Archive for the ‘Science’ Category

How to Build a Global Center of Innovation Excellence in Salzburg, Austria

Pascal Levensohn Salzburg

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 (c) Blowup Salzburg / Fachhochschule Salzburg

I recently joined the Advisory Board to Gerhard Blechinger, the Rector of the FachHochschule Salzburg, (the Salzburg University of Applied Sciences) and became a guest lecturer on Entrepreneurship at the University.  My inaugural keynote lecture focused on the challenges and opportunities for Salzburg to become a global center of innovation excellence.  To succeed in this ambitious initiative, the academic, business, and entrepreneur communities will need to collaborate closely.  In my view this commitment to collaborate is in place. I also believe that the greatest challenge for the region will be overcoming cultural biases that punish risk-taking and are intolerant of failure in the process of building new companies…

Below are selections from my formal remarks:

“… While many countries have accelerated their national research and development investments and funded national venture capital ecosystem development programs, there is still no proxy for the scale that has been achieved in the US, particularly in Silicon Valley itself.

The challenge that many regions face in seeking to become innovation centers of excellence can be summed up in one sentence:

Good ideas are generated from all corners of the earth, but few regions offer a complete and cost-effective ecosystem to develop these good ideas into great companies.

Why is this the case?

Silicon Valley has proven its fertility in giving birth to world changing technologies over many decades; its inspiration to the entire world has grown exponentially over the past 20 years because the Internet has empowered millions of previously unconnected individuals to collaborate, enabling information about anything to be shared globally and discussed in real time through audio and video conferencing on an unprecedented scale and at extremely low cost.

But it is not enough to simply have technology tools and risk capital in hand to build a sustainable innovation ecosystem.

For Salzburg to succeed as an innovation hub, it is essential for local private sector business leaders to make a long-term, active, and visible commitment to be active partners in this process.

How can Fachhochshule Salzburg act to further catalyze and contribute to a complete and cost-effective ecosystem for innovation?

How can the Salzburg community come together to nurture ideas into startups and see these startups grow into globally relevant companies?

How can we transform the Salzburg region’s traditional rural economy into a knowledge based, innovative business community?

First, we need to differentiate between whether Salzburg should prioritize the funding of entrepreneurs who are pursuing breakthrough innovation as opposed to incremental innovation. Pursuing breakthrough innovation can lead an emerging company to global scale more quickly, whereas incremental innovation leaves a resource-constrained startup vulnerable to both entrenched and emerging competition, especially in a regional innovation center.

Many entrepreneurs confuse what may be an exciting idea that is only a feature with a truly innovative concept that can become a standalone company. For example, today, designing a smartphone App that alerts you when you have lost your car keys isn’t a viable standalone company; today, a service-based local software solution to manage ecommerce for brick and mortar companies, even if it is profitable, is not an interesting technology investment.

In contrast, consider a patented, proprietary software platform that verifies whether goods are authentic or counterfeit. When that solution combines low-cost, unique labels that are a fraction of the cost of all other solutions, and uses an App on your smartphone to interact with your customers in a manner that has previously been considered impossible, that is an example of an innovative company. Not only does that company exist, it is Salzburg’s own Authentic Vision—and you will hear more from co-founder Thomas Weiss later this evening when he tells you about his journey as a Salzburg entrepreneur.

… Because of Silicon Valley’s large private risk capital pools and attractive startup ecosystem, many startups based on incremental innovation have flourished, but the long-term survivors, now industry leaders, remain few in number—this is a widespread reality in the world of technology: think of the semiconductor industry’s implosion since the 1980’s; the browser, search engine, and ecommerce wars of the late ‘90’s; and the social media wars of the 2000’s—giants have emerged, but many more players have fallen on the battlefield. Let’s not forget that Microsoft had a huge monopoly in operating systems in the 90’s. Apple’s iOS & Google’s Android emerged, challenged, and overtook operating system dominance in the space of a few short years.

In America, Silicon Valley’s cycles of creative destruction and renewal continuously spawn many new challengers– by funding multiple startups that compete relentlessly until they reach dominant self-sustainability, acquisition by a competitor, or bankruptcy. This has not occurred without excess and without some years recording staggering losses.

But the fundamental concept that entrepreneurs have the freedom to fail, and that, if they are worthy, the resources are out there to support them to try again, is at the core of the culture of entrepreneurial success that defines Silicon Valley.

