (well, not really a lot; approximately U$ 350K when you divide with two others and U$ 1.1 Million when you get it solo). Yes, winning a Nobel Proze gives you all of that. Everybody working in areas that are contemplated with a Nobel Prize, especially Scientists have as a Career goal to get this Prize. That is the “Oscars” of Research. Even I, a mere mortal though about it when I started my Career. How pretentious! My question now is: is it worth it? Just a little bit of history: since 1901, the Nobel Prize has been honoring men and women from all the globe for outstanding achievements in physics, chemistry, physiology or medicine, literature, and for work in peace. The Foundations for the Prize were laid in 1895 when Alfred Nobel wrote his last Will, leaving much of his wealth to the establishment of the Nobel Prize. Alfred Nobel was himself a scientist that has developed a “safer” explosive: the dynamite. Nobel was the holder of 355 patents and used his vast fortune to establish all the Nobel Prizes we see today. Since the Invention of the Prize, it became the main goal of Scientists, Economists, Mathematicians and other specialists. This year’s (2017) Nobel Prize in Medicine and Physiology was awarded jointly to Jeffrey C. Hall, Michael Rosbash and Michael W. Young “for their discoveries of molecular mechanisms controlling the circadian rhythm”. Interestingly, I was reading about the winners and one of them got my attention: Jeffrey C. Hall. He is a retired Professor at Brandeis University (see that this is not Harvard, Stanford or any other top 10 Universities in the United States). Hall said in an interview from his home in rural Maine that he collaborated with Roshbash because they shared common interests in “sports, rock and roll, beautiful substances and other stuff.” (check the article entitled “A 2017 Nobel laureate says he left science because he ran out of money and was fed up with Academia”). About half of Hall’s professional career, starting in the 1980s, was spent trying to unravel the mysteries of the biological clock. Then he left Science 10 years ago in 2007 angry and in a very bad mood. In a lengthy 2008 interview with the journal “Current Biology” (see the complete Interview here), he brought up some serious issues with how research Funding is allocated and how biases creep into Scientific Publications and in the Publishing System. He complained that some of the “Stars” in Science “have not really earned their status” yet they continued to receive massive amounts of Funding. He also said that these Stars have boasted to him that they almost never send their articles to “anywhere but Nature, Cell, or Science“ – among the three most prestigious scientific journals. “And they are nearly always published in one of those magazines – where, when you see something you know about, you realize that it’s not always so great…” Everything he said in the Interview is true  (check my previous post “Science is Broken: how, why and when?”) and the publishing System is biased and wrong. He also worries about young Scientists as he quotes: “one component of my last-gasp disquiet stems from pompously worrying about biologists who are starting out or are in mid-career.” He should be worried, and all of us should be too! Everything he said is true and nothing seems to be changing. Young scientists have difficulty to get a Job, to start establishing his/her own Laboratory and getting grants since the “Stars”, as he quotes, get it all. There are exceptions, obviously, and politics matters too. The bottom line is that he got fed up with this Broken System and left Science. Ten years after that, he is awarded with a Nobel Prize. He was surprised and with his reasons. After all the frustration he described in his piece about his Career of 3 decades and how the system not giving him more money for his research expelled him from what he liked to do most. The lesson here is that we need disruptions and disruptors to change the Scientific System right now! I talk to a lot of Entrepreneurs and one of these days I met a very interesting Start Up with some Ideas to disrupt parts of this broken Scientific System. I cannot disclose here about the Idea but I think we need more people to disrupt this Scientific System that is outdated and slow. Winning a Nobel Prize is important, no doubt, but the issues raised by this Scientist (now a Nobel Prize winner) reflect a System needing a 360 degrees change. We hope that happens soon! And my question is open to discussion: is it Worth it to win a Nobel Prize after decades dedicated to work with lots of frustration and disappointment with the current System?

StartUp Incubators x Accelerators: What is the Difference?

