Women founders of hardware/software startups.

August 28, 2013

A few days ago I caught up with my friend Helen Greiner who is a world-class engineer and a successful entrepreneur. Helen is an amazing person, a fellow MIT engineer, co-founder of iRobot, and now founder/CEO of CyPhy Works. I was proud to have been an investor and a member of her Board until earlier this year. My conversation with her motivated me to think of other women founders of hardware/software startups. I was embarrassed that only a few names immediately popped into my mind. But I knew there were many more. So I asked the twitterverse if they could think of some other awesome women hardware entrepreneurs and several names were added to my list.

Here are some such entrepreneurs I know, and some others that I would love to know better:

  • Limor Fried – Limor is an MIT alum and founder of Adafruit Industries, a pioneer in bringing electronics and maker philosophy to people of all ages. Limor founded Adafruit in 2005 and was the first woman engineer on the cover of Wired magazine.
  • Ayah Bdeir – Ayah is also an MIT alum and I was introduced to her by the current MIT Media Lab Director Joi Ito. She is the founder and CEO of Little Bits – an open-source kit of pre-assembled electronics parts that are plug and play into gadgets, devices, toys, etc. Think of it as the legos for the 21st century. Parents and kids love her gadgetry equally.
  • Kegan Fisher Schouwenburg – Kegan is the founder and CEO of Sols, an awesome new solution bringing 3D scanning and 3D printing together. Everyone I know who has met Kegan describes her as a force of nature. She was an early member of the Shapeways team (disclosure: Shapeways is my firm, Lux Capital’s, 3D printing portfolio company), and helped them build The Factory of the Future.
  • Lenore Edman – Lenore is a co-founder of Evil Mad Scientist Laboratories, designing and producing “DIY and open source hardware for art, education, and world domination.
  • Meredith Perry – Meredith is the founder and CEO of uBeam – a wireless electricity company. I really find what she is working on fascinating as (a) I hate carrying all kinds of wires and charging devices with me, and (b) wireless charging might be critical for an internet of things that some of us imagine in the not so distant future.
  • Jeri Ellsworth – Jeri is famous for building Commodore 64 emulator within a joystick. I would love to own one! She is a hacker/builder extraordinaire and seems to be developing a new company called Technical Illusions to commercialize a projected augmented reality game system.
  • Amanda Bynes – Amanda and her co-founder met at UC Irvine and created Fabule to build smart domestic devices, i.e. internet of things for the home, with personality. At Haxlr8r, she developed the first product, Clyde, which is a smart lamp.
  • Alice Brooks – Alice is an MIT/Stanford alum and founder of Roominate. She is determined to make STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) education fun, esp for girls aged 6-10, via a series of building toys.
  • Erin, aka RobotGrrl – Erin loves robots with a personality. She is a great role model for young women in robotics. She is also the designer behind Robobrrd which checked in at 151% of its funding target on IndieGogo.
  • Vanessa Green – Vanessa is an MIT alum and co-founder/CEO of Finsix which is developing a very high frequency power converter (transformer). Vanessa is also a board member of Community Water Solutions, a non-profit she co-founded in 2008.
  • Heidi Lubin – Heidi is the founder and CEO of Hybrid Electric Vehicle Technologies (HEVT). She is building high efficiency motors that are free of rare earth materials by utilizing innovations in hardware and software.
  • Mary Huang – Mary seems to be doing some very interesting work at the cross-section of hardware/software/design and fashion. Check out her 3D printed products at Continuumfashion.com.
  • Nancy Liang – Nancy is the force behind Mixeelabs, a platform for designers to create customizable products and sell them online. She is a Shapeways alum, now utilizing the 3D printing manufacturing capabilities of Shapeways to enable distributed product development and e-commerce.
  • Star Simpson – Star was the genius behind the TacoCopter. She is a maker and equally comfortable with electronics and robots as she is with code. Check her out at starsimpson.com.
  • Samantha Snabes – Samantha is a co-founder of re:3d, a 3D printing company based in Austin utilizing large format 3D printers to maximize production.
  • Dorian Ferlauto – Dorian is founder and CEO of Elihuu, a company that connects designers with the appropriate manufacturers so the product ideas can be turned into delivered goods in customers’ hands. I find the community they are building, of designers and manufacturers to be quite interesting.