Ideally, innovative startups should be built on ideas that face little or no competition—and this is one of Peter Thiel’s key messages to entrepreneurs who want their startups to be “born global”. Peter Thiel was born in Germany, co-founded PayPal and Palantir, and is one of the most successful venture investors in the world through his Founders Fund. He published the book Zero to One in 2014 . In this book Thiel urges entrepreneurs to pursue only breakthrough innovation: “don’t compete, truly innovate—competition sucks your profits away—find a way to have a monopoly.”

Thiel’s core thesis to get from zero to one is all about breaking through and doing something really new, and he encourages starting on a small scale: “Start small and monopolize.Once you create and dominate a niche market, then you should gradually expand into related and slightly broader markets.”

With this in mind, and of direct relevance to Salzburg’s entrepreneurial initiative, I will now point out several of the most important elements for establishing a successful center for global excellence in innovation and assess their viability in Salzburg:

Defining a Global Center

To be more than moderately successful today, any startup’s potential must be considered on a global scale from its inception. This means that all entrepreneurs must be aware of competing global technologies and try not to step directly in their paths— I have visited entrepreneurs from Finland to Shanghai to Santiago who are simply not doing the work required to be aware of the best in class technologies, of their competitors at other startups, and they don’t really know how to find out what is happening in Silicon Valley.

Silicon Valley Special

In closing, I would like to highlight how we believe that Salzburg can be transformed into a vibrant global center of innovation excellence. Salzburg is blessed with several key elements that are necessary preconditions for a global innovation center of excellence to emerge …

I do see challenges with respect to overcoming some of the cultural barriers to an entrepreneurial culture—specifically in developing and nurturing a cultural understanding and tolerance for entrepreneurial failure. But at the same time I am convinced that there is a real opportunity for global collaboration, supported in partnership with leading international corporations from the Salzburg business community, that can attract the best and the brightest entrepreneurs to FH Salzburg.”

Salzburg Advantages

Early 2014 Harvest for Napa Valley—Hard Data Provides Perspective on the Impact of Global Warming

As we walked through the Levensohn Vineyard last week with our viticulturist, Zach Berkowitz, and our vineyard manager, Stan Zervas, of Silverado Farming, Zach cut into a green berry from one of our vines. He explained that we are now 50% of the way through the growing season for the 2014 vintage because the seeds in the grapes are now turning crunchy and hardening.Grapes Levensohn 6 22 14

We expect harvest to occur three weeks earlier than our 2013 crop, which was picked on October 3. Since we replanted the vineyard in 2000, this may be the earliest Levensohn harvest yet (our latest was just before Halloween in 2005).  A key factor impacting the rate of grape maturity is the air temperature during the growing season. In the wine industry, the number of Growing Degree Days (GDD) measures this.

According to Washington State University, “The progression of in-season grapevine development is strongly influenced by air temperature. As such, average heat accumulation is often used to compare regions and vine growing condition. This average heat accumulation is often refereed to as Growing Degree Days (GDD). The summation of daily GDD units can be used for a variety of things: comparing one region to another, comparing one season to another, and predicting important stages in vine development (bloom, veraison, and maturity). … GDD are calculated by subtracting 50 from the average daily temperature (°F). If the resulting value is less than 0, then it is set to 0. Thus, daily GDD units are always positive.”

Silverado Farming recently published the following report on GDD for 2014:

Clusters in early season varieties are starting to grow tight. This continues to be an early season, as bloom and fruit development are earlier than usual. Growing degree days are still a little behind last year, but we are catching up. A month ago, 2013 had the most GDD over the last 21 years. Today, 1997 is the leader. The coolest season was 2003, but now 1998 takes that category. We are at 972 GDD, which is 17 GDD, or about one day, behind 2013.

We are eight days ahead of the average, meaning 972 GDD was achieved 21 June in the average year. Finally, 2014 is has the fourth highest GDD accumulation, trailing only 2013, 1997, and 1996. The chart below shows accumulated GDD for four key years since 1994. These include this year, the year with the most accumulated GDD (1997), the year with the least accumulated GDD (1998), and the 21-year average. 2014 is clearly warmer than the average, but about six days behind 1997. The NWS Climate Prediction Center continues to show high probability for a hotter than normal summer, so above average GDD may well continue this season.

It’s possible, but unlikely in my view, that 2014 may have lower GDD than 2013. But we also have to consider the exceptionally mild winter we had and the unprecedented severity of the California drought in any assessment of how things are changing in the Napa Valley for grape growers and winemakers.We do expect an excellent harvest again this year, with high fruit quality for cabernet sauvignon. All signs are encouraging at this mid-point in the growing season. But it would not be surprising to see 2014 overtake 2013 as having the most GDD since 1994 and continuing the trend of well above average GDD. We don’t see this trend reversing.

