Do You Need a Plan? A Business Plan, That Is

August 19, 2011

Entrepreneurship is one of the ways that we will get our economy back on the right track – lots of small companies being started based on  great technologies.  While each of these companies will only hire a few people, the sheer numbers of them will employ many.  Additionally, as a new idea takes off, the company grows, eventually hiring many people and/or becoming part of a larger company.  Every company that exists today is there because someone had an idea, believed in it, then worked hard to sell that idea to others.

ACS is starting to actively encourage innovation and entrepreneurship. Dr. Joseph Francisco’s Presidential Task Force on Innovation and Job Creation reported (www.acs.org/CreatingJobs) on the changing nature of innovation, and recommends increasing awareness of career pathways and educational opportunities that involve entrepreneurship among chemical professionals.  A recent Chemical and Engineering News cover story described what life is like for instrument entrepreneurs.

While chemical professionals are great at coming up with new ideas, it’s the business operations that we are typically not so good at.  Scientists are educated to think differently from business people; and marketing, finance and exit strategies are often not part of our vocabulary. In the same way that it takes research and planning to conduct an experiment, you need to research the technology, study the market, and create a plan – a business plan – before starting a business venture.

To help chemical entrepreneurs with their planning, the ACS Committee on Science has organized a business plan competition for US based start-ups or existing small businesses. In order to compete, the proposed start-up company must be scalable and have the potential to attract debt or equity financing.

The competition will take place in two rounds. The first round requires an abridged Business Plan (no more than five pages, due December 1, 2011) describing the opportunity and including:

  • Executive Summary
  • Business Description: Description of the product, service, business model, IP protection strategy
  • Market Analysis: Market size, market potential, customer profile, and market positioning
  • Marketing Plan: Pricing, promotion, and distribution channels, how will the business achieve sales and significant profits
  • Financial Analysis: Revenue model, cash flow, income statement, balance sheet
  • Management Team: Experience, qualifications of key people
  • Projected number of jobs that will be created

Upon evaluation of the abridged Business Plan, a small number of applicants will be invited to submit comprehensive business plans (no more than 25 pages) and orally present their plans to a panel of angel investors and venture capital firms at the spring 2012 ACS meeting in San Diego. The comprehensive business plan must include the following:

  • Executive Summary
  • Description of the product, service, or business model
  • Intellectual property protection strategy
  • Market Analysis
  • Operational Plan
  • Opportunities, risks and contingency plans
  • Implementation Plans
  • Financial Analysis: Income statement, balance sheet and cash flow
  • Supplemental attachments including support data and resumes of the members of the management and technical teams

Invited applicants will be mentored and guided to facilitate their success at this meeting.

To help entrepreneurs prepare, there will be an afternoon session at the ACS National Meeting in Denver CO devoted to educating entrepreneurs on IP protection, Business Plan development and funding options.  “Financing your Intellectual Property for Commercialization” will take place on Monday, August 29, 2011 from 1:00 – 4:00 p.m. in the Capital 4 room of the Hyatt Regency Denver Convention Center.

This session will educate potential entrepreneurs about the critical steps for technology commercialization, including understanding of intellectual property protection options, how to develop a business plan and of course financing options. The speakers will focus on IP protection, business plan development, financing sources, and provide examples of technology commercialization and/or business start-ups based on university research.

Dr Sadiq Shah, Associate VP, Research, California State University Channel Islands , will begin the session by talking about “Business Start-up Considerations: IP Protection and Business Plan Development”.  He will be followed by a talk on “Financing your Business: Financing Options and Strategies” by Judith Giordan, Managing Director of Venture Well.  To help entrepreneurs know what NOT to do, Kenneth Polk, CEO for Innovation and Legal Affairs, American Chemical Society will talk about “Avoiding Common Pitfalls in Financing a Startup”, and the final talk will discuss “Technology Transfer and Commercialization”, and will be presented by Rick Silva, Director of Technology Transfer at the University of Colorado, Denver.
An open discussion session at the end will ensure that all your questions get answered.

The session in Denver is open to any interested parties.  Even if you’re not ready to start a business right now, learning about how companies get started, and what things founders need to consider will make you not only better prepared, but also a better employee.

