Don’t Listen To Your Critics, VCs Are Not Enough, and Other Lessons from Breakthrough Idea Forum

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turning big companies’ strengths into weaknesses. And Myhrvold emphasized that failure is inevitable if you’re taking risks, but “you have to have a business model that can sustain that.”

5. Put the right team and culture in place. This is nothing new, but when it comes down to executing on breakthrough ideas, it is the most important factor. “The key is getting the right CEO,” Hood said. “And get focused. The biggest destroyer of young startups” is trying to do too many things, he said. (This is an example of a common principle governing both tech and biotech startups.)

Here are some thoughts on the deeper dives into potential breakthrough ideas that we heard at the event:

—Christina Lomasney from Seattle-based Modumetal showed how nanomaterials grown in a novel way could change the entire metals industry. It is already having an impact on defense and industrial applications. One question is whether the technical process (and the business) will scale up to handle mainstream applications in energy efficiency, transportation, and manufacturing.

—Mick Mountz of Boston-area Kiva Systems dazzled the crowd with videos of mobile robots moving inventory around in warehouses to improve the logistical efficiency of retail distribution. This got a lot of interest, especially given the strengths of the Seattle area in e-commerce and retail.

Steve Seitz of UW computer science and engineering (and Google) showed how computer vision techniques can be used to do things like build 3-D virtual environments from the world’s Flickr photos, and produce smooth imaging sequences of your kid’s face as she grows up.

—Bill Bryant of Draper Fisher Jurvetson outlined his firm’s philosophy of investing in “brave new world” startups that don’t just provide 10 times more value than the status quo, they strive to create new industries. Bryant argued that DFJ takes risks and invests in potential breakthrough ideas (such as Synthetic Genomics, Tesla Motors, Space X, and locally, Redfin and Opscode).

—Norm Wu from Seattle-based Qliance tantalized the crowd with his vision of primary care without health insurance companies, which is already working on a relatively small scale. One question is whether Qliance can scale up its business to handle all of middle America … Next Page »

Gregory T. Huang is Xconomy's Deputy Editor, National IT Editor, and the Editor of Xconomy Boston. You can e-mail him at gthuang@xconomy.com or call him at 617-252-7323. Follow @gthuang

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  • http://www.spreadingscience.com Richard Gayle

    Part of the disconnect between IT and biology may be due to a difference in the types of entrepreneurs attracted to each field.

    IT tends to pay off for development work in months. Biotech can take years if not decades.

    As an example, in 2008, there were no revenues from apps for the iPhone. A year and a half later, it is a $3 billion a year market, expected to be over $25 billion in 2013, after just 4 years.

    In biotech, we might be ready to consider filing an IND after 4 years, with another 5 or more years before approval.

    Those time frames are going to attract very different types of entrepreneurs, making it harder to find ones that overlap.

    – I liked the venue also although I wish they would fix the squeaky automatic door that kept opening and closing.