GDD

 

 

Two Important Reports from the NVCA: VC Fundraising Declines 53% in Q3 2011 and U.S. Medical Innovation is in Crisis

medical innovation image 1 Kelly Slone, director of the Medical Industry Group of the National Venture Capital Association (NVCA) posted an important article on October 7 on the NVCAccess blog, clearly calling out that the unintended consequences of FDA regulations have precipitated a full-blown crisis in medical innovation in the U.S. This crisis has already damaged America’s global competitiveness and slowed medical innovation in the U.S.  The report “revealed that US venture capitalists are reducing their investment in biotechnology and medical device companies and shifting focus overseas to Europe and Asia, primarily due to regulatory obstacles at the Food and Drug Administration.”

In related news, Mark Heesen, NVCA President, announced today that U.S. venture capital funds raised a total of  $1.7 billion, a 53 percent decrease in dollars from the third quarter of 2010 and the lowest amount since the third quarter of 2003.  Heesen observed in his blog post what he expects will become apparent when Q3 2011 VC investment statistics are released next week : “you can bet the total dollars invested into start-up companies will be a multiple of the amount raised.  It has been this way since 2008 when the industry began investing more than it was raising.  In fact, by the end of this quarter, the venture industry will have invested at least $20 billion more than it has raised in the last 3+ years.And just like a bubble, this imbalance is not sustainable.  Unless the industry begins to raise more money, we can expect investment levels to decline in the coming years in a significant way.”popped balloon

You can download the full report: Vital Signs: The Threat to Investment in U.S. Medical Innovation and the Imperative of FDA Reform, from the NVCAccess blog.

Some key conclusions from the report follow:

U.S. venture capitalists have been and will continue to:
• Decrease their investment in biotechnology and medical device start-ups
• Reduce their concentration in critical therapeutic areas, and
• Shift focus away from the United States towards Europe and Asia
FDA regulatory challenges were identified as having the highest impact on these investment decisions.
We must act now or lose our leadership position in medical innovation, job creation and access to life-saving treatments in the United States. If the current situation is left unaddressed, the implications to U.S. patients and the economy are significant:
• Many promising medical therapies and technologies will not be funded and therefore will not reach the patients that need them.
• Those that are funded may not be brought to market in the United States first, or at all.
• An estimated funding loss of half a billion dollars over the next three years will cost America jobs at a time when we desperately need employment growth.
• The U.S. leadership position in medical innovation will be placed in further danger and economic growth with suffer.

For more factual background on the decades of neglect that have led us to where we are today, you may find the following links to presentation slides useful:

America’s Slipping Global Competitiveness– Implications for the Next Generation of American Emerging Growth Companies, keynote speech remarks delivered by Pascal Levensohn at ICAP Ocean Tomo conference, March 24, 2010, San Francisco

American Innovation in Crisis,Cybersecurity Applications and Technologies Conference for Homeland Security (CATCH) Conference, Walter E. Washington Convention Center Washington, D.C. Keynote Speech by Pascal Levensohn, March 4, 2009

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Update on America’s Slipping Global Competitiveness– Implications for Intellectual Property Development of Senate Bill 515

ot_logoThis morning I gave the keynote speech at the ICAP Ocean Tomo IP auction in San Francisco.  My remarks explained the relationship between the long-term decline in America’s global competitiveness, the impact of the capital markets crisis on new investment in research and development, and specifically addressed Senate Bill 515, the pending U.S. legislation that will transform the U.S. patent system and broadly impact intellectual property rights in our country.  Some excerpts follow, and you can download the entire speech and slides by clicking at the bottom of this post:

“The absence of cohesion in American public policy can be seen in many areas—with cybersecurity coming immediately to mind.  Mike McConnell, former director of the National Security Agency, recently wrote an opinion piece in the Washington Post on why the U.S. is losing the cyber war, commenting that “The problem is not one of resources; even in our current fiscal straits, we can afford to upgrade our defenses. The problem is that we lack a cohesive strategy to meet this challenge.

This lack of cohesiveness comes from short-term thinking that has become prevalent in many aspects of American society.   The notion that “posterity doesn’t matter” has unfortunately taken root in our country, and this has led to fragmented approaches to public policy solutions across the board, corroded leadership among our elected representatives, and contributed to an entitlement culture and a lack of accountability that permeate much of American society.”

