The Times They Are A-Changin’

January 30, 2012

What a difference a few years makes!  I recently found an article from 2008, when the big concern was how companies were going to find enough people to replace all the baby boomers who were just about to start retiring in massive amounts.  In “As Baby Boomers Retire”, William G. Schulz predicted that “the U.S. workforce will be shrinking from now until about 2050. Perhaps the biggest contributor will be the waves of retirements of people in the baby boom generation…”  Companies were focusing on capturing their knowledge, and how to hire and train large numbers of younger workers to replace them.

Fast-forward to 2011, when the Wall Street Journal reports that there are more than four million Americans ages 55 to 64 who want but can’t find full-time work, double the number from just 5 years earlier according to the US Department of Labor (Oldest Baby Boomers Face Jobs Bust).  In fact, in 2011 almost 2/3 of people ages 55 to 64 either had jobs or wanted them. While Schulz may have been right about the size of the US work force shrinking, it has not been due to voluntary retirement of baby boomers, leaving vast numbers of openings for younger workers.

Instead, what we’re seeing now are people who don’t want to retire, because they aren’t sure their savings will last the rest of their lives.  They may want to work fewer hours, or at a less stressful job, but they are not ready to completely step out of the work force.  Many of them move into and out of the work force, as opportunities arise and their personal situation permits.

At the other end of the spectrum, we’re also now seeing younger workers changing jobs more frequently than in the past. In 2010, the average job tenure for people ages 25 to 34 was 3.1 years (BLS data).  While specific reasons were not reported, anecdotal evidence suggests younger people move to positions with increased responsibility or as temporary placements end.

While being aware of trends such as these is important, knowing what they mean and applying that information to your personal career path is even more important.  While it’s interesting if one person says something is going to happen, it’s noteworthy when two independent people say it, and after the third or fourth time you’d better start figuring out how it’s going to affect your career trajectory.

What the trends described above tell me is that changing jobs, or even changing careers, is something that everyone should expect and be prepared for, at all stages of life.  You never know when a great opportunity will arise, or when circumstances will force you to make a change.

This means not only having a current version of your resume, but knowing what you can do, and where you want to go in your professional life.  You are more likely to find an opportunity if you know what you’re looking for, and are even more likely to find it if you share that information with your colleagues and friends so they can be on the lookout as well.

While you need to be aware of trends, and temper your career aspirations with reality, you don’t want to go too far the other way and plan your entire future based on predictions.

I often have students ask me what major has the highest starting salary or what careers are going to be in demand in a few years, so they can tailor their studies to that area.  But as we’ve seen, those predictions are often wrong, meaning those students sometimes spend years studying something they don’t like, only to find out that by the time they graduate no one wants to pay them to do that anyway.  And since they don’t enjoy it, they don’t put forth their best effort, and end up very unhappy.

While I’m not suggesting you ignore the market forces and pursue a position chasing your passion of manufacturing a specific widget, at the other extreme you should not chase popularity without consideration for what makes you happy.  Paying attention to marketplace trends, and deciding how you are going to respond to them, gives you power over your future.  Simply refusing to acknowledge that the world is changing will not make it stop.

Not all of us like change, but we all have to live with it.  Change can bring new opportunity, and let you see old things in a new light.  Learn how to see the opportunities in change – if people are now working longer, can your company’s products be adapted to appeal to this aging population?  Since employees are changing jobs more frequently, can you learn about new opportunities when your friends move companies?

The only thing that is constant is change, so you might as well get used to it – and use it to your advantage.

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.

Entrepreneurship. R&D Funding Available from the Federal Small Business Administration

January 16, 2012

The Small Business Administration (SBA), a unit of the U.S. Department of Commerce, offers two programs to assist entrepreneurs with research & development (R&D) costs.

Small Business Administration Innovation Research Program (SBIR)

SBIR funding is 2.5% of the total extramural research budgets of all federal agencies with extramural research budgets of more than of $100 million. These funds are reserved for research contracts or grants to small businesses. In 2010, that represented over $1 billion in research funds. Over half the awards were to firms with less than 25 people. One-third of the funds went to very small companies indeed, one with fewer than 10 employees. One-fifth of the funds went to minority- or women-owned businesses. One-quarter of the companies in fiscal year 20100 were first-time winners.

Information can be obtained from:
Small Business Innovation Research Program
United States Small Business Administration
Office of Technology
409 Third Street SW
Washington, DC 20416
202-205-6450 or
Small Business Technology Transfer Program (STTR)

STTR uses a similar approach to promote partnerships between small businesses and nonprofit U.S. research institutions. Funding currently totals 0.3% of the relevant agencies’ extramural research budgets. In the 2010 fiscal year, this amounted to over $100 Million.