This page of Lady Ada Lovelace Day also includes names of several other women entrepreneurs who are building awesome hardware/software products and solutions. There are obviously many many others who are doing amazing work. Please feel free to add other names in your comments. I am excited my daughter will have great role-models to look up to in STEM, hacker/maker culture, and engineering entrepreneurship.


The Hardware Tsunami Is Here. Know What It Takes To Build A Great Hardware Company.

August 8, 2013

One of my partners often quotes Henry Truman: “There is nothing new in the world except the history you do not know.” And this quote is more true in the history of venture capital than perhaps anywhere else.

The year is 2013…and hardware is cool again. Software might be eating the world, but its finishing dessert. Creative entrepreneurs are flocking to the hardware sector en masse, with hardware accelerators and incubators popping up all over the country and overflowing with eager applicants. The mainstream media is brimming with videos of cool new gadgets, and VCs are taking off their hoodies to blog about hardware (myself included). Hipsters are now proud to show off not the coolest app they downloaded, but the latest gizmo they backed on Kickstarter, or the newest bracelet that emerged from a 3D printer.

But that’s just noise. Here’s what important: (a) solving most interesting problems is what drives the best entrepreneurs, (b) a hardware component is often the most important element to solving meaningful problems in the world, and (c) investors flock to sectors where the best entrepreneurs go. The emerging hardware revolution is partly based on a realization by entrepreneurs (not investors) that we can’t just tweet our way out of the important problems that face humanity (with all due respect to Twitter).

KymetaHaving been involved in hardware startups as an entrepreneur and an investor for 10+ years, it is fantastic to see this attention return to the sector. VCs have made bushels of profits in the past from investing in hardware startups (from Apple to the semiconductor revolution and the telecom bubble of late ‘90s), and the future should not be any different. I welcome and love the focus on this sector and think it will result in major breakthroughs and great, lasting companies getting built over the next 5-10 years. This sector has felt a bit deprived of attention, especially since 2008. But now with some of the smartest people in the startup world focused on the space, many companies will reach bigger milestones faster.

Hardware startups can be both enterprise focused or consumer oriented. Major infrastructure, electromechanical tools, power generation/transmission/storage devices, robotics, medical devices, etc would all be classified as hardware companies. The renewed interest from today’s entrepreneurs comes from the belief that the confluence of distributed computing power, open source hardware and additive manufacturing have reduced the cost of building hardware so much that industrial grade solutions can now be built with consumer quality aesthetics and UI. What was once deemed possible only with expensive custom built machinery, can now be done with much simpler devices by taking advantage of the available computational resources. And not only that, when the hardware/software resurgence meets a socially connected and networked ecosystem, new solutions emerge that otherwise were not possible.

Excitement aside, in the world of building and backing companies, there is such a thing as being too early – or bringing too little to the party. Investors often want to be cheerleaders, but we can be more valuable pointing out challenges that others faced in advance so you can avoid them.

Below are some observations from my experience with hardware startups. Successful founders have been aware of that and managed through them artfully:

Teams – The heart and soul of any startup. Hardware startups tend to be highly interdisciplinary. A single MBA won’t cut it. More than likely you need to hire a mechanical engineer, an electrical engineer, a design engineer, and production specialist on your team to get even the most simple electromechanical devices off the ground. Hardware engineers don’t jump from firm to firm easily and hence top talent can be more difficult to recruit. The best teams I’ve seen in action usually had a handful of people with backgrounds in industry on the core team. Great CEOs surround themselves with amazing people, and that is especially true in hardware startups. It is a lesser known fact that scientific advisors can also play an important role in attracting strong talent. Entrepreneurs can use all the help they get. For example Naimish Patel at Gridco (disclosure: a Lux Capital portfolio company) has assembled a veteran team that boasts the credibility but not the culture from a multi-billion dollar electric grid industry that hasn’t changed much in 100 years.

Technologies – Hardware technologies are hard, interdisciplinary, and often filled with surprises. Hiccups, delays, and supply chain challenges are fairly common, and mistakes can be costly. Unless the hardware is really just a simple widget, an investor will be carrying technical risk in the company alongside any business vulnerabilities that always exist. New ventures need to remove technical risks upfront so the task of building a business becomes unhinged from “will this even work?”.