“The key obstacle to moving [patent] reform forward continues to be disagreement between several large high-tech companies, namely the group of Cisco, Microsoft, Hewlett Packard, and Intel, on the one hand, and life sciences organizations such as PhRma, BIO, MDMA, AdvaMed, Universities, several union groups, the NVCA, and others, on the other hand, over the idea of creating a new post-grant review procedure within the PTO and over the proposal on apportionment of damages in infringement cases.

As we consider the broad implications of this polarizing issue, we must first step back and remember that inventors and investors devote time, energy and risk capital to innovate new products and technologies.  Since the drafting of our country’s Constitution and even well prior to the establishment of the United States, it was understood that the greater good was served with a patent system that encourages this type of risk taking by protecting inventions resulting from innovation.  It is also understood, though in our country it appears to have been forgotten, that innovation, and job creation, come not just from large, well-funded enterprises, but in large part result from the efforts of small companies and individuals laboring to make a better mouse trap.

The core principles underlying the patent system have not changed.  We need to encourage and reward those that take risk to innovate new products, services and technologies.  Unfortunately, the patent system that served us so well for so long is under assault.  The cost of filing patents has increased dramatically.  The cost of enforcing patents has gone through the roof.  Injunctions have been taken away except for cases of head-to-head competition in the patented item.  Patents are now easier to invalidate after-the-fact.  A patent holder can no longer offer his/her patents for license without putting himself/herself at risk of litigation that he/she may not be able to afford.  Innovation involving patents has become a rich-man’s game, with an increasingly uncertain chance of return.

At a high level, we need to understand that anything that changes our patent system creates winners and losers.  In general, changes that weaken the patent system hurt inventors and innovators, while benefiting large companies with established market positions (e.g., monopolists) and low cost producers (e.g., offshore companies with lower labor costs, fixed currencies and weaker environmental standards).

Some argue for changes in the patent system based on a claim that non-practicing entities, often pejoratively called trolls, have too much power.  Some extraordinary examples, such as NTP seeking an injunction that would shut down Congress’ use of Blackberrys and some high dollar jury awards and settlements, have been cited by some as sufficient reason to argue for a radical restructuring of the way that patents are filed, challenged and enforced in court.

We need balance in this process, as changes may have the unintended affect of hurting those that we need now more than ever – inventors, entrepreneurs and investors that will innovate and create jobs here in the U.S.”

For a full transcript of the speech, including the slides, CLICK HERE.

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ACORE REFF West Conference Keynote Abstract, September 30

imagesThis coming Wednesday I will be speaking at the REFF West conference in San Francisco about the capital markets crisis and its impact on American innovation. Given the recent upwelling of popular press articles heralding the return of IPOs, my views, which are supported by newly released long-term statistics,are likely to generate some discussion. An abstract of my remarks follows:

The capital markets crisis has put an entire generation of American emerging growth companies at risk. America’s traditional leadership in entrepreneurial growth and innovation is now visibly faltering. This is the result of decades of government and corporate emphasis on short-term development at the expense of funding long-term, basic breakthrough research. Our nation’s lawmakers do not broadly recognize the public policy agenda implications of the fact that technology innovation has gone global. Recently published comparative international economic data reveals long-term declining rates of growth in U.S. government, corporate, and academic Research & Development (R&D) spending, particularly in Information Technology (IT). Further, a new study of the global capital markets illustrates the steep decline of the U.S. global share of public company listings for over a decade while other global stock exchanges have grown and flourished. All of these signs point to America’s slipping global competitiveness.

The global financial crisis has drained risk capital from the private sector at the worst possible time, compounding the effect of decades of neglect of our nation’s IT R&D infrastructure. Of direct consequence to the emerging Cleantech industry, the continuing IPO drought is a symptom of a deeper systemic liquidity crisis for small capitalization companies.

Predictions that U.S. IPOs are about to come back in a meaningful manner are wishful thinking. The current threshold criteria for liquidity as defined by the dominant underwriters in the U.S. accommodate only a small minority of the viable private companies seeking public growth capital. The severity of this untenable situation is compounded by a lack of awareness among our nation’s policymakers that all of these factors are interrelated (the announcement by the White House of an American Innovation Strategy last Monday notwithstanding).

It is not too late to address these challenges with realistic, achievable solutions that will enable structural capital markets reform. We must take specific actions to reverse the unintended consequences of a series of securities regulations bolted onto a framework that has been eclipsed by electronic trading and increasingly left behind in a fundamentally transformed global competitive environment. We must also recognize that, just as we nurture our startups in the unique environment of Silicon Valley, we must provide a public market structure that nurtures our fledgling IPOs and that allows middle market underwriters to support these companies with sufficient liquidity and with thorough, responsible research coverage.