To indicate your interest in participating in the competition, contact Dr. Mukund Chorghade at chorghade@gmail.com or Dr. Sadiq Shah at sadiq.shah@csuci.edu.

This article was written by Lisa M. Balbes, Ph.D. of Balbes Consultants LLC. Lisa is a technical writer/editor and author of: “Nontraditional Careers for Chemists,” published by Oxford University Press.

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Interviewing Lessons from Apple Inc.

August 15, 2011

In helping my son look for summer employment, I can across an article entitled “Want To Get a Job at the Apple Store? Here’s What the Interview Process Looks Like”  Many of the lessons here apply to any interview processes, even chemical ones.

One of the first things the author, Buster Heine, mentions is that “it’s easier to get into Harvard than to get hired by Apple”.  This puts into perspective how competitive the job market is these days.  It’s not enough just to send out resumes and hope someone notices how awesome you are, you need to do your homework to make sure this is the company of yours, then prepare so the company can see that as well, and put yourself in the best possible position.

To prepare for his interview, Buster spent “copious amounts of time on Apple’s website”, learning about the company, before submitting his application.  The more you know about the company, the more you can tailor your application and resume, and the better chance you will have of being hired.  In addition to reading their web site, talk to people who work there, visit their facilities, and use their products (if possible). The more you know about the company, the better.

Apple conducted a series of four interviews with this candidate, starting out in large groups and progressing to smaller groups and more personal, specific questions.  While most chemical professionals will not have group interviews, you certainly will experience a sequence of interviews, from phone screening with human resources professionals to in-person, day-long sessions with the actual hiring manager and your potential co-workers.

The author made note that “During the seminar it’s helpful to raise your hand on every question and act super excited about everything Apple.”  This is good advice for any job applicant.  It should be easy, because you should only be applying for positions for which you are a good fit, and which you are excited about. You need to let that sincere enthusiasm show.  The employer wants to know not only that you can do the job, but that you will do the job, and are motivated and excited about doing it the best way possible.  If you are applying for jobs just because you need to pay the bills, the employer will sense your lack of enthusiasm.  Introverts and people from certain cultures have trouble with this, but letting the company know how much you really want to work there is necessary.

Another lesson the author learned was that Apple doesn’t hire Geniuses* directly, but they hire Apple Specialists and let them work their way up to Genius level.   True for scientists as well, sometimes you know where you want to end up, but you have to start elsewhere and work your way there.  Knowing this ahead of time can save you a lot of angst.

Some of the specific questions that were asked during the course of this person’s interviews are listed below.

  • Explain a time you didn’t get along with a co-worker.
  • Tell me about a time when you had to deal with an angry customer.
  • Tell me a time when you didn’t meet your own expectations.
  • Tell me a time when you exceeded the expectations of others.
  • Tell me a time when you went above and beyond for a customer.

These are all behavioral-based interview questions, that could be asked in any interview.  Even though most chemists don’t work in retail environments, we all have internal or external customers for our work.  We all sometimes don’t do as well as we would like, and hopefully learned from the experience and do better the next time.  That’s what the interviewers are looking for – a good story describing a specific example of a time you had that particular experience, what the result was, and what you learned from it.  You can (and should) prepare for these ahead of time, and plan how to present your stories to your best advantage.

The article also talks about how to dress for the interview.  While he knew everyone working at the store wore t-shirts, he chose to wear “a bow-tie and suspenders.”  The general rule is to dress one level up from the job for which you are applying (visual example), and he suggests that for others applying for these positions as well.

The four tips that conclude this article are good advice for any interview situation. 

1) Get a referral – use your network to find someone at the company who can give you the inside scoop on the position, and maybe give your application a push from the inside.
2) Be excited– companies like to hire people who are enthusiastic, and really want to do the job.
3) Fit the mold – they also want to hire people that will fit into the existing corporate culture, so make sure you know what that is and that you are comfortable with it.
4) Know the products – do your research on the company ahead of time, so you can talk intelligently about what they do.  This shows your sincere interest, and will really make you stand out from the competition.
* Yes, there really is a job title “Apple Genius”.  I want that job, just so I can have a name tag that certifies me as a genius.