MatterportDesign – People have come to expect brilliant and well thought through design not just in software, but also in hardware. Maybe Steve Jobs is to blame for raising the bar so high, but it’s a fantastic thing to have happened in the hardware world. Even a mass spectrometer designer now has to remember that the user is likely carrying a beautifully design smart phone in his/her pocket. Design philosophies can be fundamental to how a hardware product is engineered, built, manufactured, and expected to be used by customers. And design is very hard to get right, and extremely hard to change when the gears are already in motion. Design for the right customer, with the right usage patterns in mind, and plan refresh cycles that make sense for the industry. Tesla, Nest, Fitbit are some examples of hardware products where design was a key factor in early customer purchase decisions. For the upstarts, hardware accelerators like Lemnos Labs, GreenStart, Highway 1, Bolt.io, Lab IX, Y-Combinator and others are providing much needed design advice to hardware engineers.

Data – Barely a day goes by without meeting a hardware entrepreneur who is convinced they are building a big data company and the hardware is just necessary evil to be dealt with. While I could not emphasize the importance of data and analytics to drive actionable intelligence for long term value creation in a business, such a negative attitude towards hardware development can hurt the design and development of world class products. Hardware products tend to lead with one or a very select few killer apps, and data/analytics often enable evolution of a product into a platform for future revenue streams. Don’t try to be everything to everyone, but be a perfect solution for your target customer.

Incumbents – In many sectors, incumbents have deployed Porter’s Five Forces excessively to build fences to keep entrants out. Hardware incumbents move slowly, but are self-aware, often building protective provisions in customer engagements to also reduce the pace of change. Longer term contracts, supply chain bottlenecks, technology cross-licenses, and global salesforces allow them to “own” middle management in large corporations. In such situations, seek out  customers looking for an edge to differentiate themselves in the field, and working with them to bring innovations to market faster. For example Toyota, Ford, GM may be big customers, but I would look towards smaller manufacturers from developing countries if I wanted to introduce new automotive-related technologies.

Intellectual property – Perhaps unlike software, hardware IP is not only easier to identify, but it’s built in multiple layers which can get quite confusing (often by design) quite fast. Large companies often cross-license hundreds (if not thousands) of patents and can frequently use IP to prevent innovation from taking their cheese. The best recourse is to take IP seriously, protect it aggressively, and to provide your customer with such a great and unique product that they are motivated to help protect you. For example Kymeta (disclosure: a Lux Capital portfolio company) is aggressively protecting its IP in novel satellite communications hardware because their technical innovation is a fundamental disruption in the market.

Regulatory barriers – Depending on the product, this could be a major issue to be dealt with even before your product’s beta-launch. I have seen at least one promising company’s life come to an early end because they mismanaged a nuanced regulatory landscape. Hire experts, drill them to get them outside of their comfort zone, and while remaining willing to bend rules, proceed with caution. Again, some of the most successful CEOs have always shown me a Plan B, C, and D when it came to regulatory matters. For example, as an investor Board member at UAV innovator CyPhy, I kept a very close eye on the regulatory changes affecting UAVs and flying robots, because they had a major impact on commercial opportunities available to the company. Of course, taking calculated risks on the regulatory landscape changing a particular way can sometimes be a very successful strategy. Or you can hope to be very lucky.

shapewaysManufacturing – A few decades ago the buzzword was “economies of scale”. You produced something once and replicated millions of times at scale to continuously squeeze inefficiencies out of the system and reduce costs. A former colleague termed the current phenomenon we see around us as “economies of un-scale”. Things can be produced at small quantities (using 3D printing for example) and then scaled in lower cost manufacturing centers. That said, manufacturing remains a major barrier to most hardware companies. Its expensive, mistakes are costly, doing it abroad could compromise technology and IP. While design cycles can be rapid, manufacturing supply chains are not as agile as we want them to be. I am not aware of successful hardware companies that did not have a credible plan of developing manufacturing capabilities close to home before embarking on a foreign adventure. Shapeways (disclosure: a Lux Capital portfolio company) is serving a global market for 3D printed products with distributed manufacturing centers. A single low-cost manufacturing plant wasn’t the right answer.

