Category: Entrepreneurs

Podcast interview with Mike Totterman, Chairman and CEO of iCardiac Technologies

published date
May 10th, 2007 by

Drug safety is a big issue these days. FDA has been criticized for allowing drugs with safety problems to reach the market. Merck is embroiled in thousands of lawsuits over heart problems allegedly caused by Vioxx. And not a month goes by without the cardiac safety profile of a marketed drug being questioned. Yesterday, the Senate passed a bill granting the FDA greater authority to restrict the use of drugs when safety problems are discovered after launch.
I recently joined the board of iCardiac Technologies, a startup company which is developing new tests that use ECGs to find cardiac safety problem with drugs early in development. iCardiac has already signed a research alliance with Pfizer and attracted investment from venture capitalists.

I visited the company today and spoke with its Chairman and CEO, Mike Totterman. Listen in and hear what he has to say.

How to kill the US economy in two simple steps

published date
May 7th, 2007 by

There’s a good article in today’s Boston Globe (Start-up India) about the dramatic contribution Indian immigrants make to the US economy. It starts with the story of Ganesh Venkataraman, who did graduate work at MIT, then stayed to found a biopharmaceutical company.

Venkataraman’s journey from India to America, and his transformation from engineer to scientist-entrepreneur, is emblematic of a generation of Indian-born immigrants who arrived in the United States for graduate school and stayed to become a key part of high-tech start – ups in fields like life sciences and telecommunications.

Many of these immigrants, and their companies, have become the gold standard for venture capital investment…

But Venkataraman’s story isn’t unique. In fact, people of Indian origin play a central role in US-based growth companies.

Neeraj Agrawal , partner at Battery Ventures in Waltham, estimated that roughly a quarter of the start – ups funded by Battery have chief executives of Indian origin, while half have Indians in their senior management ranks. “You want to fish in a good pond,” Agrawal said. “These are guys who will run through walls to make things happen.”

Sounds great, doesn’t it? Highly-educated, hard-working people creating jobs and wealth? The article cites several other examples and demonstrates that it’s no surprise that things have worked out this way. The entrepreneurial culture of the US combined with the technical training and stiff competition in India have formed the business equivalent of Reese’s Peanut Butter cups. And it’s not just Indian entrepreneurs, but people from many other countries as well.
The Globe paints a purely positive picture. But let’s face it, this great success story is under threat. There are two main things that could wreck it. One is happening.

  1. Make it harder for foreign students to come to US schools in the first place
  2. Make it harder for them to stay after they graduate

There was an initial dip in foreign students in the US after 9/11. Luckily the schools understand full well that they need foreign students and have been active in advocating for continued entry. Recently, student visa issuance has been increasing again.
However, it is definitely harder to stay on after graduation. There used to be a fairly clear path from student to worker to green card holder to citizen. Now it’s so much harder to get the H-1B visa in the first place. As a result the US is sending people home (or to third countries) who’d rather stay and make a contribution here.
And this change isn’t happening in a vacuum. As India and other developing countries have seen their economies improve, there are more and better opportunities for well-educated, motivated people to return to their native lands. So even if the US weren’t making it harder, there would still be increased competition. We should be working on how to make the US more attractive to such immigrants, not less!
The secret to US economic success has been an embrace of foreign-born talent and a dynamic, capitalistic economy. That model can and should be sustained. If it is, we can look forward to continued economic success. If not, we are in serious trouble.

A Harvard Crimson editorial from last month sums things up quite well:

Many members of the Class of 2007 effectively received deportation orders and lost their post-graduation jobs last week when it was announced that the supply of a key type of work visa had dried up in a single day—months before all but a handful of Harvard students could apply. The federal policy of cutting off educated and productive workers from overseas isn’t only unfair to those across the world who want a share in the American dream—it’s a bad policy for those of us who already live here. The federal government should dramatically raise the Congressionally-mandated cap on the H-1B high-skill work visa if not lift the cap entirely.

To many highly-educated professionals around the globe, America has long been a beacon of opportunity. Unfortunately, the United States has become a victim of its own popularity: last week, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services reported receiving 133,000 applications for H-1Bs on the first possible day, filling the cap of 65,000 more than two times over. Those lucky enough to have submitted an application will be entered in a lottery. But everyone else—including thousands of college seniors across the country who have yet to complete their graduation requirements—will be sent home to reapply next year.

This is a misguided policy because high-skill immigrants and guest workers contribute tremendously to our economy. For instance, one-third of Microsoft’s domestic employees are foreigners. And a 2004 study revealed that more American-born Intel Science finalists had parents who came to America on an H-1B visa than had domestically-born parents. Congress must recognize that the halo effect around these talented, innovative workers benefits the entire American economy. If we turn H-1B applicants away, they will take their training and high-paying jobs elsewhere—and shape global markets from places outside of the United States.

Let’s not kill the goose that lays the golden eggs.

Journalistic lapse

published date
May 2nd, 2007 by

Yesterday, the day Rupert Murdoch made an offer for Dow Jones, owner of the Wall St. Journal, my copy of the Journal wasn’t delivered. It’s the first time that’s happened in 6 years.

Today it happened again.

I hope it’s a coincidence.

Social networking: the grey area

published date
April 20th, 2007 by

A baby boomer client of mine (in her late 50s) is fond of saying, “Mine will be the first generation to bring their laptop with them to the nursing home.” Kind of a scary thought, and probably true.

In the meantime these older boomers are taking care of their aging parents and turning to new technologies to do so. I got an email from the CEO of CarePilot, which bills itself as

The “first vertical search engine for comparing home health care providers in communities throughout the US…

Just as “Baby Boomers” have used the Internet to manage their communication, financial, shopping, entertainment, and travel-related activities, CarePilot believes that they will also turn to the Internet to research, select, and connect with home health providers for their aging parents…

We are not simply another social networking site, rather we offer our users the ability to share and communicate with each other via CarePilot connections, as well as the ability to research care providers using our database of more than 8,000 home health agencies throughout the US

It’s an interesting model: combining research tools and social networking and I’ll be interested to see whether it can prosper. Social networking is a hard thing to orchestrate. It helps to have a niche audience that has a major unaddressed, sustained need. PatientsLikeMe fits that description, giving otherwise isolated ALS patients (their first target) the opportunity to share information on how to improve quality and length of life for a disease that kills within a few years.

I can see the need for information when selecting and managing a home health agency and the site should be able to serve as a useful forum for people to share advice. There will be some challenges:

  • The site is just launched, and the conversations are being seeded by a few early users and staffers. They’ll need a critical mass of regular users
  • Caregivers tend to be quite time-pressed so they may not get into extended back and forth discussions that help such forums thrive and be remunerative for their owners
  • Some of the useful information will be about specific, local agencies. There are so many agencies out there it may be hard to get enough discussion going about any individual one

Consumer Driven Guy lets us down

published date
March 20th, 2007 by

A year ago I mentioned that Barry Stokes, a.k.a., The Consumer Driven Guy, was launching a website to help consumers understand how to navigate the health care system. He’s now in prison on charges of embezzling millions from HSAs, FSAs, and 401 (k)’s.

Sounds like a lot of people have lost their savings. That’s not one of the usual risks you hear about in consumer directed care.