Tuesday, 18 November 2008

Tell tale signs of opportunity – surviving the economic winter

When the world is in crisis – it is easy to talk yourself into a gloomy “do nothing” period of inactivity. But is this what entrepreneurs do?
At the moment the reality is that it is hard to find money to get going, customers willing to commit to purchasing anything, budgets that can be signed-off for pilot projects. We even risk current projects being cancelled and the aftermath of senior CEOs from “Bell weather” companies making statements that clearly suggest caution over enterprise!
So, when Dr Hermann Hauser says that the clear signs of a big opportunity is when you can see fast (big) growing markets, have a star team and possess defensible IP (or know how) can see the presence of money in the form of good quality venture capital within a supportive cluster – you look around at the moment and think - No Way!
But – Hermann has been involved in 62 start-ups – four of which have exceeded $1bn valuation – so apart from the macro indicators what else can an entrepreneur see that we can’t?
First – the entrepreneur can see High Quality people – with ideas and the ability to make things happen. Exceptional technology or exceptional ability to articulate a proposition.
Secondly – to ensure that the entrepreneur is in an ecosystem that is conducive to entrepreneurship – and in the case of tech entrepreneurship these would be Silicon Valley, Boston, Cambridge for example. Or if you were trading in spices – you would be on the spice route!! Andy Richards – a Cambridge biotech entrepreneur said that Cambridge was a low risk environment in which to do high risk ventures or as someone else put it les flaterringly – a cluster can be seen as a compost heap – where – when firms die the people are re-cycled!
Sometimes the cold business logic does not always deliver the right answers – for example AT+T were turned off mobile phones, IBM believed there would only ever by a market place for 4 computers and there have been many other gaffes over the decades! A particularly seismic event in technology transfer history is captured in the events that followed the publication of work on the monoclonal antibody. http://eprints.ucl.ac.uk/2079/1/wit1.pdf . In the first instance those in decision making positions did not believe that this work should be patented and only later realized the potential of this work in industrial and commercial terms.
In summary we come to belief, passion and a deep understanding of the opportunity (not just the technology). These together with skills to find opportunities, resources and the ability to chip away at customers and markets may be exactly the qualities we need right now in an economic winter.

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