This article was written by Lisa M. Balbes, Ph.D. of Balbes Consultants LLC. Lisa is a technical writer/editor and author of: “Nontraditional Careers for Chemists,” published by Oxford University Press.


Avoid These 6 Job-hunting Missteps

August 8, 2011

There are six Common job-hunting mistakes that many job hunters make. Any of these can lead an employer to choose another candidate despite the job-hunter’s excellent credentials. What are these mistakes? How can you avoid them?

Omitting a résumé cover letter

The cover letter is not an unimportant, time-consuming matter of protocol that can be omitted when you send your résumé to an employer. It shows the employer you’ve put in some extra time in applying for the position. It is more personal than your résumé and allows you to focus on your skills, experience and accomplishments of greatest interest to a particular employer. Omit this focus and submit what looks like a form letter and your cover letter is largely a wasted effort. Your goal should be to explain why you are exactly the person the company is looking to hire.

Writing a targeted cover letter that accomplishes this goal can be time-consuming. It’s not just writing an excellent letter that takes time. You should also find the name of the best person, usually the hiring manager, who should receive your letter. Your cover letter salutation should include this person’s name.

Not researching the company before your interview

Your employment interview and all the work you put in job hunting before your interview will be wasted effort if you show up unprepared. Many employers ask questions that help them determine whether you’ve done your homework on the company.

Also, prepare at least a couple of thoughtful questions that show you’ve studied the company. These questions should go beyond the basic information widely available about the employer.

Ironically, too much research can leave you with no questions to ask about the company.  Should this happen, develop a couple of questions anyway to demonstrate your interest in the employer. Not having any questions can suggest you are not interested in the job or don’t show much initiative.

Be alert to the possibility that something that gets said in the interview can give rise to a good question for you to ask. If nothing else, ask interviewers what concerns if any they have about your qualifications for the job. If you don’t have a question, ask a stock question such as “What do you like most about your job?”

Not thinking before you speak

Asking a poorly phrased question or making a flippant remark can create a negative impression. So think carefully before you make a remark, ask a question, or answer one.

Clean up your online image

A 2009 Microsoft survey found that 79% of hiring managers and recruiters do online searches on job applicants and review what they discover. If they find negative remarks about your lifestyle, inappropriate photos and videos, or just poor communications style in your Twitter and Facebook posts, they may eliminate you from further consideration for the job.

Even with privacy filters, your personal information may not be safe. Don’t post information you wouldn’t want a prospective employer to see.  This includes criticism of your current employer.

Choose your social media connections carefully

Add only people you know or have done business with. This includes networking connections you’ve made at professional conferences such as American Chemical Society meetings. Help other people in your network when you can. It will make them more willing to help you in your job hunt.

Don’t rely only on the Internet

Many firms, particularly well-known large firms are deluged with applicants when they post job openings on their website or on a job board. Your résumé and application can get lost among the many others an employer receives. So rely on in-person networking and other methods of job hunting in addition to job hunting online.

No lying

Lying on your résumé or during an interview can come back to haunt you even if you get a job offer and start working for an employer. I know two cases of chemists who claimed to have degrees they hadn’t earned. Both lost their jobs immediately on discovery. Neither had been employed for more than one year. These cases occurred at two different companies in two different states and I knew both individuals.

Avoid the missteps and follow basic good job-hunting practices and you eventually will find a good job.

John Borchardt is a chemist and freelance writer who has been an ACS career consultant for 15 years. He is the author of the ACS/Oxford University Press Book “Career Management for Scientists and Engineers.” He has had more than 1200 articles published in a variety of magazines, newspapers and encyclopedias. As an industrial chemist, he holds 30 U.S. and more than 125 international patents and is the author of more than 130 peer-reviewed papers.


The Globalization of Science

August 1, 2011

Recently I’ve been paying a lot of attention to the globalization of science. Several articles have appeared in my infostream, highlighting various aspects of this complex issue, and how it affects all of our professional lives.   

A recent post on ScienceCareers.org argues that the structure of training, not inadequate funding, is causing young American scientists to look abroad for opportunities (http://blogs.sciencemag.org/sciencecareers/2011/05/matthew-stremla.html).  Beryl Benderly points out that the number of available tenure-track positions remains small relative to the number of people earning PhDs.  Funding increases don’t solve this problem, they instead encourage professors to use more graduate students and post-docs to conduct their research, without considering where those new scientists will find employment.  With increasing numbers of scholars and science students overseas, leaving the United States looks more and more attractive.