September 11th, 2017

In my last Blog Post I wrote about “The Art of Learning by Doing” in Entrepreneurship. Of course, nobody does things alone. We need support. From people, connections, spaces, schools, mentoring, investors and so on. One thing that I’ve always hear when Mentoring or even Lecturing about Entrepreneurship is the question: should I apply for a StartUp Incubator or a StartUp Accelerator? What is the difference between both? Of course there are several different Models, but in my conception the truth is that nobody really knows their differences. But they are different. And the difference in Definition varies from Country to Country. An incubator in the United States is physically locating your business in one central workspace (generally a co-working space) with many other StartUp companies. In many cases, the StartUps in these incubators can all be Venture funded by the same investor group or early stage. You can stay in the space as long as you need to, or until your business has grown to the scale it needs to relocate to its own space. The mentorship is typically provided by proven serial entrepreneurial, investors, and by shared Knowledge of your StartUp CEO peers. For the Incubator Model, you or your Startup pays a Monthly or sometimes Yearly fee to use it. So, Incubators are a Real State Rental Business basically. A Startup Accelerator in the United States has some distinct differences. Your time in the space is typically limited to a 3-4 month period (when they have an Infrastructure that they run), basically intended to jump start your business and then kick you out of the nest. The cash investment into your business from the Accelerator itself is very minimal (e.g., U$20,000-50,000; with exceptions giving up to U$200K in exchange for a higher equity of the company), but your time in the Accelerator should largely improve your chances of raising Venture Capital from a third party entity on the back-end, after you graduate from their Program. Most Accelerators take Equity and become shareholders in your Startup with the percentage going from 4-12% depending on the Stage of the Company. Mentorship could be coming from Serial Entrepreneurs that are affiliated with the Accelerator (many of which are proven CEOs, or Investors looking for their next opportunity or simply helping the local StartUp community with a history of exits) – parts of this text were taken and adapted from “Is A Startup Incubator or Accelerator Right For You?” by George Deeb. There are also Accelerators that are Location Agnostic and you can be remotely linked to them. They will not have an Infrastructure for the Companies but they bring a strong network of Mentors and Investors. They also take Equity in the StartUp depending on the Stage of the company. These are more “Global” since StartUps from all over the World could participate. They generally do an Event (or even combine their Event with a Major one) every quarter or once every 2 months. They have a different Model. One interesting thing: both models deal with Quantity versus Quality. Of course there is a Selection but the more StartUps you have in the System or Accelerated the chances of getting an Unicorn (a StartUp that reaches a U$1 Billion Dollar Valuation) out of them are higher. Now, let’s talk about the Brazilian Model. Well, I think the “Copy-Cat” Model that Brazilians use for everything Americans do does not work for this. They have mixed up Incubators with Accelerators, offering terrible Infrastructure (with exceptions, of course) charging a Monthly fee and getting Equity at the same time of the StartUps. Most times they do not even offer a good Network of Entrepreneurs, Mentors and Investors. It is a horrible and confusing Model indeed. Another important thing: the Brazilian Model is “poor”, dealing with a few Ideas and StartUps and not quantity (No Unicorns on the Horizon…). So, what Model(s) and Country have more chances to succeed? I think the reader knows the answer already. And I did not even talk about the “Spin Offs” coming out from Universities in the US and in Brazil. Well, I think that is a subject for another Blog Post…