Achieving these goals in the public equity markets does not require the relaxation of Sarbanes Oxley or of other recently implemented measures of corporate governance oversight and director accountability. To respond effectively, however, our legislators and regulators must share a sense of urgency to develop a coherent national innovation agenda that acknowledges new capital formation and new job creation through IPOs as top national priorities.

Business Week Report on “Radical Future of R&D” Misses Critical Capital Markets Link in Innovation Ecosystem

imagesThe cover story of the September 7 issue of Business Week reports on the “Radical Future of R&D“, focusing on the internationalization of research and development led by global corporations such as IBM and Hewlett Packard.  The magazine includes a story written by Adrian Slywotzky, “How Science Can Create Millions of New Jobs.” Mr. Slywotzky  is an “author of several books on profitability and growth” and currently a partner at the management consulting firm Oliver Wyman.  While the article makes important points about the sorry state of the American R&D ecosystem, the author neglects to mention that, in order to achieve the goal of new job creation,  healthy U.S. capital markets are essential and intimately linked to new funding commitments to basic scientific research.

The article cites the extraordinary decline of Bell Labs over several decades as an example of the model that we must seek to restore, and he makes other basic points about the decline in our nation’s R&D efforts.  These valid observations may be drawn from primary research sources such as the work published by the National Academies, whose most recent report, Assessing the Impact of Changes in the Information Technology R&D Ecosystem: Retaining Leadership in an Increasingly Global Environment, was released several months ago.  The article points to America’s innovation crisis along lines that have been articulated in greater detail by thought leaders including Judy Estrin and Norm Augustine.

Unfortunately, Mr. Slywotzky makes an important assertion about venture capital that is incorrect. I believe that, if he understood the reality of the venture capital industry today and its inextricable link to the Initial Public Offering (IPO) drought, his otherwise well-written article would have taken a markedly different direction.  Below, I quote several parts of the article that I found particularly useful, and I point out the error:

First, the positive:

“America needs good jobs, soon.  We need 6.7 million just to replace losses from the current recession, then an additonal 10 million to keep up with population growth and to spark demand over the next decade.  In the 1990s the U.S. economy created a net 22 million jobs, or 2.2 million a year.  But from 2000 to the end of 2007, the rate plunged to 900,000 a year.  The pipeline is dry because the U.S. business model is broken.  Our growth engine has run out of a key fuel– basic research.”

PASCAL’S COMMENT:  Basic research is a key fuel, but, in fact, the part of the U.S. business model that drives job growth in emerging growth companies is IPOs.  More on this below.

“It’s tempting to ascribe current job losses in the U.S. to the deep recessionor to outsourcing, but the root of the problem is the absence of high-value job creation.”

PASCAL’S COMMENT: Correct!

“… in recent years, outsourced software and manufacturing jobs have largely been replaced by millions of low-wage service jobs in fast-food, retail, and the like. . . . Of the roughly 130 million jobs in the U.S., only 20%, or 26 million, pay more than $60,000 a year.  The other 80% pay an average of $33,000.  That ratio is not a good foundation for a strong middle class and a prosperous society.”

PASCAL’S COMMENT:  This is astounding and very bad news indeed.

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Now, the mistake:

“Venture capitalists are sitting on plenty of cash and are good at bringing startups to the market.  We just have to rebuild the upstream labs that focus on basic research– the headwaters for the whole innovation ecosystem.”

FULL STOP.  First, the venture capital business is contracting severely:

From the April 18th, 2009 NVCA/PWC Moneytree report: “Venture capitalists invested just $3.0 billion in 549 deals in the first quarter of 2009, according to the MoneyTree™ Report from
PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) and the National Venture Capital Association (NVCA), based on data provided by Thomson Reuters.  Quarterly investment activity was down 47 percent in dollars and 37 percent in deals from the fourth quarter of 2008 when $5.7 billion was invested in 866 deals.  The quarter, which saw double digit declines in every major industry sector, marks the lowest venture investment level since 1997.”  for more industry statistics, CLICK HERE

Second, it’s just not that simple.  Mr. Slywotzky is ignoring the fact that over 90% of job growth from venture-backed companies occurs AFTER their IPO, and this has been the case since the 1970’s.  We have an IPO drought that has killed the small IPO, and it is systemic, not cyclical.  I have been speaking to this point publicly since March 2009.

