Friday, July 24, 2020

Favorite Insights from “Creation in a Time of Disruption”

Our recent virtual panel—“Creation in a Time of Disruption: How COVID-19 is Driving Innovation”--brought together three of the talented entrepreneurs featured in Innovation on Tap. Brenna Berman, Jean Brownhill, and Brent Grinna are each leading their organizations through this difficult period of pandemic and social unrest, and each was gracious enough to carve out time to share experiences and insights.

One of the common challenges mentioned was the adjustment overnight from having mission-based, close-knit, high energy cultures to leading remote workers that ranged from Millennials (suddenly sheltering alone without any real support system) to parents trying to work while taking care of small children or home-schooling. Disruption has reinforced the dual role that work plays in employees’ health and well-being and in the health and well-being of partners, clients, and customers.  All three leaders agree that refocusing on mission helped to re-ground their teams in this unsettled time.

The conversation shifted about half-way through from one about COVID to the George Floyd tragedy and issues of equity and inclusion.  As Brenna Berman said, “The pandemic will be managed and addressed . . . [but] the social justice issue is the one that’s going to take the hard work.” The idea that entrepreneurs can use this moment to arrive at a more just and equitable workplace was a moment of epiphany for me.

The complete video can be found here on the City Tech Collaborative site--and thanks for their sponsorship.  Below, I have chosen just three of my favorite insights (lightly edited for context and clarity) from the 75-minute panel. There is much more, and I encourage you to watch it all. 

Sunday, July 5, 2020

Tweets for Tweets (2): My Favorite Bird Photos of H1 2020

I managed to sneak three birding adventures in the first half of 2020 before the Coronavirus lockdown in March.  Two were wintertime trips in New England and the third included ten days in Colombia, traveling along the Andes from Cali to Medellin.  We visited the Anchicaya Valley, the Sonso wetlands, Otun Quimbaya, Los Nevados National Park (13,500' elevation), the Reserva Ecologica Rio Blanco, Cuidad Bolivar (for a pair of Speckled Owls), Las Tangaras, and beautiful Jardin.

In all, we saw more than 400 species, most new to me. My head exploded sometime between days 6 and 7 but my fellow birders propped me up and down the mountains, clicking away.  I needed three months, our nightly bird lists, and Merlin Bird ID to identify everything stuffed into my camera.  

Below, I've chosen my favorites pictures from the Colombia trip, preceded by a handful from my H1 local activities.  It's worth saying that North America is down 3 billion birds since 1970, much of the loss due to habitat destruction. Two-thirds of the remaining species are threatened by climate change. Industry manages to kill more than a billion birds annually.  To add to these human-made catastrophes, the Trump administration is working to gut the100-year-old Migratory Bird Treaty Act. If this treaty is reinterpreted as the Department of Interior would like, industry would be "freed from legal liability even if their actions result in the predictable, avoidable, and massive killing of birds." I'm hoping the string runs out before this reinterpretation is approved. 

Anyway, from New England:

It wasn't a big winter in New England for Snowy Owls, but a few graced our presence. Snowy Owls are the Beyoncé of the local birding kingdom; when one is spotted, an adoring crowd quickly assembles. 

Monday, June 29, 2020

An “Innocuous Looking” Box: The Rape Kit, Innovation, and the Matilda Effect

(Source: Public domain from
Martha “Marty” Goddard invented the rape kit, but until recently, never received credit.

She fought for years to have her idea accepted by law enforcement and the courts, to have sexual assault treated as a crime and not, as author Pagan Kennedy writes, a feminine delusion. 

Goddard was sometimes encouraged, sometimes funded, but often ignored and belittled.  She herself was raped by someone pretending to be a supporter.

She died an exhausted, penniless alcoholic.  Her heartbreaking story is told beautifully by Kennedy in the New York Times Sunday Review.  But Goddard’s idea would, as Steve Jobs encouraged, go on to dent the universe. 

I invite you to read Kennedy’s compelling article.  I hope that, one day, it becomes a book.  It will make you angry and frustrated and maybe want to cry.

Based on my own reading of innovation, I have a short postscript to add.  But first, the basics:

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

James Forten: A Fortune Made by His Own Industry

Featured in chapter 3 of Innovation on TapJames Forten (1766-1842) lived a rags-to-riches story so impressive that he became among the wealthiest businessmen in Philadelphia, and a powerful voice for African-American reform.

Forten’s future was cast the moment he accompanied his father to work at the sail-making business of Robert Bridges, a white Quaker. By age ten, Forten had acquired the basic skills of his lifelong trade while learning to read at a nearby Quaker school.

Anxious to support the Revolution, Forten enlisted as a powder boy on the 450-ton American Royal Louis. During Forten’s maiden voyage, the Royal Louis captured four British vessels. His second cruise was met by the British warship Amphion, however, and in October 1782, Forten found himself a prisoner aboard the Jersey in Manhattan’s East River. He barely survived his seven long months of captivity.

In 1785, Robert Bridges welcomed Forten back to his sail loft, and within a year named the toughened, ambitious young man his foreman. In time, Forten learned how to outfit and repair sails for every kind of vessel that appeared in the port of Philadelphia. In return, Forten provided his older friend and boss with leadership and the wisdom of someone whose own life had once depended upon quality sails.

When Bridges retired in 1798, he lent Forten the money to purchase his sail-making business, ensuring he maintained the firm's customers. Bridges was clearly Forten’s benefactor, but support from the greater Quaker community in Philadelphia helped to level the playing field and made it possible for the talented Forten to excel.

Friday, May 29, 2020

Two Things Old Entrepreneurs Can Do For New Entrepreneurs in a Pandemic

Crises are all the same because they are all different: Something has happened that has never happened before.  It’s worse than anyone could anticipate. There’s no obvious solution—and some people doubt there is any solution at all.  We are doomed.

So it is with the COVID-19 pandemic.

If you are a seasoned entrepreneur, perhaps one who is mentoring students in an incubator or influential in your local ecosystem, here are two simple ideas to make things a little bit better.

Model Perseverance

The defining quality of a successful entrepreneur is supposed to be grit. Perseverance. Tenacity. Determination.  Resolve. The ability to struggle through obstacles and weather hard times.

Nobody wants to be locked down.  Nobody wants to wear masks or miss summer at the beach.  Everyone wants to eat at a restaurant and get their hair cut. But mercy, people: we live in a nation that stood shoulder-to-shoulder in the viscous soup of a swimming pool, spreading SARS to our closest friends.  

We live in a nation where half of us are about to fail the Stanford Marshmallow Experiment.  And the price of failure is suffering and death.

If you are an entrepreneur who built your business on perseverance, it’s time now to model that trait--alongside kindness and civility.  What’s good for entrepreneurial success turns out to be good for life success as well.

Be Optimistic

Being optimistic is not about putting on a happy face. 

It's about acknowledging that the crisis is real, that people are hurting, that solutions are elusive—but that we have been in this situation before and we have overcome.  Every single time.  We just tend to forget our own history.