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Entrepreneurs: Disrupting Healthcare

Thursday, November 6th, 2014

If any consumer industry is ripe for disruption it’s healthcare—not just its recordkeeping.

Yet it would be hard to find any industry in which the established players are more resistant or just plain obstructive.

But thanks to people such as Elizabeth Holmes, founder of Theranos, and Dr. Isaac Yonemoto, founder of open-source IndySci, real disruption is happening.

Eleven years ago at 19 Holmes decided that she would spend her Stanford tuition on changing the healthcare status quo, which she did by upending one of the oldest, most expensive, completely ubiquitous, and least changed diagnostic tools—blood testing.

The new tests can be done without going to the doctor, which saves both money and time. Most results are available in about four hours, which means that you could swing by a pharmacy and have a test done the day before a doctor’s visit, and then the results would be available for the physician.

Each test costs less than 50% of standard Medicare and Medicaid reimbursement rates. If those two programs were to perform all tests at those prices, they’d save $202 billion over the next decade.

As an example of how helpful that can be, Holmes told Wired that Theranos charges $35 for a fertility test, which is usually paid for out-of-pocket and costs up to $2,000.

Those who aren’t partial to needles and vials of blood (most of us) should note that the Theranos test requires only one drop of blood from a prick of the finger.

Last year the company cut a deal with Walgreens to roll out Theranos Wellness Centers inside each of its 8000-plus pharmacies.

Dr. Isaac Yonemoto is used crowdfunding (campaign ended October 28) to finance Project Marilyn to create open sourced, patent-free cancer drugs.

The global market for these drugs surpassed $1 trillion this year. The average monthly cost of a brand-name cancer drug in the U.S. is about $10,000, according to the IMS Institute for Healthcare Informatics. (…) “The big picture is we’ll be trying to solve the problem of expensive pharmaceuticals by releasing drug candidates that put downward pressure on price through competition.”

Elizabeth Holmes’ one-drop blood test is the start of true disruption and if Dr. Isaac Yonemoto’s Project Marilyn is even half as successful as Linus Torvalds’ Linux they will change the face of medicine and the pharmaceutical industry forever.

YouTube credit: DNAutics

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John Chen and Blackberry

Monday, November 3rd, 2014

10679597884_0faee4d327_mRemember Blackberry, better known as the crackberry?

Remember the almost universal predictions of its imminent demise last year?

To paraphrase Mark Twain, “The reports of its death were greatly exaggerated,” and it’s moving towards turning around.

What changed?

The boss and the culture.

When John Chen took over as CEO his workforce was demoralized—no positive news and a constant focus on the problems the company was facing.

And that’s what Chen set out to change.

Instead of a culture focused on challenges, AKA, also known as problems, he crafted a culture of innovation by doing the following (read his post for the details).

  • Create a Problem-Solving Culture
  • Maintain the Sense of Urgency (As discussed last week.)
  • Take Care of your Company like it’s your Home
  • Know Thyself
  • Empower Employees to Take Risks
  • Everyone has a Role

Although Chen is focused on turnarounds, his approach and execution is applicable to any boss who wants a culture that attracts good people, motivates them to become great and retains them because they believe in the vision, as well as enhancing innovation and juicing initiative.

As Chen says at the end of his post,

All in all, a turnaround culture is one that enables everyone to pitch in to get things done. That requires focusing on a goal, and empowering employees to take risks and go the extra mile.

That’s how you win.

Actually, that’s how you win—period.


Flickr image credit: San Churchill

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I Want One!

Friday, September 19th, 2014

A Friday series exploring Startups and the people who make them go. Read all If the Shoe Fits posts here

5726760809_bf0bf0f558_mRarely do I see new products that I really want.

Most are in the category of ‘nice, but no big deal’—but now and then…

I see something I would love to have, as I did on BI earlier this week

Image credit: HikingArtist

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Entrepreneurs: Modifying Your Vision

Thursday, September 18th, 2014

https://twitter.com/SamsungMobilePH/status/509404624655503360What makes a hit a hit?

When you’re ridding a comet of popularity and constantly need to release a new, better version does it make sense to take a step back and garner outside to better understand why your product is hot?

Or are you confident enough in your vision that you feel it’s unnecessary?

Would it surprise you to know that the success of the iPhone was due to the very feature Steve Jobs belittled in his competitors?


People became blackberry addicts because they could do more on the larger screen.

The iPhone’s screen was substantially larger than Nokia.

Can you even imagine surfing the Net, watching videos or streaming a movie to a phone with a screen like these?