Entrepreneurship: The Art of Learning by Doing

July 20th, 2017

Books and Blogs (well not this one…) trying to teach you how to become an Entrepreneur. I’ve been there; it helps but there is no “magic bullet” when building Start Ups. There are a lot of books teaching you how to build a Start Up from an Idea, how to create a Business Model (BM), Business Plans (BPs), get customers and/or users and so on. The truth is that in the art of entrepreneurship you just learn by doing it. It is a “hands on” process. Mentors, Advisors, Board Members, Angels, VCs and Private Equity Groups do not care about your idea that will revolutionize or change the world. They only care about their Return of Investment (ROI). They care about multiplying their Money. If you are an entrepreneur starting a business you are the one that should care and believe in yourself. For example, all histories of successful companies in the technology sector started mostly by serendipity and pivoted somehow at some point. Take Facebook, Twitter and Amazon for example. Facebook started with FaceMash (a “hot or not hot game” to classify girls at Harvard University that Mark Zuckerberg built), Twitter’s original idea was a Podcast Company idealized by Evan Williams and Amazon started selling Books online (now it does almost everything you can imagine in e-commerce and other sectors). Take also Uber as an example. I am Reading a Book about Uber’s history and it is clear that the initial idea was completely different from what the company is now. And I believe all of this happened along the process of building the business. They’ve all changed and pivoted a lot. And still are. There is even scientific evidence that learning by doing works better than just theory and books. For example, a study has challenged the common assumption that methods based on Books are the most effective ways of teaching Entrepreneurship. A study compared more than 500 graduates from Europe who had studied Entrepreneurship as part of business degrees. Some took “traditional” lecture-based courses focused on education about entrepreneurship. Others were taught using more experiential and “hands on” models, which stressed either personality development, triggering entrepreneurial attitudes and making people want to become entrepreneurs or making students become entrepreneurs, either during the course or right after graduation (check the article here). Now, let’s talk about my experience as an Entrepreneur and, more recently, as a teacher. All the experience I’ve got in my entrepreneurial journey was by doing. I read several books. I won’t lie; they help. But, I’ve learned through the process of the Idealization, building an Minimum Viable Product (MVP), getting into Start Up Incubators and Accelerators, searching and getting Investors interested and exiting by selling the Start Up. This process took at least a decade. During my tenure as CEO and then Chief Scientific Officer (CSO) of the Start Up I’ve built with a Co-Founder, I had the chance to be accelerated by the Start Up Health Academy (SUH) and present my Start Up in several events. One event was at the J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference (check video here) in San Francisco to Health Industry Leaders and Investors and the other one at the Google New York Headquarters (check video here). I was also selected to represent and present the Start Up we’ve built at the White House to the President of the United States and to Congress Members in 2014 (no video here because we could not do it inside the White House). In all presentations I had to give a 1 minute Pitch max, which was the most difficult part. How could I, in just one minute, tell a history of a company and attract investors? Well, I had to and I did it. I believe that here is the biggest challenge that no Book teaches you. In addition, as CEO I had to take care of the Operations, Logistics and Finance with a small team, talk to clients and potential clients and also try to see the whole Picture of the Start Up in a snapshot. For that I had a technique that was to write down in a Diagram all the problems and difficulties every 3-6 months and indicate possible solutions to the problems I could find. Now I teach Entrepreneurship, How to strategically Manage Intellectual Property (IP), the Lean Start Up Model, how to write a Business Plan (BP), how to write Business Models, Canvas, etc using Books and my own experience. In my experience as a Teacher, the books help a lot, BUT experience is more important. So I tell my Students that the classes and the theory is very important, however they are not the key to building a successful Start Up, a Brand or even a Company. It is always a process of Learning by Doing. So, stop bragging about the innumerous possibilities in which your idea(s) will not succeed and start moving the needles to make things work. I can tell you that it will be a very stressful and frustrating path, but all you will get from it is a lot of expertise. Experience we only get by doing and building things. Most importantly, no money can buy experience. Start putting your Idea(s) to work right now. Don’t waste your time reading Manuals and Books on how to build Start Ups and hopefully you will learn things no book could ever teach you during the journey. In the end, it is worth it; I give you my word. I’ve been there… Actually, still are.