A new study is going to be released in the next several weeks which will bring to light very important data about the long-term secular trend of declining public company listings in the U.S. Not only does this add tothe mountain of data showing America’s slipping global competitiveness, most importantly, the study develops a model establishing a direct relationship between this trend and American job losses.  Publicly traded emerging growth companies are the most rapid job creation engine in America, and successfully harvesting the long-term economic growth fruits from basic scientific research is tethered to this post-IPO job creation engine.

To be clear, IPOs, particularly IPOs raising less than $50 million, have become largely extinct due to unintended consequences resulting from a series of securities regulations that followed the rise of electronic trading networks in 1996.  The new capital markets study, which this blog will point to as soon as it is released, is written by David Weild and Edward Kim of CMA Partners.  Weild and Kim are also the authors of the important white paper published last November by Grant Thornton, ‘Why Are IPOS in the ICU?’.

Yes, we need to restore the U.S. Government’s commitment to funding breakthrough innovation in basic scientific research.  But we also need to take aggressive actions to protect critical elements of our nation’s innovation ecosystem and stop treating it as a series of loosely connected elements.  Government research centers, university centers of research excellence, corporations, and venture capitalists are commonly bound to the most important element of this ecosystem, the entrepreneur.  It is naive to believe that just promoting basic research will magically ripple though the innovation landscape and restore America’s lost greatness.  Understanding the complexity of this issue requires interdisciplinary and unconventional thinking. It also requires an understanding of how capital markets actually work and applying real world solutions to resolve an urgent problem– the death of the small cap IPO.

Bob Ackerman of Allegis Capital– America Depends on Entrepreneurs While Current Public Policy Assaults Them

Images On June 25th I moderated a panel on the implications of America’s
Innovation Crisis for Cybersecurity at the National Press Club in
Washington, D.C.  The full transcript of the slides integrated with my
prepared remarks is now posted at www.levp.com .  This event was sponsored by the non-profit Security Innovation Network.

At the end of the panel I asked each of the panelists, Bob Ackerman of Allegis Capital, Professor Randy Katz of Berkeley, and Dave Robbins of BigFix, to answer the following question:

“In closing, I would like each of our panelists to comment on the most
important change that they would like to see implemented in order to
promote the protection of our nation’s critical infrastructure.”

Bob Ackerman’s answer follows:

“The solution to the critical needs of our country  – whether it is in reinventing our economy or the innovation that is essential to protecting our nation’s critical infrastructure – will depend on the creativity and drive of entrepreneurs. At precisely the same time that political leaders are calling for expanded innovation to meet our national needs, there appears to be an almost all out assault on entrepreneurship in America – by deed if not by word.  Capital and talent are the two most valued and at the same time portable assets in the global economy.  For more than three decades, the United States was the destination for the best and brightest minds from around the world.  In the US, brilliant entrepreneurial risk takers found the resources they required to implement their dreams and an environment that rewarded those that took the risks associated with innovation – and succeeded.  Today, we are making it increasingly difficult for the best and brightest to come the US and stay to contribute to our economy. For those that are here, we are increasing the regulatory hurdles associated with building successful businesses while increasing the taxes associated investments make in long term innovation.  Stock options – once the great wealth builder for employees in start-up companies – have had much of their value striped by regulatory changes.  When combined with the current political overtones that suggest people who have achieved wealth must have somehow “cheated”  – we have created an environment where the risk/reward associated with high risk entrepreneurial innovation is seriously out of balance.  At precisely the same time where we are more dependent than ever on an innovation-driven economy and our competitors have borrowed our historical playbook – we are effectively erecting barriers to innovation in America.”

How should we respond?  We need to attract and retain the talent and capital necessary to fuel the engine of innovation.  We need to attract capital and encourage focused, systematic innovation through modifications in our tax code.  Lower tax rates for long term innovation is an excellent place to start.  We need to rethink our approach to regulation with a more constructive understanding of the levels of risk associated with (and appropriate regulation) companies as they grow and prosper.  A successful start-up company and a multi-billion dollar global player should not be subjected to the same level of regulatory oversight – in most cases. Further, our immigration policies need to focus on encouraging the world’s best and brightest to come to the United States, benefit from our educational system and remain here to contribute to our economy.  Today, our policy in this area can almost be described as “Here’s your PhD. – now go home!”.  Rest assured – the capital will follow the talent.

