Graeme Thickins on Tech

Reflections & analysis about innovation, technology & startups, with a focus on Minnesota, Land of 10,000 Lakes

Tag: Innovation (page 1 of 12)

Our Times Call for Multiple Careers

I believed it then, and  believe it even more now. It was a poster I first saw in my early working years in the advertising and marketing business, and it hit me hard. I thought, yeah, that totally makes sense — I don’t want to be tied down to one thing for my whole working life, one aspect of this exciting, crazy business. I had already improved my lot quite a bit by moving on to a couple of better-paying jobs after I left college, and I was feeling pretty good about that… buying a house, buying nice cars. I figured I was just getting started! I had way too many interests, too many things I wanted to do, to be tied down to one kind of marketing job, or (God forbid) one company. I had a whole world of options in front of me.

About this time, I had become really interested in design, too (not just writing). I was learning a ton from some smart colleagues I worked closely with, and I loved everything about design. Bought books, read a lot, studied it in my spare time. Wasn’t out to become a designer — just built a really good appreciation for it.

This poster (which I still have hanging in my office) was designed by Milt Glaser, an uber-famous graphic designer in New York whom I had come to admire. (Seriously, click on that link — this guy earned true rockstar-designer status!)  His poster struck me then as having an important message, and it’s continued to inspire me over the years. As in… don’t be pigeon-holed, resist being narrowly defined, always keep learning, keep doing, keep trying new things. And, yes, as the illustration shows, juggle all those options, as many skills as you can acquire, and learn all the tools you can to make yourself invaluable to employers or clients.

Unlike the prevailing wisdom at the time, I could see early in my career that working for the same company one’s whole career was a ticket to nowhere. I knew it wasn’t for me. I learned the only job security was what was between one’s ears. I worked about two years average for a company or agency, then moved on to a bigger challenge and more money. A dozen years into my career, I made the big jump to being a self-employed consultant and never looked back. And that, let me tell you, became the ultimate “multiple-career”… 🙂

The  philosophy encompassed in this simple poster has proven to be right for me, as it has for many others, I’m sure. For me, it’s been about multiple careers within a single discipline (marketing), but for some it can even mean switching disciplines. I’ve managed to keep reinventing myself over and over, in varying degrees. Part of that has been a result of getting myself involved in so many new fields of technology, as I’ve been lucky enough to be out in front of innovation in my chosen field of self-employment — as a consultant to early-stage tech startups. Never a dull moment in this business! Always something new to learn, some new milestone to reach. Never sitting still, forever juggling, constantly reading, always having fun, constantly surfing new waves — and, most importantly, moving the ball, to use another sports analogy (I played football, too!). Net-net: making things happen. It’s a great way to go through life.

How many “careers” have you had? How many will you have? I wish you many!



In Its 24th Year, Venture Conference Asks If Minnesota Has ‘Lost It’

MN_VentureFinanceConf2010 We’ll find out Thursday, because I’ll be there to live-blog it all: the proceedings of the annual Minnesota Venture & Finance Conference at the Minneapolis Convention Center, co-hosted as always by the Minnesota Venture Capital Association and The Collaborative.

(UPDATE: My complete live-blog of the event is archived here.)

TheCollaborative-logo MVCA-logo


The blue-suit crowd will turn out once more to hash over where, oh, where is venture investing going in our state, and whether Minnesota is holding its own or falling behind in relation to other states. 

This is great sport, people!  We can’t beat Wisconsin in college football for seven years straight, but, oh yeah, we got those cheeseheads when it comes to the game of innovation!  … Or do we?  (And, Gopher fans, I won’t even bring up South Dakota.  Shees.)

“Innovation?  Jobs?  Has Minnesota lost it?  Not for one day in October we haven’t,” says The Collaborative in one of its promos.  “2010 marks our second full year of the worldwide recessionary malaise.  Our state’s economy is also not what anyone is calling ‘robust’.  Our unemployment rate is higher than it’s been in decades.  On the plus side, we’re still one of the brightest economies in the nation,” the pitch goes on to say.