“International Experience” in the 2010 November 22 issue of C&EN (http://pubs.acs.org/cen/employment/88/8847employment.html) talks about the rise of western-style research parks and universities in Asia and the Middle East, which are enticing young faculty to move abroad.  Strongly supported with funding, they have state-of-the-art facilities, generous start-up packages and a significant fraction of US expatriates on staff.  In addition to attracting eminent scientists, these institutions can be great places for new graduates (including graduates students and post-docs) to start their careers.  Without an established research group to move, and fewer community ties, it can be easier for young scientists to move and gain international experience.  While the number of European and Asian scientists who work in the US is still much greater than the number who go the other way, Americans are becoming more comfortable with the idea of going overseas. 

These overseas institutions are doing quality research.  The Royal Society recently reported (http://royalsociety.org/policy/reports/knowledge-networks-nations/?f=1 an increasingly multipolar world, the rise of new scientific powers such as China, India and Brazil, and the emergence of scientific nations in the Middle East, South-East Asia and North Africa. In addition, science is becoming more interconnected, especially internationally. For example, over 35% of papers published in 2009 included international collaboration, up from 25% 15 years ago.  China has now surpassed the United Kingdom as the second largest producer of research publications, and is on track to pass the United States by 2013, and Brazil, India and South Korea have also had significant increases.  In addition, the Nature Publishing Index 2010 (http://blogs.nature.com/news/2011/05/the_rapid_rise_of_chinas_resea.html) quantitated the dramatic rise in the number of papers with authors from China being published in Nature research journals.

For those who are considering a career in industry, overseas experience can be valuable as well. “Western Graduates Head to China for Internships” (Wall Street Journal 2011 May 31 http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052702303745304576354963157118104.html) describes how potential employers value “those who can demonstrate a willingness to move out of their comfort zone” and challenge themselves, both of which are evidenced by taking an internship in another country.  Some internships are only a few weeks or months long, but still demonstrate cultural awareness and a willingness to relocate.  Since most companies are now part of the global economy, having first-hand experience with other cultures and other ways of doing things can be valuable information to bring to a new company. 

If all this intrigues you, it’s time to start your own International Job Search, as described in The Chronicle (http://chronicle.com/article/Conducting-the-International/127553/).  They suggest attending conferences overseas, cultivating international contacts, and familiarizing yourself with employment systems in other countries (when positions are advertised, local job titles and terminology, cultural differences in presenting talks, and so on). 

There are a couple of easy ways to get started, no matter where you are.  If you’re going to be at the ACS national meeting, there will be an Onsite Career Fair on Sunday, August 28 through Wednesday, August 31.  And if you’re not going to be in Denver, you can attend virtually (see www.acs.org/vcf for all the details).  Register now and get your resume into employer’s hands. 

In addition to the Career Fair, the ACS meeting in Denver will also host a Groundbreaking Global Networking Opportunity!  in the ACS booth (Expo Hall) on Tuesday, August 30 from 4:00-6:00pm. At 4:150pm Bonnie Coffey, a networking guru, will present “Networking 101—Making Your Contacts Count” to a live audience that will also be webcastvirtually . Immediately following this presentation, the ACS booth and the Virtual Networking Lounge will enable onsite and offsite attendees to interact.  Check and see if your local ACS section is hosting a networking receptions concurrently with the ACS Global Networking Reception – and if not, attend on your own or volunteer to organize one.  All of these local events will be linked together in order to create the ACS’s largest networking event ever.  Don’t miss it!

Opening up the world to science means more competition, but also more opportunity for cooperation.  Even if you don’t want to move to the other side of the world, technology makes it possible for you to find out about, and collaborate with, scientists from all corners of the planet.  Virtually every country in the world is now getting into science –there really is a world of opportunities out there. 

This article was written by Lisa M. Balbes, Ph.D. of Balbes Consultants LLC. Lisa is a technical writer/editor and author of: “Nontraditional Careers for Chemists,” published by Oxford University Press.