Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Still not quite convinced

Understanding motivation can be key. My friend Fred Patterson, the SBIR Coach, calls it WIIFM: What's in it for me?

Only... we're sold a bill of goods by common assumption, that it's we, the entrepreneurs, the inventors, the scientists, the researchers, who must go as supplicants to the trough of Investors, tripping over ourselves to convince the moneyed that we are worthy of their largess.

I'm still not quite convinced. Turning the tables, I wonder "what's in it for me"? See, I'm a lone researcher, a radical, an oddball, who after several years as supplicant at the trough of Academia, after 150 faculty applications, and a miserable stint of Adjunct Servitude, decided to shirk the bonds I had willingly taken on, and head out on my own.

I stumbled into SBIR. And, now, little more than a year and a half later, my firm is growing from one, to a staff of six (four full-time). We're patent pending, about to start our first Phase II, and our second Phase I with a different agency on a related but distinct project.

I believe in the mission of SBIR to support innovation wherever it lurks. I believe in SBIR as an open competition of ideas, not as earmarks. I believe in the wise use of public funds to spur and stimulate and foster and fertilize the fragile seeds of innovation. What a wonderful idea: small pots of money for outstanding ideas, to support a short path to proof-of-concept.

What's in it for me? I have learned. A spare six months to delve whole heartedly into the realm of my passions, to test the mettle of my ideas, to drive those naked thoughts into evidence. Yes, indeed, this will work, and it will solve your problem. Then, the chance to compete for Phase II funding, to support a full-scale R&D effort for a couple years, creating high-quality jobs along the way. Finally, the chance to make those dreams a reality by commercializing the results of those ideas and that passion, solving real-world problems, paying back the largess of public coffers. That's a win for everyone.

But what's in it for me to (possibly prematurely) sell off parts of my firm to investors, whose interest may more likely begin and end with dollar signs, not passion, or ideas, or public interest? I'm not much for knocking on doors, beating the bushes, and doing a song and dance for investment.

I'm not much for paper entrepreneurship, writing dazzling business plans. Sure, I can project millions in profits like the best of them. Only, it's far more interesting (and difficult) to actually achieve it. Do I need private investment to get there? Will private investment ensure I get there? Will it help?

Those are the important questions. I can't say I know the answer just yet. I'll answer a knock at the door, and listen in earnest to the pitch. But for now, I think I prefer if they work to convince me. I always enjoy a good song and dance.

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