Vision without execution is hallucination.
Guest Post: Vineet Agrawal
Having come from an engineering, and now medical/scientific background, I believe that it is important to mobilize and organize our young professionals to simultaneously traverse the science, engineering, and biomedical fields with a thorough understanding of and an eye on entrepreneurship. I hope to make a case for the importance of increased collaboration between academia and industry for the generation of sustained innovation in science, technology, engineering, mathematics, and medicine. I also hope to share some of the advice that I have been lucky enough to receive from my mentors in hopes that it may help you on your path.
In my lifetime, I cannot think of another time when academia has been more important than now. It has become increasingly apparent that the United States is falling behind its worldwide counterparts in educating students in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics areas. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development recently ranked the United States 23rd worldwide in science and 31st in mathematics educational performance (http://www.oecd.org/dataoecd/34/60/46619703.pdf). Additionally, after a long period of growth in the 1990’s, the US has suffered from two recessions in 2001 and 2007-2009, leaving the economy in a very fragile state at best. Academia has served as a haven for many of us during these hard times, allowing us to return to school to further our training and escape the instability of the economy at the moment. That additional training also has the potential to inject innovation and novel ideas into the recovering economy. In my opinion, the institution of academia has been, and will continue to be, indispensible in navigating our country out of its current economic situation to move ahead.
Academia as the Catalyst for Innovation
I believe the true value of academia lies in its roots as the catalyst of innovation. By its very nature, academia is a think-tank for innovation. In a system that survives and thrives upon novelty of ideas and new approaches to age-old problems, innovation is a key prerequisite for success. I believe the freedom that I have enjoyed in my academic training thus far is unique to academia. Where else do I have the opportunity to relentlessly pursue risky, innovative, new ideas that everyone else would consider completely ridiculous? The 80/20 “innovation time off” model that Google utilizes is widely considered to be a very effective model for promoting innovation in industry. In the Google approach, their employees are expected to spend 80% of their on core projects of the company. They are to spend the other 20% of their time on personal projects and ideas borne out of their own interests and backgrounds. In the hands of creative employees, this approach has led to: (1) employee happiness, and (2) the development of a number of popular Google products. If only 20% of one’s time devoted to innovation can lead to such productivity, imagine what would happen if the same people could spend even more time on their personal projects. The beauty of academia is that, theoretically, we have 100% of our time that we get to devote to our own innovative ideas.
Entrepreneurship, Industry, and “Sustainable Innovation”
So, if academia is as great as I just made it out to be, why shouldn’t all innovation stem from academia? Well, where I think academia falls flat on its face is when it comes to “sustainable innovation.” Although academia is well set up to foster new, innovate ideas, I believe that its personnel and its establishment fall short in bringing those ideas to the mass market. After all, what’s the point a great new idea if people don’t actually adopt it? However, that is exactly what a good entrepreneur or a good company can do! Entrepreneurs are experts in problem solving, refinement, and marketing good ideas to the point of mass adoption. I recently read an article on the Huffington Post by Adam Lowry that more eloquently makes this point than I can ( http://www.huffingtonpost.com/adam-lowry/the-paradox-of-sustainabl_b_817024.html). Nevertheless, innovation without direction is not sustainable. In my opinion, this is exactly why academia needs industry and entrepreneurs.
The Road to Success? Find good mentorship, and a critical mass of colleagues
So, how do we do it? How do we become the next generation of innovators who can effectively combine both the entrepreneurial and scientific mindsets to successfully create sustainable, innovative ideas? I am a firm believer in the idea that good mentors go a long way. I highly recommend that you read Dhruva’s entry on mentorship (“Find your Obi-Wan Kenobi”). A good mentor that has presumably traveled the road you plan on traveling can point you in the right direction, and more importantly, steer you away from pitfalls. I would also say that one cannot underestimate the value of a critical mass of motivated people. While one person can certainly make a difference going at it on their own, each additional motivated person working with you synergistically adds to the efficiency and potential of an operation. If you want to be successful, find a good group of people to work with you.
There is no substitute for good old fashioned perseverance. Just like Chinese water torture, one drop of water at a time can have a substantial effect over a long period of time. A sculpture can be carved one drop of water at a time. If you truly believe in your idea, don’t give up on it. You’ll eventually make your sculpture.
Don’t be afraid of failure
I’ll leave you with one of my favorite quotes. “I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. Twenty-six times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.” – Michael Jordan.
Vineet Agrawal is currently an MD/PhD student at the University of Pittsburgh/ Carnegie Mellon University.