In hindsight, it’s not weird that Jobs might have been wrong about consumer preference for screen sizes in the four years following his death. Rather, it’s weird that he didn’t acknowledge that the iPhone’s (relatively) big screen size was actually driving its popularity while he was alive.

The iPhone is arguably one of Jobs’ greatest hits, yet he never really understood why—because the ‘why’ clashed with his vision.

To acknowledge something you need to be aware of it.

And no matter how good you are at seeing around corners, you may need to modify your own vision to respond accurately to what your market craves.

Image credits: @Samsung Mobile PH and Jorge Barrios via Wikimedia Commons

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The Hypocrites of Tech

Monday, September 15th, 2014

4744202563_f23be1cbb0_mSince it was first announced, iPad commercials have shown kids using them and millions of parents took to them to keep their kids entertained.

One major exception was Steve Jobs, the guru of consumer technology (his kids read hardcopy books).

“They haven’t used it,” he told me. “We limit how much technology our kids use at home.”

Jobs wasn’t alone.

Since then, I’ve met a number of technology chief executives and venture capitalists who say similar things: they strictly limit their children’s screen time, often banning all gadgets on school nights, and allocating ascetic time limits on weekends.

Chris Anderson, the former editor of Wired and now chief executive of 3D Robotics, Alex Constantinople, the chief executive of the OutCast Agency, Evan Williams, a founder of Blogger, Twitter and Medium and Lesley Gold, founder and chief executive of the SutherlandGold Group all limit or say no to technology for their kids.

“That’s because we have seen the dangers of technology firsthand. I’ve seen it in myself, I don’t want to see that happen to my kids.” –Chris Anderson

Limited or outright banned, technology is handled differently by those in tech when it comes to their kids.

Although some non-tech parents I know give smartphones to children as young as 8, many who work in tech wait until their child is 14. While these teenagers can make calls and text, they are not given a data plan until 16. But there is one rule that is universal among the tech parents I polled.

“This is rule No. 1: There are no screens in the bedroom. Period. Ever,” Mr. Anderson said.

In the light of new research, barring electronic screens from the bedroom has taken on new urgency and not just for kids.

The blue light from personal electronic devices has also been linked to serious physical and mental health problems.

(My sister’s doctor warned her months ago, but it took the article to make her stop.)

What the tech world sees is no different from what other people see on the news, but they pay more attention.

Not that any of this will change the ads or overall marketing of tech—it will keep targeting kids—hook them early they’re yours for life—and encouraging people of all ages to use their screens when it’s dark.

So much for the vaunted tech values of authenticity and transparency.

Actually, taking a step back, tech’s attitude seems more in tune with politicians’ attitude—more of a do as I say, not as I do approach.

Flickr image credit: Ernest McGray, Jr.

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Entrepreneurs: a Look at What’s Up

Thursday, August 28th, 2014

A look at what entrepreneurial minds are doing, whether they are starting a company or work at an innovative enterprise.

In May I wrote that graphene has the potential to change the world and it seems that Elon Musk plans to take advantage of it.

Tesla could soon achieve this 500-mile battery thanks to a development in graphene-based anodes, which can reportedly quadruple the density and output of lithium-ion batteries.

When I wrote about Ryan Grepper’s Kickestarter campaign to fund his reinvention of the lowly cooler in July he had raised $5M and counting. It ends tomorrow and is the most highly funded campaign ever.

However, with the financial support of 48,971 backers, Coolest Cooler has raised a whopping $10,362,461 — making it 20,721% funded. And the campaign doesn’t end until Friday.

The reinvention of the boring, unsexy butter knife is cool enough to attract boring non-shoppers with no little-to-no interest in the trendy—such as my sister. The attraction comes from the fact that it solves an annoying problem—something entrepreneurs should give more thought to doing.

The Stupendous Splendiferous ButterUp, a butter knife developed by Australia’s DM Initiatives, has a built-in grater that is designed to soften butter and make it easier to spread. 

Four college guys have developed a solution for women to a problem created by guys. It’s a badly needed product that gives women a simple way to know if their drink has been doctored.

The polish — called “Undercover Colors” — will change shades if it becomes exposed to a drugged drink. (…) Simply dip your finger in the liquid. If the polish changes colors, you’ll know not to keep sipping.

When it comes to large company innovation, I’m not sure who is more impressive.

The giant that re-imagined one of the most necessary and embarrassing products on the market today or the ad agency that created a hip way to get the word out.

The company is Kimberly Clark, the product is adult diapers and the agency is Ogilvy & Mather”s New York office.

Adult diapers are used by all ages, often due to injury, and the younger the user the greater the embarrassment at the check stand.

