Published in Blog Posts
09 Jul, 2012 Posted by:

The culture of expecting rewarding shortcuts

Last week my first company got acquired (see: TerraGo Technologies Inc. ). This is a company we started with a colleague of mine at USC, Craig Knoblock, in 2005.

It took us 7 years and many variations of our original technology (and business) to get to this point. It was a win because the founders, lenders, and investors all came out in the black (i.e., made money!) and all the employees got hired with a better package than they had at our company. The new company will keep (and expand) the physical office in LA and will continue marketing our product, which is being used by three federal agencies and two lead systems integrators as well as two municipalities at the time of acquisition. We accomplished all this with raising no VC fund, except for some In-Q-Tel investment that came as a mix of convertible warrants and statement-of-work (which I still don’t fully understand!). A case of innovation to entrepreneurship to rewards with hard work, persistence and faith in ideas!

However, in the age of Facebook, Twitter and the $1 billion acquisition of Instagram, perhaps this acquisition is not newsworthy. And I think that is the source of our problems in US with lack of interest of our college students in STEM as they come with expectations of large and quick rewards, and thus their immediate disappointments with their entrepreneurship activities. Everybody is after unconventional ways of doing things, i.e., looking for imaginary shortcuts to riches. The typical scenario of a small start-up with ideas is no longer lucrative. What is lost is that the typical route still gets reasonable results, and it comes in small and large and all are still valuable. Students need to realize that shortcuts are mostly unreliable and generally don’t produce results and rewards. Most paths to success include hard work, patience and long term reward. In fact, this is the path being taught, not just in engineering and science but also in business and entrepreneurship. But this is not the path that the general public hears about and hence this is not the path the young incoming students expect when they start college. Therefore, disappointment is unavoidable. The shortcuts get media attention and portrayal (perhaps incorrectly) as they contain some element of drama. STEM student should remember that they are getting the capacity to innovate useful applications that can lead to results both near and long term. Science and engineering accomplishments that start out as ideas to finished product in short span should be celebrated in the same way as billion dollar acquisitions and IPO’s. Since the role of science and engineering is multifaceted: in addition to making financial gains – it should help us in other aspects of our life – better health, better environment, better education, better quality of life. The typical path takes effort and the reward usually corresponds to the effort. The path to rewards is not a lottery!