Reflections on turning 40 – Chapter Two: Life

May 23rd, 2017

Since I was little, my parents made a lot of sacrifice to keep my brother and I in private schools in Brazil since we were not rich. I was always one of the best in the classroom and I was able to get into one of the best Universities in Brazil when I was only 17 years old. After completing my Bachelor’s in Science with a Major in Biochemistry, I lived alone since I was 21 years old when I went to the biggest city in Brazil, Sao Paulo, where I did my Ph.D. I have always been a perfectionist by nature and I like things to be the way I plan. Unfortunately, life has taught me that it is never like this and this still bothers me. Life is supposed to be imperfect, I’ve learned. I am full of “to do lists” both professionally and personally and I try to follow everything. I always have several goals and most of the time I can’t do everything in the long run. BUT, planning is very important to me. I’ve learned this from my father since he is always planning everything. However, I’ve learned that my best experiences in life just happened without a “plan”. I am a person who has become frustrated by the circumstances of life. Many things have happened in my life in the last years, many good, but many bad. I have learned a lot with all this, but some things I do not accept until today, because I want to be in control, and most times we have partial or no control at all of the situations. I still can’t accept death mainly from loved ones, but I see that it is necessary to renew – to remove the old ones of the world and to put new minds / people in it. I have always been very truthful, aggressive. But I’m learning to defend my position in a more peaceful way. I have learned to be more humble, but sometimes I have my slips. I’ve always dedicated myself to my Professional life and forgot my Personal one. I did this for a while until it was unbearable. I’ve burned out several times. I had goals set for me since 17 years, I knew very well what I wanted. I forgot that I am a human being and that neither of us is an island. We need each other, especially when we get older. I’ve learned these values ​​after coming to the United States, a closed and cold society most of the time (no offense here, Americans have lots of good things). I’ve always been hard, hard to myself, but the things that life has put in front of me has softened my heart a little. I am a very curious person, I like to understand the world as a whole and I wonder a lot what we are like humans, what is our purpose on earth, and what is the meaning of it all. In the end, we all die, and what matters most is not the money we’ve got, the real state we have, but the image and values we have build and leave behind. This should be our legacy. We are all very insignificant, just another dot (or data point for data scientists reading this post) in the world. The greatness of it all full of inexplicable things makes us small. The human being is very complex psychologically and at the organic and cellular levels. And here I want to make a personal note also: when my mom got diagnosed with breast cancer ten years ago (yes, she is cured now) I felt like crap. I study cancer genetics and knew all the prognosis and possibilities but even then I was scared and did not know what to do. We have no control, no power. Things just happen. In my last post I wrote that as a kid I wanted to be an astronaut and see the world from above hoping that this would answer some of my questions. Well, I became a scientist of the very small (molecular level). And I love what I do. I read a lot, but sometimes I read and I know too much about things like diseases that could affect loved ones. This became part of my frustration. Always in my life I got into conflicts, defended my point of view, always thought that I was right and owned the truth. I’ve got a lot of bullshit because of this, but I’ve tried to change and listen more than talk. There are times I can’t and I talk too much and then I regret it. Today, I am a changed man that takes more risks and spend a lot on things that I do not know if there will be a return. There’s a quote from Albert Einstein that says “Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new.” Try new things, especially in the professional field and take risks. I take a lot more risk and try not to think about the consequences and of the future. I believe this applies to the personal sphere as well. I think many things and decisions that I have made in my life until today were right and others I would do differently. An important thing that I think a lot after turning 40 is  that we are needy beings and although we need “alone moments”, we need loved ones around us in the “long run” and it matters a lot. I’ve changed a lot looking back to my early 20s. So, my advices are: forget trying to control everything, avoid perfectionism, take risks (being rational, of course) and live a happy life. The bottom line is that life is too short. Like the famous Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer once said: “Life is like a whiff”. So, let’s enjoy life while we can.

Reflections on turning 40 – Chapter One: Trust

May 1st, 2017

For people that does not know me and my history, I was born and raised in Brazil and spend more than 10 years in the United States. Now, I split my time between both countries and also travel all over the world. When I was little, I wanted to be an Astronaut, mainly because I was very curious (I am still curious…). The National Space Agency (NASA) in the Unite States was using the Space Shuttle to send astronauts to space and building the International Space Station (ISS). We are talking about the 1990s. Everything changed when I got from my dad the signature of the Magazine “Scientific American” (the English version) and started reading a lot. Also, I had a Biology teacher in High School that sparked my interest in Genetics and the Human Genome Project that was going on at that time in the United States and in Europe. Over time, I lost interest in space and became interested in the world of the very, very small: molecular biology and genetic engineering. I was curious to know what was inside the cells, and the Human Genome Project caught my eye. That’s how I decided to get into genetics. So I changed my Career Goals, did a B.S. in Science with Majors in Biochemistry and Immunology and moved to a biggest city in Brazil to do my Ph.D. in Genetics (in this case Sao Paulo). I was 21 years old at that time and a very naive person. Intellectually very capable but raised in an Environment of values such as Integrity, Character and Trust. Like they say: “book smart” but not “street smart”. After that, I finished my Ph.D. in a record time of 4 years and with 26 years old I moved to Boston to do a Post-Doctoral Degree at Harvard University. That was a dream coming true! The best University in the world! The first year was all excitement, but in the second year I started getting frustrated since the scientific and academic system seems to be broken all over the world, even at Harvard (check my previous post entitled “Science is Broken: how, why and when?”). That is when I met another Brazilian doing a training in Boston and we started thinking on new ideas that could impact the genetics field and, most importantly, people. This is when one of the first start ups I have build started, just as a concept. After two years in Boston, I decided that it was time to move on and I got an invitation to go to Chicago to work at Northwestern University, full of professional promises. Well, the promises were never fulfilled by my boss there. He lied. This is the first lesson I’ve learned and my Dad always told me this but I never paid attention: pay attention to what people tell you and their actions. If they overlap, good, it is a trustful person. If they don’t, this person is not trustful. Lesson learned right? Nope. Remember the Start Up company with the Brazilian guy? In the meantime, frustrated again, we started building everything. I was working remotely. The company raised capital in a bad way: I was against it, did not like the Angel Investors and the VCs. But it helped us get started. I was the Operations guy in the United States. With my tirelessly work we were able to get into two Co-Working Spaces and and Accelerator. I have even wrote and applied for the Patent we have today. We were also selected to go to the White House in a ceremony with 50 other Start Ups developing solutions in biotechnology and healthcare to discuss the Obamacare and the Affordable Care Act with leaders and the Vice President Joe Biden when Obama was President. It turned out that the people I was building the company with (my co-founder and the investors) basically lied again several times and in the end after several disagreements we sold everything. Second time is a charm they say. Well, no. Second time you lose trust is really a lesson learned. So, the most important thing I’ve learned in my 40 years of personal and professional life is that trust is the most important thing when starting a job, a company, a friendship, you name it. Even in marriage we need to trust our partner, otherwise the relationship starts in a wrong way. Another lesson, trust needs time to build but you can destroy it in seconds. There is a nice definition for trust: it equals consistency over time. I am reading a nice book about this subject since it really affected me and I am quite sure it affects a lot of people in the world (check the book: “The Speed of Trust: the one thing that changes everything” by Stephen Covey). The important take home lesson here is that independent if you are in Academia or becoming an Entrepreneur or Investor, trust is the most important thing to build since the beginning; with your boss, co-workers, investors, clients, etc. Loosing trust can really compromise Life and Professional Projects and impact your experiences and outcomes. There is a lot of “bad” people out there trying to cheat and use you with your intelligence and expertise. Just please learn the art of trust first then move on with your professional and personal life. Trust is the building block for Success. That is my advice.