Carl Ehrlich on how to do well by doing good.
It’s with great humility that I add my first post onto uInnovate.
With a thousand and one things on my plate, I’m usually hesitant to take part in any type of blog-posting or guest-writing, but the issues uInnovate looks to tackles are too large, the mission too important, to overlook. When Dhruva first explained uInnovate’s purpose— to focus on organizing youth geared towards entrepreneurship in science and tech— it was music to my ears. After leaving Harvard University and spending much of my subsequent time in developing countries, these four things have been particularly close to my heart.
1. Science. I’m admittedly biased because my mother is a civil engineer, but science— the discipline of how things work— is the backbone of all major development. In rural villages, it’s the work of scientists that enable people access to clean water systems, electricity and essential medicines. Health is a prerequisite to any labor or development, and science paves the way down this road.
2. Tech. The importance of technology can not be underestimated. Plain and simple. Any group of peoples looking to compete in a global marketplace must embrace technology and find ways in which it can improve upon the quality of life of their people. Some people see technology as getting a high-paying job in a start-up incubator. I don’t. I see technology as a means of insuring human rights by documenting and storing records on property rights. As a vehicle of public health by establishing rural check-up systems for communities without regular access to medical professionals. As a means of transparency to fight against corrupt politicians and inefficient public programs.
3. Entrepreneurship. In the last few years, I’ve come to see entrepreneurship in an entirely different light. While I’d previously focused my attention towards non-profit solutions to social justice, I’ve had my eyes open to the power of entrepreneurship. In a capitalistic driven society, organizations (even those with a social cause), must embrace the start-up model to capture real, market-driven solutions to social issues.
4. Youth. If not us, who? If not now, when?
I’d like to leave it there, but I’ll end on one simple set of questions that Eric Ries poses to all entrepreneurs in his remarkably successful book “The Lean Start-Up.” Evaluating these questions— both from an entrepreneurial and humanitarian perspective, may help you along your way.
1. Do Consumers recognize that they have the problem you are trying to solve?
2. If there was a solution, would they buy it?
3. Would they buy it from us?
4. Can we build a solution for that problem?
And I’ll say goodbye with my ultimate wish for anyone using this platform: Do well by doing good!!!
When he’s not reading, hiking, mountain biking, telling jokes or debating politics, Carl Ehrlich works for an organization which teaches high school students the intricacies of international development in developing countries.
Really: Creative expression as THE networking vehicle!!??
Today started like most typical days– I found myself repeatedly poking the snooze button on my iphone (wishing Siri would actually listen to me for once), I then collected the energy to take a shower, and finally I was caught fighting my coffee craving until my openly-admitted habitual addiction overcame me. Next came more typicality – drifting into other traffic lanes on my commute to work, which really isn’t a reflection of my shotty driving record only my addiction to, among other things, mobile news! While driving under the influence of mobile news and operating daily on my growing coffee addiction aren’t things that I’m ready to confront – the idea that Pinterest hit 11 million users definitely is.
I think Pinterest goes beyond the purview of addiction at this point—but I guess it’s not shocking that creatives are popping up everywhere doing everything from pinning up trinkets of self-interest on virtual walls to burrowing themselves in claustrophobic metro tunnels for movie night (DC **http://www.dupontunderground.org/). While I realize the ship has sailed on me when it comes to recognizing this quantified-self trend, it’s not too late to begrudgingly endorse it. While by no means do I consider myself the prototypical creative – the short is – I get it. More and more, we see that virtual self-expression evokes common interest between individuals who previously had no vehicle to connect. More importantly when people of common interest connect books are written.
Virtual pinups and metro-theaters are just touching the surface of a creative’s purview. Here’s a short list of a few applications/sites either supporting features of self-expression or networking through common interest:
Glancee: Is a Geo-locational application that allows users to see who is around you based on common interest.
Sonar: Uses Foursquare to show you people nearby. Sonar also uses a ranking system to give weight to the people around you and whom you might find the most interesting.
Fancy: Is a for curators of style expression. It’s partly a blog, magazine and bookmarking tool. It’s a place to share and discover great stuff, to curate a collection of things.
I’ll leave you with a short phrase from Todd Park which I really think summarizes my endorsement: the most powerful form of change requires people. People who are inspired by a common idea, issue, or trend. Their collective energies to enact on whatever this idea becomes often creates a paradigm shift.
So whether you’re an aspiring nuclear physicist or creative writer I urge you to find and adopt mediums of self-expression.