Value-chain/Distribution – Before making a hardware-related investment, I always lay out the value chain to understand who controls pinch points and can capture margin. In hardware startups, distribution is tricky and hard to do right when you have little leverage. Are there vendors in the supply chain who can truly obliterate a company’s best laid plans? One of my portfolio companies once burned through 3 months of cash (millions of dollars) because a certain specialized testing facility was just not available to test and certify their product. Whether the hardware is enterprise or consumer focused, direct marketing and direct contact with the end customer is incredibly important. A company must be able to identify exactly who benefits from their product and get buy-in at the highest levels. Fortunately for consumer devices, new channels are becoming available to provide initial customer feedback, quickly. Kickstarter, Indiegogo, Etsy, Ebay, others provide unique opportunities for early customer engagement that did not exist a few years ago.

Margins – Hardware margins are generally lower than those found in software. Sometimes these margins can be incredibly low, especially when producing in low volumes. Managing capital requirements through the optimal scale-up plans is critical to survive the growth phase. Not to mention the increased cash needs if you start getting returns and building up inventory. Hardware businesses must have strong VPs of Engineering and CFOs who are not just winging it.

Fundraising – Hardware startups may be in vogue now, but times and preferences change. Investors will need to have more patience and a stronger gut to deal with the ebbs and flows of the hardware business. These are not “bets” and “plays” – hardware startups need investors who understand why and how a company can manage through difficult circumstances, and bring strategic relationships to help in the process. VCs of all shape and sizes are right now seeding and investing hardware startups, but smart investors would be wise to partner with investors who live and breathe the hardware ecosystem. I advise hardware startups to always be ready to raise capital, if it is available at a good price – not only to prepare for hard times, but to also be prepared to run fast when opportunity presents itself. At Lux Capital, we focus primarily on hard technologies, but frequently partner with non-hardware firms that bring complimentary knowledge and networks to the table.

Exits – While entrepreneurs get teary-eyed thinking of the success Steve Jobs, Elon Musk and Tony Fadell have had in the hardware world, the cold, hard reality is that exits take longer, are more often evaluated on EBITDA multiples, and typical buyers lack the equity currency to pay Instagram-like premiums. Expect to hear the infamous “exit” question from investors. Even when they don’t ask, you should assume it’s something they’re considering. So you might as well give it some thought. Know the comps, understand what drove value creation, and be on top of relevant metrics that to your company. The upside? Because hardware startups in any space are harder to build, there is less competition and fewer me-too products. If your product solves a meaningful problem, expect a valuable return on time and capital for financial investors and entrepreneurs.

Looking at my notes from the last few weeks alone, I have met companies in following spaces: UAVs, satellites, high throughput DNA production, terrestrial robotics, hardware for retail analytics, personal health, quantified self, smart phone accessories, hardware/software toys for 21st century children, Internet of Things, computational imaging, 3D scanning and printing, virtual reality hardware, hardware for retail analytics, healthcare accessories, low cost diagnostics, remote sensing, portable medical devices/analyzers, open source hardware and others…this is just the beginning. The hardware tsunami is now upon us. My partners and I at Lux Capital are eager to help great entrepreneurs build their visions into successful companies.

Over-simplification of hard problems and nuanced technological innovations doesn’t really help.

April 12, 2012


Just saw this tweet and was left quite confused: I thought we were done making speeches like this in 2008!

My assumption is that Vinod’s description of the technology got a bit too simplified in somebody’s attempt reduce it to quotable 140 characters. Of all investors, Vinod probably knows best how difficult it is to realize and commercialize crazy materials science ideas and discoveries in real life.

My guess is that this “magic material” is possibly a bit like the new material described in a business plan I recently saw with the tag line: Zap material in a kitchen microwave oven to produce power from heat. That actually quite turned me off from the biz plan until I checked in with the professor whose lab this had came out of and learned that the reality was a more nuanced materials science project developing novel nano-structured materials for thermoelectric power generation. Microwave energy was only a way to orient crystalline structures resulting in higher than average ZT values. They fully understand how much more they need to characterize and understand the materials’ properties before making real world claims.