Bridging Innovation between Academia and the Private Sector

March 30th, 2017

Recent studies of Innovation have pointed to the growing relevance of external sources of innovation. Rather than relying on internal Research & Development (R&D), private companies and organizations are reported to increasingly engage in ‘Open Innovation’, especially with the Academic Sector (check more information in the article “Relationship-based university-industry links and open innovation: towards a research agenda”). This means innovation can be regarded as resulting from distributed inter-organizational networks, rather than single companies. In the same vein, various concepts of ‘interactive’ innovation have been put forward to understand the non-linear, iterative and multi-agent character of innovation processes. But what is the definition of Innovation nowadays? According to different sources, innovation could be defined as the process of translating an idea or invention into a good or service that creates value or for which customers will pay. To be called an innovation, an idea must be replicable at an economical cost and must satisfy a specific need. Innovation involves deliberate application of information, imagination and initiative in deriving greater or different values from resources, and includes all processes by which new ideas are generated and converted into useful products. In business and enterprises, innovation often results when the company uses ideas in order to further satisfy the needs and expectations of the customers. Well, we know that most of the new discoveries occur in the Academic Sector and the Private Sector, even though having R&D, lags behind in some aspects. Depending on the country this will be different too and bridging innovation licensing and technology transfer between both sectors is not trivial. Today we see several Start Up Incubators and Accelerators popping up all over the world, especially in the United States. Each one of these has a different model and duration, however most are not connected directly to Universities. In the last 5-10 years, this is changing. We are starting to see established public companies with big valuations in the technology sector and also pharmaceutical companies opening spaces for Innovation, Incubation of Start Ups and even Start Up Accelerators to foster new Ideas that could be used to create new solutions and/or products for society. These are nice initiatives. For example Johnson & Johnson has the JLABS, with the main vision of empower and enable science to reach people that needs it faster. Will they work bringing more products to the company pipeline? We will see in the near future. However, technology transfer deals between academia and the private sector are not easy. We have a few professionals that are experts in this field, even lawyers that do not understand or are not interested. But, some successful deals happened and are happening. I have been the Director of a TTO in a University for a year and I’ve seen all the problems related to doing these types of deals. TTOs help Universities to commercialize Intellectual Property and Research developed inside their Campus. My take on these problems: mostly lack of efficiency in the processes. Why? What are the main problems in tech transfer and licensing between the Universities and the Private Sector? First, the academic professor and researcher from the University lack business skills, since he was not trained for that. In this case, the University must have a Technology Transfer Office (TTO) or a similar Department that supports the Professor in these cases. Secondly, the University still has some aversion of transfering a product or solution to companies that will bring it to market. I believe this is a cultural problem. When we say University, everybody has in mind a teaching Institution without the objective of having revenue and profit (and this is not the reality, Universities need a source of revenue that is not just Student tuition and private donations). Thirdly, when both sides, the University TTO and the representatives of the private sector seat in a big “marble” Table to discuss Terms and Conditions, the University is always the weaker part even though everything started there with their own resources. That could be justifiable since after the deal most of the risk until the new product goes to market will be from the company licensing it. What the future holds for Licensing and Tech Transfer? Well, I believe that all Universities must have a TTO with well-trained people to get the best deals for the University and the Private Sector needs to change the approach when dealing with an Institution that started the whole development of some product or service of their interest. It needs to be a “win win” situation otherwise it is a waste of time and money from both sides. I believe this a good start and things are changing in Tech Transfer and Licensing. However, both sides, especially the University needs to be more “professional” and business-oriented when closing these types of deal because, in the end, they will get their piece of the money pie if everything works well with no risk in the long term in most cases.