In parallel with the above, we need to take concrete steps to encourage companies to grow in the U.S.  This is a combination of the steps I have previously mentioned while making it easier for young companies to go public – tapping the capital they need to continue growing and adding high paying jobs to our economy.  Regulatory reform can address some of these issues but the venture industry also needs to take responsibility for re-invigorating the investment banking environment upon which a vibrant IPO market is dependent. This is an area where experience will matter.  For example, venture professionals who have lived successfully through these challenges in the past – have an invaluable historical perspective that can contribute to this revitalization.  Unfortunately, many have left or are leaving the industry.  Why – it’s become harder and harder to be successful while the rewards are being diminished.  They either retire – or they follow the entrepreneurs who are voting with their feet and talent and moving to greener pastures – in other countries.

Bridging the Gaps– A SINET Brief

logo_subToday’s Security Innovation Network (SINET) event drew 300 people to the standing-room-only main ballroom at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C.  CNN filmed the entire event, and we will keep all interested parties informed as to when the video of the three panel sessions will be available.

img_signet_panel2The content was very powerful, and many eyes were opened to the interconnected nature of the crisis in America’s innovation ecosystem and the negative implications for cybersecurity. As one questioner said, “when are you going to stop talking about the problem and start taking actions, and what are you going to do?”

The question was meant more constructively than it reads on paper, and the answer is, “hopefully, a lot, but we need influential change agents to volunteer to get involved with the SINET to get things done.”  Much more to follow…

Taking Silicon Valley’s Innovation Message to Washington: A Special Event on Cyber Security at the National Press Club June 25th Sponsored by the Security Innovation Network

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Four years ago I became very concerned that the threats to our nation's critical infrastructure from cyber attacks were not only increasing, but that the escalating risks to our country's economic and national security were being largely ignored outside of the intelligence community and small groups of innovative entrepreneurs focused on addressing this problem.  Through Levensohn Venture Partners' involvement as the lead venture sponsor of the IT Security Entrepreneurs' Forum (ITSEF) since its inception in 2007, and through my personal initiatives advocating public policy solutions to address cyber security issues, I have had some positive impact in increasing awareness of this problem.  The non-profit Security Innovation Network, on whose board of directors I now serve, is taking this message to Washington on June 25th. I am joining an unusual group of thought leaders crossing big business, small business, academia, venture capital, and government who have all come together to address the urgent need for solutions to our nation's cyber security vulnerabilities:

Admiral (Ret.) Michael McConnell
Sr. Vice President, Booz Allen Hamilton
Former Director National Intelligence
 
David Cullinane
Chief Information Security Officer
eBay

Tony Sager
Chief Vulnerability Analysis & Operations
National Security Agency
 
Jerry Archer
Chief Information Security Officer
Intuit

Randy Katz
United Microelectronics Corporation Distinguished Professor
EE and Computer Science Department, UC Berkeley
 
Dr. James Finley
CEO, The Finley Group
Former DOD Deputy Under Sec.
Aquisition & Technology

 

Dave Robbins
Chief Executive Officer
BigFix
 
Bob Ackerman
Allegis Capital
Managing Director and Co-Founder

 
John Weinschenk
Chief Executive Officer
Cenzic

 
Steve Elefant
Executive Director
Heartland Payment Systems

 
Robert Rodriguez
Chairman
Security Innovation Network

 
David Bryan
Executive Vice President
ManTech International

 
Dr. Douglas Maughan
Program Manager
Department of Homeland Security S&T

 
Bob Bragdon
Publisher
CSO Magazine

 

A brief description of my panel follows:

The Innovation Crisis in America—Implications for Cyber Security

The global financial crisis has exacerbated long-term negative trends
undermining the foundations of America’s economic growth engine.
Entrepreneurs, corporate and academic research and development
professionals, and venture capitalists are inextricably linked together
in this crisis. Declining spending on basic research by the U.S. Government and universities, reduced corporate R&D expenditures,  and systemic risks to the integrity of the venture capital growth engine are converging to undermine the development of cutting
edge future solutions needed to protect our country’s cyber security.
This perspective from two venture capitalists, a leading academic, and
a successful security entrepreneur highlights the interdependence of
these communities and the implications to our country’s prospects for
sustainable economic growth, new job creation, and national security.

Panel Chair: Pascal Levensohn

Panelists:

Dave Robbins, CEO BigFix
Bob Ackerman, Managing Director & Co-Founder, Allegis Capital
Randy H. Katz, United Microelectronics Corporation Distinguished Professor, EE & Computer Science Department UC Berkeley
Co-Chair, Committee on Assessing the Impacts of Changes in the
Information Technology and Research and Development Ecosystem, National
Research Council of the National Academies

Attendance at this special event will be limited to 125 applicants.