Nearly half of those who experience some form of urinary incontinence are under 50, according the brand. Among the causes are, for women, weakened pelvic muscles that can stem from pregnancy and childbirth and, for men, prostate cancer.

Here’s the ad.

YouTube credit: Depends

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Proactive Beats Reactive

Wednesday, August 27th, 2014


Years ago when I bought a hardware firewall an engineer friend told me that it would cost around a nickel (or it may have been 25 cents) to add the feature to a computer’s motherboard.

However, doing that would disrupt the hardware business, so it was/is easier to leave users as easy prey to hackers.

Which brings us to California Governor Jerry Brown, who just signed a law requiring all smartphones to have a kill switch by July, 2015.

CTIA, a trade organization for the wireless industry, thinks the legislation is a terrible idea.

“Uniformity in the wireless industry created tremendous benefits for wireless consumers, including lower costs and phenomenal innovation,” said Jamie Hastings, vice president of external and state affairs for CTIA, in a statement. “State by state technology mandates, such as this one, stifle those benefits and are detrimental to wireless consumers.”

Here’s a simple solution to the annoyance of uneven legislation.

Add “anti-theft technology turned on by default,” as required by the California law, to all phones wherever they are being sold.

Of course, if Apple, Samsung and Motorola Mobility, etc., had responded proactively to calls for a kill switch new laws wouldn’t be necessary.

Flickr image credit: One Way Stock

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Entrepreneurs: AlwaysOn Silicon Valley Innovation Summit 2014

Thursday, August 7th, 2014

kg_charles-harrisI always look forward to attending events produced by AlwaysOn. They do an exceptional job bringing together high-profile players appropriate for the conference subject, entrepreneurs, service providers and other interested parties.  The Silicon Valley Innovation Summit 2014 I attended last week was no different, but the devil was in the details.

Those both present and presenting were recognized tech movers and shakers—well worth listening to—the networking was excellent and I made some stealth contacts I’m not at liberty to discuss.

Subject matter centered on mobile any/everything, Big Data, SaaS, subscriber, consumer and investment globalization, which left me a bit disappointed even though big data is Quarrio’s ’thing’.

There was no mention of the tech I’m hearing/reading about daily, i.e., artificial intelligence, nanotechnology, synthetic biology, etc., and the combination of these technologies with mobile and big data.

We all know that this kind of focus and talk follows the money, so I am left with a question.

Are the ideas being funded yesterday’s instead of tomorrow’s?

KG Charles-Harris is CEO of Quarrio and a frequent contributor to MAPping Company Success.

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Entrepreneurs: Think It Through

Thursday, July 31st, 2014


Bill Gates is considered a pretty smart guy and his Foundation has provided funding to find solutions to global problems.


The results haven’t always been stellar, let alone affordable.

And it seems as if they’ve done it again.

After seeing an invention at the MIT Lab, Gates asked if it could be modified to use for birth control.

The Gates Foundation has pumped $4.6 million into a startup called MicroCHIPS, which has developed an implant that is capable of delivering steady, regular doses of hormones to control fertility for up to 16 years. When a woman is ready to start a family, her doctor simply disables the implant remotely, and then restarts it when she wants to prevent additional pregnancies.

This could be a Harvard case study of what happens when an idea is funded without thinking through the possible hitches, glitches and repercussions.

In short, contraception is both a religiously and politically charged concept and everything is hackable. (Read the article for the details.)

The thing for entrepreneurs to remember is that what sounds great late at night after a few beers, among a group of like-minded folks whose excitement and enthusiasm feeds off each other or like a flash of genius or an epiphany may not stand up to cold logic and due diligence—not to mention possible ethical implications.

Even if your name is Bill Gates.

Flickr image credit: Nam-ho Park hack

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Entrepreneurs: Ryan Grepper and the Coolest

Thursday, July 17th, 2014

Ryan Grepper’s Coolest is proof that necessity is the father of invention.

Not that his invention is a necessity and it won’t save the world or even a little bit of it, but it will make your summer fun easier.

The original galvanized metal cooler was patented in 1954.

Coleman introduced a plastic liner in 1957 and wheels were added a couple of decades later.

But nothing, including the fancy electric versions, even comes close to Grepper’s Coolest.

There are far more moving parts to manufacturing a complicated product such as Coolest, which Grepper seems to understand.

It’s also nice to see a “real” product from a twenty-something that while focused on fun will generate revenue through sales, not ads.

Obviously, others agree. Coolest has raised over $5.5 million dollars from more than 29,000 people—and the campaign still has 42 days to run.

Coolest is definitely a global business in the making.

I’m sure it won’t be long before he will have to choose between building a company and selling or licensing his technology.

What would you do?

Image credit: Coolest on Kickstarter

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