Just a request: for real progress’ sake, let’s make sure we don’t over simplify what are indeed rather complicated science and engineering problems.

Accelerating university spinouts and science-based startups

September 28, 2010

Technology entrepreneurs and investors are naturally drawn to the impressive research and innovation coming out of our universities and research laboratories to look for the next ‘gems’. I am as well. But the reality is that good university spinouts are really hard to come by.

Desh Deshpande, a well known entrepreneur, investor, mentor and the co-chairman of US President Barack Obama’s National Advisory Council on Innovation and Entrepreneurship recently stated that US gov’t spends more than $150 billion per annum on federal R&D. There is an expectation, not just by the government and the society, but research institutions themselves that significant technologies developed with those dollars would translate to commercial opportunities, especially in the form of new startups that would create additional jobs and drive economic growth.

So why is it that despite a strong focus from investors to back disruptive technology start-ups straight out of universities we don’t see as many as we would expect? Is there something missing in the science that our institutions are producing? or maybe investors don’t know how to find and polish a rough diamond straight out of the mine?

There could be multiple reasons but some that I have observed frequently include:

  1. University professors often stop short of taking their research output to a point where commercial potential can be more clearly visible to a non-expert in the field. Except for 1-2 short sentences used in a publication to justify the money spent, the system of peer-reviewed publications and departmental promotions etc is unfortunately not set up to motivate and encourage commercialization activities. In such a scenario, since professors themselves are lacking the entrepreneurial zeal to ‘change the world’ (entrepreneurial brilliance that is found in outliers like Bob Langer and Yet-Ming Chiang is not that common), we are often left with stranded science that doesn’t get translated into useful commercial activity.
  2. I have often heard post-docs mention that there is gap in funding research that would take early scientific breakthrough publications into engineering/product domains. Translational science is not supported to the degree it should be, and entrepreneurial grad students/post-docs are left with few options: (a) continue down the academic path and forget commercialization, (b) leave academia and join a  large company, and (c) walk the tough road of finding SBIR type funding outside of a university. It is a pity we don’t have adequate support for translational science because researchers often need to do additional technical work to prove hypotheses, demonstrate technology’s benefits in commercially tenable ways and assess risks, or develop economic projections that at least show a trajectory in the right direction. Government can likely be a strong supporter here, and organizations like DARPA and ARPA-E can play a crucial role here.
  3. Even in circumstances when the faculty might be inclined to commercialize their inventions, the single biggest gap in my opinion is not in dollars, but in the entrepreneurs that can truly make sh*t happen. Technical founders need equally strong business founders. I like to use the term Technical Business Development to describe these “sausage-makers” than CEOs. Ideally these people have some of the following characteristics, and hopefully more: (a) technically competent to understand the technology space well, (b) work experience in the space so they can quickly identify commercial opportunities to dig into, (c) have a strong network, esp with customers and commercial partners, so they can pick up the phone and get customer feedback instead of wasting hours decorating a ppt presentation, (d) know what investors look for at such an early stage and guide the discussion to focus on how initial dollars can create value, (e) have been a part of an entity where they observed success and great management closely, and internalized some of the learnings, and (e) be resourceful in difficult circumstances – so they provide comfort to the early stage investors that the entrepreneur they are backing will be able to make lemonade out of lemons if circumstances so require. Or as Mike Moritz said today at TechCrunch Disrupt: ‘able to reinvent themselves’.

So what do we do to improve the situation? I am looking for ideas myself, so please do share…Some thoughts include:

  1. We need to find more such Technical Business Development leaders and plug them into our research institutions as EIRs etc. We need less people with hefty titles but no ‘creativity’, less fresh MBA grads who want to do a startup but can’t commit time/effort to deeply understand a space, and CEOs who are really only looking for a job but dabbling to see if a CEO stint might come by out of a university interaction. We need people who are passionate about technology, about entrepreneurship, and the process of early stage commercialization. If they have prior experience in the above, they might even a higher likelihood of success. We need people who have horizontal breadth but ability to dive deep vertically on opportunities, can analytically think through market opportunities, have the resourcefulness/hustle to create customer/partner relationships even pre-funding, and are generally more creative about problem solving.
  2. We need more opportunities for faculty (and grad students, post-docs) that are doing research to be plugged into the entrepreneurial ecosystem. They should meet investors, CEOs, CTOs, company founders, potential Board members before they actually spin out the company – because with that knowledge and ecosystem around them they will do a better job crafting the spinout. Three years ago, General Catalyst Partners, and two other venture firms (Flybridge & Atlas) started an annual program called University Research and Entrepreneurship Symposium in Cambridge, MA. This is not a plug for our program, but for the idea to provide a platform for university researchers/PIs to showcase their exciting research in its relatively raw but digestable form to an audience that is comprised of investors and successful entrepreneurs.
  3. I have also griped before that at least in the cleantech/science community, we don’t see as much adoption of the new online social networking tools as we should have. While those working in IT/consumer/web are glued to their screens reading/wrting blogs & tweets etc, my twitter stream and RSS feeds are thirsty for more direct/raw conversations with scientists, innovators, creative entrepreneurs, even investors in physical sciences.
  4. Market research type organizations (eg Lux Research, GreenTechMedia etc), and possibly funding agencies like ARPA-E, can help even more by accelerating the entrepreneurship-related education of next generation entrepreneurs and investors by providing suitable workshops and forums. Topics could include state of the art technology, metrics used to evaluate new technologies’ potential and trajectory, costing exercises that can be shared across the industry, and case studies of what has and has not worked in different industries. From my own limited experience, I have seen many entrepreneurs come to me with similar business plans with several making the same wrong assumptions about the state of the art in their field of interest, capital needs, market channels, time-to-market, competitive pricing pressures etc. I just wish there was an efficient way to share learnings with them so they could develop better business plans.
  5. Last but not the least, the investor community will also need to step up to the plate and become more aggressive towards taking risks. Entrepreneurs can only move the needle so far without any support available to pay for basic expenses.

Anyways…these are just some thoughts, and I am open to learning from others. Don’t get me wrong, there are great university-based spin-outs being done regularly, and that is really the innovation/commercialization engine that I believe will be critical to our continued economic growth and success…kudos to those who have figured out better models than I have in finding, developing, funding, and supporting such enterprises. Lets share some of those learnings and promote the elements that have maximum positive impact.

For Ph.Ds and other technologists looking to enter the business world

May 4, 2010

I got my Ph.D. in a rather technical field (physical chemistry) from MIT and then quickly made a transition to the business world. First into management consulting, then entrepreneurship and finally VC. Given that background, I often get emails from graduate students, post-docs, alumni, researchers, and people working in technical fields on how they could also find their way into the business world. While I hope more of our scientists continue to stay in science (we desperately need them), I understand and realize there will be some who are perhaps interested in something with more immediate feedback and/or just looking for a change. Even though hindsight seems 20-20, how to go from being a scientist to a business guy is not an easy question for me to answer in abstract. But here I will share some thoughts I usually share with those who reach out to me. I apologize in advance if thoughts appear less sophisticated, rambling, or simply wrong.