PS- While I’m lucky to come out unscathed from my mobile habits, it’s definitely not something I would recommend (Thought this post deserved a disclaimer!)
Unleash the Lion: Part II
Guest Post from Onyeka Nwelue
The Nigerian music scene is one of the most vibrant music scenes in the world. It has produced timeless voices. It has also produced young men and women who are telling the Outside world the story of positivity, hence, the realistic plunge into its promotion to the World.
Entrepreneurship in Africa among young people isn’t always about ‘start-ups’ and ‘incubators.’ There is a general idea to generate revenues from simple means. However, the tendency to ignore the business of music management has completely crucified the implementation of structure in the system. A situation where there are functioning record labels and management companies, on the move to recruit artistes and properly handle them, there is a notable flow in the creativity of these young people. For once, music is money. Big money. Even though we know that a lot of music promoters have failed in the process of trying to invest in artistes and not realizing anything, what one should realize is that the taste of music isn’t about the artiste, but about the music and how it is presented.
Few months ago, I started work on a project, called OutofAfrica Concert. At the initial stage, it started as collaboration with an entertainment company, Angloheritage, based in Lisbon, Portugal. Slowly, it worked itself into an entity that might just serve the entire African communities in Europe and Asia. The whole idea of this project is to take African performing artistes to Europe and Asia and let them perform at clubs and do road shows.
The show will parade such artistes as Bez Idakula, Jeremiah Gyang, Edge, Gt da Guitarman, Beautiful Nubia, Christine Ben-Ameh and other artistes who indicate interest to tour Europe and Asia with the crew. Proceedings from these shows will go to the clubs playing host to us and also to Blues & Hills to continue promoting the music of the continent, hence, you have a growing enterprise that will completely invest in the promotion of Nigerian music.
It is not easy to avoid loss. It is the typical omniscient approach towards risk-taking. Most of the times, it is either that we borrow money to fly these bands and end up not getting what we want or we encounter challenges at the embassies, for the most part that the embassies doubt the credibility of these events we are taking to their countries. The politics of the whole thing is to involve local sponsorships, which basically, is non-financial.
Things like this are very difficult to be done here. If we created music and let it journey itself, then the music and creative entrepreneurships that we glorify everyday have no dealings with us. With self-less passion, one can easily try to mobilize these musicians and have an agreement on the kind of stuff you expect to happen in Europe and fix these things. With a sense of revolving space, the idea is to present these key passions to the embassies, on the platter of collaborations to genuinely take Nigerian music to Europe, have these artistes presented to the tiny audience they may be struggling to impress in Europe and make them become the next African exports to Europe, which apparently, is the dream of every emerging act.
This is difficult, just like maths, but with the detailed contacts you have, this is a small dream.
Onyeka Nwelue is the Founder/CEO of Blues & Hills Consultancy and author of the bestselling novel, The Abyssinian Boy.
Unleash the Lion: Part I
For the last decade or so, the rhetoric around emerging economies has been focused on the so-called ‘Tiger Economies’ of India and China. But if you are a young entrepreneur or innovator, you will find that while there still exists tremendous opportunity, so too is there strong competition. Major firms and investors have already staked their claim in these countries, making it tougher to make your mark. To this we ask you:
Why try to dance with a tiger in a jungle when you can run in open land with a lion?
This is the first in a series on the investment and entrepreneurial opportunities, (particularly in STEM) in Africa.
One of the most ironic points of the last decade is that so much attention was focused on India, China, Brazil and Russia for growth. To be sure, these economies were maturing at a near unprecedented rate and, more importantly, these nations have begun to establish themselves as global powers.
But if you look at Africa, the economy is over $1.6 trillion, or about the size of Brazil or Russia. Consider also, the rate at which Africa is urbanizing. 40% of Africans live in cities, a number close to China, but exceeds India. The combined spending power of Africa is rapidly increasing as well; by 2020, African consumer spending will be approximately $1.4 trillion.
But don’t take my word for it. The world’s business leaders are taking note as well. Africa has been a focal point for foreign direct investment in the developing world. Africa’s coming out party is happening and we all can find opportunity there.
As technology innovators, Africa should be incredibly exciting. Take telecom, for instance. While the US is struggling with its telecom bandwidth and laying cables for broadband access, Africa is flying by with 3G signal across the continent. The limitations that exist in terms of legacy systems do not exist on Africa allowing us to finally design systems around people.
I think that the more you look at Africa and the opportunity, you will find new opportunities to innovate and I encourage you to do so. Our next article will chronicle the best way to take action on this opportunity and make a vision you have a reality!