“The positive gap between our jobless rate as compared to the nation is at its highest in 30 years… Yet we also hear many reports of our state losing its way in innovation.”

Can you sense the drama, people?  I’m nervously doing finger and hand exercises right now, in great anticipation of the nuances I may be able to capture on my Macbook or iPad (decisions, decisions) as I contemplate the live-blogging nirvana that awaits me Thursday.  It has me breathing heavy.

“Last year, in the throes of the recession, 54 companies gave presentations, 400+ investors and entrepreneurs came, shared, and discussed growth in tough times,” said Dan Carr, CEO of The Collaborative, in his announcement of this year’s event.  DanCarr-Collaborative “It actually felt optimistic! These companies also go on to create jobs.  Lots of them.  Minnesota is 8th in the nation in venture backed employment: 365,000 jobs.”  (No word on how many of those people may have been laid off in recent times because those ventures couldn’t raise enough money.)

Carr continues:  “This year’s ‘homecoming’ promises another day-long celebration of ‘doing’ more than ‘hand wringing’.  It’s true that some of our greatest companies rise from difficult times.  Our annual conference has a knack for bringing together Minnesota’s best ‘Up & Comers’.”

The 2010 version of the conference will begin with a look at the current state of venture investing, by way of an opening address from John Taylor of the National Venture Capital Association.  That will be followed by 18 Presenting Companies giving seven-minute presentations, plus somewhere between 20 and 30 more startups in the “Entrepreneurial Showcase” giving one-minute introductions.  (I’ll be particularly interested to see if any of those entrepreneurs can make a impact in that minuscule amount of time.  I’ve heard several of the new 90-second “Alpha Pitches” at the last few DEMO conferences in California, most of which fail to impress, and they have 50% more time.)

Notable in the 2010 presenter group, says The Collaborative, is the mix of industries and stages… “reflecting Minnesota’s variety and also our strengths: Medtech (Inspire Medical Systems, Galil Medical, and InterValve) … Cleantech (EarthClean, tenKsolar and Packet Power) … Technology (Alvenda and Swift Knowledge) … and mouth guard maker Bite Tech … and more.”  (I don’t know about you, but I beam with pride when I tell people about Minnesota’s rich tradition in mouth protection.)

But wait, there’s more!  Panels and workshops during the day (speakers and panelists) will address these topics:

• Financing Innovation circa 2010:  Angel, Venture Capital, and Private Equity
• Medtech in 2010:  Innovating with New Science, Products, and Markets amid FDA and   Reimbursement Challenges
• Next Generation Technology:  Minnesota’s Unique Advantages and Opportunities
• Financing in a Challenging Economy
• Exit Strategies
• Intellectual Property and Financing
• Going Public
• Planning Your Long-Term Financing Strategy

You can still register for the event.  And (pssst) I hear the “MHTA” might even have a $100-off discount code.

Some 350 or more are expected at the confab, Carr tells me.  Sure, I know most of them already — but the thought that some in the group may be potential new social media friends for me makes me almost giddy.  And, doggone it, I don’t even have to drive to Wisconsin or South Dakota to meet them.  (This conference has been attracting more and more out-of-state attendees in recent years, which is commendable.)

The Twitter hashtag for the event is #mnconf.  I wonder how many of the blue suits might be tweeting.  Not holding my breath on that, but maybe I’ll set my live-blog software to display all the tweets attendees are blurting out during the event.  It’s time we loosened up this venerable conference a bit — thank God Twitter happened, huh?

Watch for the link to my live blog on, in a post we’ll have up by late Wednesday.

(Note: This post first appeared at



DEMO 09 – Opening Reception, Interview 4: Golden Capital Network

Graeme Thickins of Tech~Surf~Blog interviews Alan Chamberlain of Golden Capital Network at the DEMO ’09 conference, which was held March 1-3, 2009, in Palm Desert, CA.
I ran into a a guy who recognized my name as somebody he’s following on Twitter, so I just had to stop and talk with him…  🙂  Alan Chamberlain is with Golden Capital Network and is a co-promotion partner with DEMO. AlanChamberlain-DEMO09-350w

Download the MP3

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