My Trip to China

December 29th, 2016

Last November, the Chinese Government selected five Brazilian representatives (see Image and Legend below) for the ITTN Program and I was one of them. I was selected to stay the whole month of November in China since I am the Director of Innovation and Research at UCB in Brasilia, the capital of Brazil. The selection criteria was the Innovation Stage and Evolution of the Academic Center of the Institution you are linked to and its current leadership. My Curriculum and Merit as the Director of Innovation was also evaluated. In 22 days, we had the chance to visit and do specific training in various Chinese cities, such as Shanghai, Beijing, Furzhou, Shijiazhuang, Nanjing, etc. Groups of people representing more than 15 countries such as Russia, South Africa, Belarus, Serbia, Thailand, India and others were also selected for this Training. Well, I just needed to write a Blog post dedicated to this trip since I’ve changed my vision about China. ITTN stands for “International Technology Transfer Network” and is a non-profit organization based in China that is dedicated to promoting international technology transfer and innovation services for organizations from different countries around the world. ITTN has already developed long-term partnerships with more than 400 foreign technology transfer organizations from more than 40 countries and more than 500 national organizations in China, which is a major Globalized resource collaboration network. After this trip I can say that China has changed, and a lot. Even though there are lots of problems, such as poverty, pollution, violence, etc I saw a country very focused in a strategic planning for the future, especially in sectors such as technology and Innovation. We had the chance to visit Universities, Hospitals, several Technology Parks and Company Incubators and I was blown away. The experience in all cities that we have visited was extremely positive. The country is in full growth in the productive and civil construction sectors. We had the opportunity to travel by bullet train between cities and the trains can reach up to 400 km/h. They built a huge railway network based system. We were able to see impressive work of infrastructure with technological parks connected to Shopping malls, housing and leisure area everywhere. In all the cities we have visited, there is a constant concern with the cleaning of air pollution, green energy and reduction of the emission of toxic gas, mainly carbon monoxide of the cars since the country has 1.3 billion people. China has been investing heavily in technologies to end air toxicity, which can reach extreme levels as we have seen closely in Beijing and Shijiazhuang, for example. Air pollution can be felt with a strong smell of toxic gases. Many people have to wear masks on days with extreme pollution. In the case of cities like Shanghai and Nanjing, pollution is already being better controlled by some measures that limit the number of cars per family and the use of small electric motorcycles. One fact that impressed me was the cleanliness of Chinese cities and all public transportation. My previous impression was that the Chinese cities were extremely dirty, especially the streets. This fact was demystified during my visit. In my point of view, the main highlights of this trip was China’s strategic planning to become the world’s first economy by 2020. The Chinese are bringing qualified professionals and people from around the globe to demonstrate how they will achieve this goal through: 1) Construction of Technology Parks in association with Universities in several key cities; 2) Changing the context of a country that supplies raw material, such as Brazil, to become an importer and developer of new technologies – mainly by technology transfer and licensing and 3) Strategically planning the entire scientific and technological sector together with the productive sector by building companies (mainly Spin-offs from the Academic Sector and Start Ups) in order to generate public-private partnerships. So the main highlight of my visit to China is that the Chinese people, as a nation, are making an impressive action plan focusing on specific areas of Technology and Innovation that are strategic to transform a country into a world leader. Thus, here is my advice: watch it out United States of America (USA), the Chinese are coming; fast and furious…

From right to left: Myself, Pascale from PUC-RGS, Cristina from FORTEC, Agnaldo from SEBRAE and Tais from PUC-RIO. Source: PUC-RIO’s Website.

From 9 Billion to Zero?