Registration Fee: $75.00

Registration Fee for Government Employees: $45.00

Registration Fee for Media: No Charge

For more details about the Security Innovation Network and this special event, CLICK HERE.

Getting From Here to There– It’s Time to Engage in Common Sense Approaches to Public Policy

I usually try to keep my blog posts short. Today I have failed in this endeavor but urge you to please read through to the end of this important post. The current issue of Foreign Affairs Magazine features an excerpt from Leslie Gelb's new book, Power Rules: How Common Sense Can Rescue American Foreign Policy.  This essay is exceptionally good, and, in my view, Gelb's thesis should be applied to all forms of statecraft and to promote the resolution of both newly emerging and long stagnating public policy debates.

Gelb accurately diagnoses the "weakening fundamentals of the United States.  First among them is that the country's economy, infrastructure, public schools, and political system have been allowed to deteriorate.  The result has been diminished economic strength, a less vital democracy, and a mediocrity of spirit."

Several paragraphs in this powerful essay deserve highlighting:

"The bases of the United States' international power are the country's economic competitiveness and its political cohesion, and there should be little doubt at this point that both are in decline.  Many acknowledge and lament faltering parts here and there, but they avoid a frontal stare at the deteriorating whole.  It is too depressing to do so, too much for most people to bear. … The United States is now the biggest debtor nation in history, and no nation with a massive debt has ever remained a great power.  Its heavy industry has largely disappeared, having moved to foreign competitors, which has cut deeply into its ability to be independent in times of peril.  Its public-school students trail their peers in other industrialized countries in math and science. They cannot compete in the global economy.  Generations of adult Americans, shockingly, read at a grade-school level and know almost no history, not to mention no geography.  They are simply not being educated to become the guardians of a democracy.

These signals of decline have not inspired politicians to put the national good above partisan interests or problem solving above scoring points.  Republicans act like rabid attack dogs in and out of power and treat facts like trash.  Democrats seem to lack the decisiveness, clarity of vision, and toughness necessary to govern.  This tableau of domestic political stalemate begs for new leadership.  The nation that not so long ago outproduced the rest of the world in arms and consumer goods, the nation lionized and envied for its innovation, can-do spirit, and capacity to accomplish economic miracles, has become overwhelmed by the tasks it once performed competently and with relative ease."

This is the most succinct and gut-wrenching summary of our national predicament that I have read.  Gelb puts his finger directly on the jugular vein of America's innovation ecosystem and diagnoses the multiple layers of dysfunction that have launched our country into such a deep crisis.  I share his fear of a new global reality developing along the following lines:

Images-1"The real danger in this universe of primitivism and plenty is not new wars or explosions among major states, or a world war, or even a nuclear war.  It is the specter of nations drowning in a flood of terrorism, tribal and religious hatred, lawlessness, poverty, disease, environmental calamities, and governmental incompetence.  Many nations are going under because they are simply unable to cope, and they will drag others down with them."

 

Gelb closes this essay with an impassioned plea for action, and most important, he retains a strong sense of hope and pride in our country:

"Every great nation or empire ultimately rots from within.  One can already see the United States, that precious guarantor of liberty and security, beginning to decline in its leadership, institutions, and physical and human infrastructure, heading on the path to becoming just another great power, a nation barely worth fearing or following.  It is time to send up flares signaling that the United States is losing its way and its power, that it is in trouble. But it is even more important to reaffirm the belief that the United States is worth fighting for both across the oceans and at home.  There should be no doubt that the United States, alone among nations, can provide the leadership to solve the problems that will otherwise engulf the world.  And for all the country's faults, there should be no doubt that it remains the last best chance to create equal opportunity, hope, and freedom.  But to restore all that is good and special about the United States, to rescue its power to solve problems, will require something that has not happened in a long time: that pragmatists, realists, and moderates unite and fight for their country."

ImagesI've been sending out flares to other realistic moderate pragmatists on this and other topics that demand a "common sense" approach for years.  Through groups such as the Council on Foreign Relations, the Aspen Institute's Socrates Society, the Working Group on Director Accountability and Board Effectiveness, and, most recently, the Security Innovation Network, I have joined and helped forge communities of interest bound together by empowered individuals who are thoughtful and constructive agents of change.  As Gelb points out, we have a lot of wood to cut, but I remain energized and, most importantly, hopeful that we can make a difference because we have to.  Given where America stands today, fomenting pragmatic and realistic change is not an option, it is a requirement.