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American Entrepreneurism Takes Gold in Vancouver

Posted by Jon Klein of The Topline Strategy Group on Thursday, Feb. 25, 2010 @ 10:45AM 

By Jon Klein

Though only 177 of the total 258 Olympic medals have been awarded so far, with Germany and the United States still battling  for medal supremacy (as of February 23, the US had 26 medals and Germany 23), the real winner of the 2010 games has already been decided : American entrepreneurism.

From 1964 until 2002, the United States' performance in the Winter Games could only be described as dismal. During that period, the US ranked no higher than 3rd and as low as 9th in the medal count and only earned between 5% and 10% of all medals awarded.

US Winter Olympic Performance Lagged from 1964 to 1998, but Has Improved Dramatically Since

However, US fortunes started to change in 2002, when the country ranked 3rd in the medal count and won an impressive 14.5% of the medals awarded. In 2006, the US rose to 2nd in the medal count and as of February 23rd, US performance at the 2010 Games has hit its highest water mark since 1952, ranking 1st in the medal count and winning 14.7% of the medals.

So what happened to transform the US from Winter Olympics straggler to the champion of the games? If you think the reason is that a group of premiere Luge academies and Biathalon camps were established in the US to improve our training, guess again.  The answer is that over the last 20 years, the US has innovated its way to the top of the medal count. Of the 15 Olympic sports contested in Vancouver, one-third of them made their Olympic debut during or after the 1992 games: Snowboarding, Freestyle Skiing, Short Track Speed Skating, Skeleton, and Curling. The three of them that award the most medals (Snowboarding, Freestyle and Short Track) were primarily invented in the US and the US remains the unquestioned leader in these events.

2010 Winter Olympic Sports by the Year They Debuted in the Olympics

Notes: Despite Skeleton's presence in 1928 and 1948, the more relevant year for this analysis is 2002, the date it returned to competition. Mass Start Speed Skating, the forerunner to today's Short Track, was the popular form of the sport in the US and included in the 1932 Lake Placid games.

The impact of these events on US performance cannot be overstated. Of the 2010 medals awarded in these sports, the US has won an astounding 25% of the total. Without them, instead of ranking 1st in the medal standings, the US would be tied for 2nd with Norway, 6 medals behind Germany.

Performance of the Top 3 Medal Winners by Date the Sport Debuted in the Olympics

So what does this all mean? First, it means that we get to mingle great entertainment with national pride. For me, the highlight of the Games has been Shaun White winning the Half Pipe with a performance head and shoulders above everyone else. Second, and more importantly, it is a reminder that the strength of our country comes from our entrepreneurial spirit. These sports were invented in the US and through the hard work and dedication of the sports' innovators, generated a worldwide following that ultimately led to their inclusion in the Olympic games.


Jon is the founder and general partner of The Topline Strategy Group, a strategy consulting and market research firm specializing in emerging technologies.  Jon brings a unique blend of strategy consulting and hands on operating experience to The Topline Strategy Group and works closely with Semaphore on a variety of engagements.

Topics: entrepreneurs, American entrepreneurism, Olympics

The Life Sciences Success Blog: A Walk Through the Valley of Death

Posted by Richard Gabriel on Friday, Feb. 12, 2010 @ 8:15AM 

By Richard Gabriel

The Valley of Death for a Life Sciences company is that space, as coined by the NCI's Director of Small Business Innovation Research Programs Michael Weingarten, between a Phase 2 SBIR grant and the commercial success of the technology that is being funded and developed.

I've been there as an entrepreneur.  I've been there as an advisor who helps reorganize and counsel companies.  Bottom line is if management decides to follow the money and revitalize the business, the company and its shareholders will survive. I've built businesses from nothing more than purchase orders, down payments on contracts and a check book for financing.  With a smart financial manager, playing the debits and credits and working the receivables and payables, a business can survive those tough economic times. Guess what; those tough times are here again! And want to know something else?  Here's a surprise...your government is listening!

Here are some facts for you to chew on:

Life Science, medical device and services companies that have products for the Life Sciences Industry have a great opportunity with the National Cancer Institute's aggressive programs for Small Businesses under the STTR and SBIR programs. Just recently, I attended a conference in Boston hosted by the NCI's Michael Weingarten the Director of NCI SBIR Development Center; along with N. Stephen Ober, M.D. BU's Technology Development Executive Director, New Ventures. What was most striking about this half day of talks by companies that were hand picked to present by the NCI team and who were award winners of both Phase 1 and Phase 2 grants was the broad scope of the technologies and applications of those technologies. The Life Science technologies represented at the meeting were diagnostics, devices and drugs or as we like to say in the trade ‘D cubed'.

For those of you that don't know about these programs, STTR stands for Small Business Technology Transfer and is done with an institution, a not for profit, a university or medical center.  75% of the fund proceeds are given directly to the institution and the company is allowed to use 25% of the funds. The major focus of an STTR is to transfer important and meaningful technology from an institution into the marketplace through the participating company. The SBIR is known as a Small Business Innovation Research and a majority of these funds are available to the company. Collaboration with an institution is not mandatory.

SBIR phase 1 is up to $200,000 for a period of 6 months. Phase 2 SBIR's are for a period of 2 years and are upwards of $1.5 MM or about $750,000 per year. Most start up companies will be interested in the SBIR program as it helps fund research. If your company is lucky enough to win a Phase 1 SBIR and also a Phase 2 SBIR then your company is automatically eligible for the Bridge Award which is up to $3.0 MM over three years.  These funds must include an equal amount of investment capital that will help the company through the ‘Valley of Death' where many companies have perished even though they have had successful Phase 2 programs and have been, for whatever reason, unable to secure additional funding. The NCI has obviously analyzed its own program and the success and failures of its grantees and saw this valley of death and decided to do something about it!

For all the facts go to and you can find out everything you ever wanted to know about the NCI and their outstanding SBIR/STTR programs.

If your business is in trouble, call someone that has been through it because your best chance for getting through the Valley of Death is to have someone who has been there and come out the other side - more than once. Getting grants, finding new capital sources that you probably haven't thought about, reorganizing your business and focusing on revenues are some of the things an entrepreneur or funding group that holds a position in an ever downward spiraling investment can do.

You can't always sell equity or take on more debt to get your business and your shareholders out of hot water.  Sometimes it takes drastic measures - often painful.  But if a product line survives or a revenue stream is identified, sometimes that's all you need to re-trench and re-start a fundamentally strong business.  With good technology, smart road maps and proper execution you too can navigate the Valley of Death. My biggest problem as an advisor in a tough situation is "will anyone listen?" and "will the management team take action?"   In these cases you need a partner that is more than just a review and a proposal; you need a team that is all about fixing problems and initiating action.    One of the good things about surviving the Valley of Death is that you come out smarter, leaner, and more focused, with more promise and more certainty of success... almost worth taking the journey.

Send me an email and let me know your experience and


Richard Gabriel is head of the Life Science practice at Sema4 Inc., dba Semaphore (, a leading global professional services provider of Private Equity funds-under-management and technology diligence services. Semaphore currently holds fiduciary obligations as General Partner for six Private Equity and Venture Capital funds and advises General and Limited Partners as well as Corporations around the world. Semaphore's corporate offices are in Boston with principal offices in New York and London.


Topics: Venture Capital, technology, Life Sciences, SBIR, small businesses

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