August 27th, 2016

We all know that the path to become an entrepreneur is a very difficult one. To build a company from the ground up, getting Investors on board, the Midia covering and all the fuzz around is like a rollercoaster. The most important part of becoming an entrepreneur is to create value, building a product and/or solution that could be applicable and used by society. Lately, we have seen a wave of hot startups, mainly in the digital and IT space, some of them with high valuations. Creating internet companies is relatively easy. All you need is a computer, IT infrastructure and a new idea and to build a new platform or a new app. In Biotechnology, the path to entrepreneurship is totally different. Biotechnology is defined as the manipulation (as through genetic engineering) of living organisms or their components to produce useful commercial products (as pest resistant crops, new bacterial strains, or novel pharmaceuticals) or simply the use of living cells, bacteria, etc., to make useful products (such as crops that insects are less likely to destroy or new kinds of medicine). Another area of biotechnology and life sciences that has grown is the diagnostics sector. The idea is to develop new tools and solutions to make disease diagnosis fast and easy. That is where the company Theranos got in. In this blog post, I will discuss how company valuation, especially in the biotech space is volatile. Elizabeth Holmes is a Stanford drop-out that created a new way of doing blood tests for various diseases using a “nano” tube so patients could avoid needles and all their hurdle. The company she created is Theranos and is an American privately held company doing health-technology and medical-laboratory-services which include disease diagnosis based in Palo Alto, California. Theranos also developed a blood-testing device named Edison, which is basically the hardware of the company product. The company claimed that the device uses a few drops of blood obtained via a finger-stick, rather than vials of blood obtained via traditional venipuncture, utilizing microfluidics technology. By the summer of the year 2014, its founders had raised over U$400 million dollars from several investors, valuing the company at U$9 billion. Interestingly, Elizabeth owned 50% of the company, making her a billionaire with a net worth of U$4.5 billlion dollars. The company operated for years in near-total secrecy, despite raising hundreds of millions of dollars. Holmes became a Silicon Valley celebrity, appearing in the Cover of several magazines, including Fortune, Forbes and she was a regular on the tech industry conference circuit. Her company, which claimed to perform dozens of lab tests on just a few drops of drawn blood, seemed poised to revolutionize healthcare and was talked about as a 2016 IPO candidate. Where is the big problem in all this history? How can a company claim that it has exclusive technology that will solve all the problems in diagnostic blood tests? The simple answer is that Theranos did not publish a single peer-reviewed article, it did not publish any Intellectual Property (Patents, for example) and never showed any results to the Scientific Community. It mainly worked in what we call Industrial Secrecy. Well, totally fine right? Not that easy. In the last 6 months the company lost value and credibility since the pressure to show results increased and they were not able to “deliver”. The negative midia coverage helped the company sink. Some articles were published, analyzing and comparing side-by-side Theranos’ technology with big diagnostic companies that are already well established in the market and their results were not good as expected. A company that on paper had a U$9 billion dollar valuation went down on spiral and now it is difficult to give it a “real” value. From billions to almost nothing in months. That is how it works when a company is created without true values and no transparency. What’s next for Elizabeth Holmes and Theranos? She lost the CEO position and the Investors are trying to “save” what is left. The company is being scrutinized now by the Scientific Community and by the Midia, the same one that placed her on a pedestal. Let’s wait and see what is going to happen but the outcome does not look pretty. Check this interesting Infographic/Cartoon on the company trajectory from Nine Billion Dollars to Zero.

Science, Innovation and Entrepreneurship Globally

July 25th, 2016

By Octavio L. Franco, Ph.D.