  1. I wrote not to long ago that much like all MBA students, graduate students etc should also think and plan a little for their career path. Make a list of the options that are available by talking to people/alums who have had interesting careers and then evaluating what you might like to do.
  2. I feel it is hard to plan for more than 5 years at a time. So don’t worry about how and where would you like to retire. Focus on next few years and how to be at the top of your game during that time. David D’Alessandro of John Hancock has written a great book called “Career Warfare” that I recommend to people trying to figure out if time has come for them to change jobs or careers.
  3. If you have a strong technical background, my suggestion would be to use that in your favor (as a strength), instead of trying to deny its existence and pretending to compete on the same terms as people who have spent equal years as you focused on business education and training. Having a science/technology background is not a liability, it is an asset even in the business world but only if you can layer some other imp things on top of it: Skill sets that technical folk have that map well onto business/strategy roles include analytical thinking, rigorous frameworks, hypothesis driven approach to research, and quantitative skills.
  4. Every person will have interests, skill sets and personalities that would align better with certain careers than others. Get honest advice from people in those industries to learn what works. It probably sucks, but most industries have character/personality types that just make a better fit. Here are some generalizations:
    1. Investment banking –> if you are extremely social & can work endlessly on apparently minor details
    2. Quantitative research –> pretty hardcore math and modeling
    3. Management consulting –> type ‘A’ personality, outgoing, social, highly analytical
    4. Entrepreneurship –> not necessary to be the business guy in your first start-up. Be the technical co-founder as a first step. You can hire better business people than you and learn from them.
    5. Corporate role –> ability to learn in small increments. More focus on people/project management than anything else
    6. Investor –> unless you get hired as a technical consultant or subject matter expert (not an investor), hard to find a role there until you have done start-ups before
  5. A lot of students ask me if they should take economics, finance or other business courses during their education. My suggestion is to be very choosy about the time you spend taking business courses. You will likely not need to learn accounting/finance in school to get a management consulting job. They will teach you that on the job. But courses in leadership, teams, organization and general management maybe more useful. Learn the business lingo, but don’t abuse it, and get comfortable with softer, more people-focused ideas. Develop points of view (since they are worth an additional 1o IQ points at least) and learn how to triangulate and analyze hypotheses quickly. In my opinion, entrepreneurs are the best sources to go to for advice on books to read. They are drinking from the firehose, in MIT-speak, and know best how to learn lots very fast.
  6. Network A LOT. Scientists can never network enough since its not natural to most. But networking for networking sake gets boring, esp for people you will get to meet. So don’t shake hands and say hello just because you got an invite to a recruiting event. Use your technical background to strike interesting conversations and leave an impression on the other person(s). Your audience knows you are coming form a technical background, so show how you have thought beyond just technology in your own pace. A materials scientist making solar may spark my interest by telling me interesting things about that industry, competition, some new technologies in the space, or how investments are panning out in your view. Use your technical background as a starting point.
  7. When networking, scientists tend to think they must speak a lot and dump all this data they have about their awesomeness onto their listener. No. Networking hours are for socializing, to connect with people – and the truth is that people like to talk about themselves more than they would care to admit. Since you are trying to schmooze and connect, give them an opportunity to do that. Introduce yourself, say something interest to spark an interest in you (see above), and then depending on your audience ask something that would get the other person talking – even if it means asking him about his/her kids, alma-mater, sports etc. I consider it a good conversation when I get to speak less than 50% of the time. People will remember you if they had a conversation with you, not if they heard a speech from you.
  8. Just remember that all smart people know one thing: it is easier to train a technologist how to become more business savvy and strategic than train a business guy to learn science/engineering. Given that, don’t think your technical background is a liability you carry with you. Here’s how I thought about it when I went through consulting interviews: I did not think I made a mistake and wasted time by getting a Ph.D. I found what was positive about that experience and how it was going to positively affect my world view for the rest of my life. Most MBAs basically have the same story (worked at a bank or some marketing type job somewhere) whereas every single Ph.D. student has a unique story to tell. I did too – about changing the world, helping our environment, and doing good while doing well. Figure out how to tell your story interestingly: what 3-4 things to highlight. How to show you know that space well without going geek-central on your audience, and how to show your affiliation with heavy-hitters in your field that your audience might recognize or relate to (industry leaders, international organizations, Nobel laureates). Practice your pitch about yourself. I practice my intro pitch (and change it slightly depending on the audience) to this date.
  9. In terms of job interviews, here’s my advice. Practice for interviews and be persistent! Many of my friends showed up for job interviews not having a clue what to expect. That is their own fault, not of the company they are interviewing with. Be resourceful, find people who have worked there and gone through the same process, find and ask alums who work there…If possible, even go as far as trying to find out exactly who you would be meeting and what their backgrounds are. Remember that there are no black or white only data-driven interviews. People connect with people and at least at the entry-level point, they are trying to find smart people who they can also relate to.
  10. Last but not the least, realize that you must develop a personal brand. What is your brand, and how are you going about developing it and sharing it with others? Your dressing, personal interaction style, resume, research papers, extra-curricular activities, blog, twitter etc all convey a certain brand image for you in a collective fashion. So spend a bit of time evaluating how people you respect (ideally those who may have made the transition from technology backgrounds to business) have developed a brand and image in the public view. And then work on yourself.

Good luck! Technologists have made dramatic contributions to the business world. There are some great success stories, and I hope you will be among them.

You can read some more on my own career transitions here.