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Friday, June 17, 2011

Teach your children well

America has been a more entrepreneurial country than most, and California a more entrepreneurial state than most. It’s not in the water, perhaps some of it has to do with institutions, but certainly culture (and traditions and norms and values) have a lot to do with it.

Entrepreneurship is normally a subject taught in college, but various data points suggest that a lot happens at the K-12 level before entrepreneurs get to college. Below are some random thoughts about how such values can be inculcated, from my own experience as both an entrepreneurial scholar and the parent of a teenager.

Traditionally, Junior Achievement was the way to get kids to think past the lemonade stand into the opportunities provided by free enterprise. My wife taught several years at the elementary school level until she shifted to become a substitute teacher. Personally I think reaching everyone at a young age opens their eyes to the possibilities, even if their actualization is much later.

This week, the WSJ “Small Business Report” (advertising section) offered advice about how to raise an entrepreneur. After interviewing experts, pundits and actual entrepreneurs, writer Barbara Haislip suggested a list of six attributes:
  1. Adventurous: to explore and indulge their curiosity
  2. Dependable and Stable: have high standards
  3. Observant: have them see unmet needs
  4. Team Player, particularly through sports
  5. Lead by Example, from entrepreneurial parents
I have not been trying to raise an entrepreneur, but it matches pretty well what we are doing as parents. However, I think those that have done Junior Achievement will be more inquisitive and observant.

What does seem to be getting through to our daughter is the TV show “Shark Tank.” The staged confrontations don’t teach much — any more than the silliness of Idol or DWTS — but the issues that are salient certainly will stick with a young viewer. But personally, the value I see is in the ideation — some of the ideas are truly awful, but they show everyday people trying to build a better mousetrap, a few of which might actually cause the world to stand up and take notice.

Personally, I think it could be fun to combine all three. Take the WSJ checklist, do a brief lecture, watch an episode of Shark Tank and then debrief. Do this early in the year, before the JA program starts, so students are sensitized to the realworld implications of entrepreneurship (and perhaps watch other episodes, past their bedtime, to the consternation of their parents.)

Saturday, June 4, 2011

The problem of being acquired

(Cross posted to the Bio Business blog.)

At #IndustryStudies2011 this week in Pittsburgh, I heard an interesting talk about what happens to biotech startups after they are acquired. Panos Desyllas of the University of Manchester presented his study (with two Manchester co-authors) of UK biotech firms acquired 2006-2010 by non-UK companies.

The team studied in depth six acquisitions, interviewing executives from both sides of each transaction and also analyzing five years of trailing patent data. They also traced what happened to the key scientists after the merger by noting their affiliations in subsequent patents.

From this data, they came up with a simple (but useful) 2x2 typology: are the two firms similar in technology and are they similar in capabilities?

The firms might be exploring different technological frontiers. Or the acquired firm might have something that the acquirer does not — or vice versa — whether it be UK marketing by the acquired firm or global marketing by the acquirer. The (plausible) intuition is that complementary acquisition is more likely to create ongoing value than a more directly competing one.

The typology worked as predicted. In the case of acquisitions where both the technology and capabilities overlapped, the buyer closed the acquired company, keeping only an IP expert or two as a temporary consultant to transfer the tacit knowledge.

In discussion during and after the session, we discussed the case where the buyer bought a rival with the sole purpose of killing it. This happens all the time, and in some ways it seems like a special case with an utterly predictable outcome.

The other case I brought up was when the acquisition starts out as being complementary — but the acquired firm gets killed anyway.

In April, Cisco killed the Flip camera line that it bought for $590 million in 2009. Pure Digital founder Jonathan Kaplan was sorry to see Cisco knife his baby rather than put it up for adoption, particularly when it remained profitable.

The other example (from the life sciences industry) was Biogen Idec, billed in 2003 as a merger of equals between two biotech startups, Boston-based Biogen and San Diego-based Idec Pharmaceuticals. However, the failed merger brought the closure of the former Idec operations in San Diego last November, and the layoff of some 300 employees (including a close personal friend).

During Desyllas’ session, we discussed whether the closure was a good thing or a bad thing for the local economy. In true Schumpeterian fashion, the creative destruction makes available skilled talent to the local economy for other ventures. On the other hand, some off the displaced workers may never have a similar opportunity again.

But in the end, we agreed that the pattern proved a familiar point: companies get sold when the owners want to sell — usually when they want liquidity for an illiquid investment. Whether the founder (such as Kaplan) or the venture investors, once the company is sold all bets are off.