Professor and Researcher at UCB and S-Inova

In Brazil, science and research have always been associated to heavy expenses and the lack of short-term results. It is a big mistake to think that science and technological breakthroughs should not be a priority, such as education, health and safety. We just need to analyze developed countries and see the differences and benefits that technological developments could bring. Last month, the prestigious Scientific journal Nature published a nice compendium of the benefits of technological developments and science for some countries. Of course, the development in this direction comes from a well-structured partnership between the three main players that include universities, the government and companies. Each of these entities has their own culture, forces and motivations. Universities and their researchers are charged to give a response to public investment for the development of innovations, the government should notably be involved in solving the problems of his citizens and companies are always pressured by competition to bring better and more competitive products to the consumers. Thus, with multiple qualities and motivations, the combination of these three can be extremely synergistic in a very powerful way. Although this combination is extremely successful, there are difficulties so that development can occur with success. First, communication between professionals can be difficult and necessary connectors are professionals who can move the flow the information in and between different fields. Second, the combination of ideas and the implementation of them are required, since without creative dreams nothing changes, but also without execution nothing happens. Third, it is essential a high financial investment to mobilize the changes in these 3 players cited above. Financing science in Brazil is almost in its entirety made by the state and the government investments. On the other hand, there is a strong rise in countries like China, in which technological development is funded by approximately 35% of its resources by companies that require the generation of innovative products. Moreover, patents and/or trade secrets, bringing in improvements to these three players are able to protect these technological innovations, products and processes that are developed by them. In addition, the champions in this endeavor have been Israel and South Korea, consisting of nations with high technology development capability. Furthermore, small companies have been encouraged to start within the academic environment to further unite researchers and entrepreneurs, further expanding the entrepreneurship efficacy. In this aspect, the champions are the United States of America (USA), with over a thousand new startup companies founded in 2015. In the USA, there are innovation clusters where universities and companies are placed side by side in locations such as technology parks and geographic proximity brings real human and technological development. It is noteworthy that Brazil does not appear in any of these rankings and this fact shows that we are getting backwards. It’s time to take our nation to a stronger and consolidated state on science and technology. Technology has been changing man’s life since the discovery of fire and the bow and arrow. Technological development brings knowledge and knowledge brings power and better living conditions for the citizens. Nowadays, discoveries in the laboratories can really change the world, but only if these discoveries are transformed into real innovation. Science is vigilant on our side, acting wisely to solve the problems of our society. So, we need to take action now. Brazil, wake up for Science, Innovation and Entrepreneurship!

Reposted from the Article in Portuguese published at the Brazilian Newspaper “Correio do Estado”

Failure and Success go hand in hand

June 28th, 2016

Fact is that the road to Success is paved by Failure. “Failure” has come a long way from its 19th century origins as a synonym for Bankruptcy. Failure is a matter of perspective, and successful people or corporations can measure themselves against unmet goals and consider themselves failures. An example in the Biomedical field is the Mayo Clinic, world-renowned for their innovation and quality of care. Internally, they felt their Research wasn’t breaking enough new ground. So they created the “Queasy Eagle Award”, recognizing experiments and projects that were interesting and well-designed but ultimately unsuccessful. They got rid of the taboo of failure, and they exponentially grew the number of patents compared to the previous 18 months.  When the clinic recognized and valued their “near wins,” these failed experiments could become crucial steps in other, successful journeys. Think of your most recent effort that fell flat. What can it tell you? How can you use it to pivot to a new goal, or move you closer to the original? In 2000, physicist Andre Geim was awarded an Ig Nobel Prize for the apparently useless exercise of levitating a frog in a powerful magnetic field. A decade later, in 2010, he and Konstantin Novoselov won the Nobel Prize for isolating graphene, a one-atom-thick material that’s rapidly replacing silicone in countless applications. Lewis sees a direct connection between “the insouciance it took to levitate a frog” and the willingness to pursue the unlikely idea of isolating a two-dimensional object in three-dimensional space. Graphene was discovered during the “Friday Night Experiments” Geim and Novoselov hold at the University of Manchester, in the United Kingdom. It’s lab time set aside for unfunded, and unlimited, experimentatios – scientists at play. Unfortunatelly, we incentivize Creativity and Innovation by reducing the cost of failure, by creating safe spaces and comfort zones for exploration. In my personal experience, I had lots of failure in my personal and professional life. As a scientist, frustration and failure are words I would remember on a daily basis. Today I know that approximatelly 10-20% of what a scientist does in a lab works, with a high rate on failure. This could be explained by the idea that we are always risking in the “unkown arena” – things nobody discovered yet or build a hypothesis on. Lots of hypothesis are thrown away because what we expect is not the reality. The same is true in the entrepreneuship arena: we need to take risks and we will fail for sure. It is very difficult to “get it” at the first time. That is why we all see the expression “serial entrepreneur”. This is somebody that tryed more than once to build a company and failed. At some point the process of building the company worked and then the success came. Failure and success are always hand in hand. I’ve learned a lot with all my failures as a Scientist and as a serial Entrepreneur; however one thing I can say – it is never easy to realize something dind’t work or is not working and failure is coming. In the begginning, I was always blaming myself asking – is that me? Am I that bad at what I do? Believe me, this is normal. It is not you. It is mostly because it was not the right timing. My advice is keep trying and pushing and do not quit. There are two quotes from Thomas Edson about the thin line between failure and success: “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” and “Many of life’s failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.” So, my advice is if it did not work today, keep trying…