The federal agencies involved are:

Each year, five federal departments and agencies are required by STTR to reserve a portion of their R&D funds for award to small business/nonprofit research institution partnerships.

• Department of Defense
• Department of Energy
• Department of Health and Human Services
• National Aeronautics and Space Administration
• National Science Foundation

Small businesses eligible for STTR must be American-owned and independently operated. The principal researcher need not be employed by small business. (Thus principal researchers can be academic researchers starting a company aimed at commercializing the results of their research). Company size limited to 500 employees

Upon reviewing the proposals, agencies make STTR awards based on small business/nonprofit research institution qualification, degree of innovation, and future market potential. Small businesses that receive awards then begin a three-phase program.

• Phase I is the startup phase. Awards of up to $100,000 for approximately one year fund the exploration of the scientific, technical, and commercial feasibility of an idea or technology.
• Phase II awards of up to $750,000, for as long as two years, expand Phase I results. During this period, the R&D work is performed and the developer begins to consider commercial potential. Only Phase I award winners are considered for Phase II.
• Phase III is the period during which Phase II innovation moves from the laboratory into the marketplace. No STTR funds support this phase. The small business must find funding in the private sector or other non-STTR federal agency funding.

To help small businesses deal with the complexities of working with the federal government, the SBA operates the Small Business Administration Answer Desk at 202-205-6600, extensions 296 and 287.

Other federal programs

Other units of the federal government also have programs to assist small businesses. For example, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Small Business Ombudsman helps small businesses gain access to EPA funds. Ombudsmen may be reached through the EPA at or by telephone (703-305-7777).

The Minority Business Development Agency is a unit of the U.S. Department of Commerce and collects and disseminates information about starting and operating minority-owned businesses. It may be reached online through or by telephone at 202-482-4547.

The Office of Small and Disadvantaged Business is another Department of Commerce unit helping small businesses. It may be reached on-line at or by telephone at 202- 482-1472.

The U.S. Department of Energy operates a similar program, the Minority Energy Information Clearinghouse focused on small energy-related businesses owned by members of minority groups. This program may be reached through or by telephone at 202-586-5876.

The U.S. Department of Defense operates the Office of Small and Disadvantaged Business Utilization for DoD. Information is available online at or by telephone at 703- 545-6700.

The Department of Energy also provides information to small businesses through the Office of Small and Disadvantaged Business Utilization for DoE. Its website address is The office can also be reached by telephone at 202- 586-7377.

NASA operates the Office of Small and Disadvantaged Business Utilization for NASA. Information may be obtained online at and by telephone at 202-358-2088.
The Small Business Administration Development Center Program provides technical assistance and information on management techniques to small businesses at or by telephone at 202- 205-6600, extensions 275 and 277.

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.

Entrepreneurship. Business Incubators and their Services

January 9, 2012

Business incubators are facilities that provide entrepreneurs with an inexpensive start-up environment and a range of administrative, consulting, and networking services.  According to a 2010 study by the National Business Incubation Association (NBIA), the survival rate of startups using business incubators is 87% compared t0 44% for startups that didn’t use incubators.   At that time there were approximately 41,000 startups using 1,200 incubators across the country.

Every state in the U.S. is home to incubators designed to serve as homes for start-up companies and promote innovation. The website provides a list of links to major U.S. incubators. Incubators became widespread with the explosion of start-up companies in information technology and computer fields in the late 1990s. Not all incubators include wet laboratories in their facilities but many do particularly due to the growth in numbers of biotechnology start-ups.

Some incubators are affiliated with universities. Others are operated by venture capitalists. Others are quasi-government operations.  For example, the Iowa State University Research Park has more than 50 start-up firms as tenants ( It enables entrepreneurs to link technology creation, business formation (including potential access to capital) and development assistance. Located on a major university campus, it is also near federal laboratories.

One of the three incubators in the SPARK Regional Incubator Network (SRIN), the Michigan Life Sciences Innovation Center in Plymouth, Michigan, offers entrepreneurs wet laboratory facilities. Besides laboratories, the 57,000 square incubator includes offices and conference rooms, a loading dock and ample parking. Lease rates are affordable for start-up companies.

Getting in

Gaining access to incubator facilities  is more than just renting space. The start-up company has to meet specific requirements. One has to apply for it. The start-up company’s business plan, management team, capitalization and time to commercialization are evaluated. Its operations must be compatible with the available incubator space including environmental permitting, major equipment and utilities requirements.

Once established as tenants, start-up companies cannot stay in incubators forever. Most incubators limit initial leases to no more than three years with the possibility of one- or two-year renewals.

Incubator services

Some incubators offer start-ups reduced rental rates with the rents gradually increased to the prevailing market level in the area. Incubators usually provide reception areas and meeting rooms, secretarial and postal services and office equipment such as photocopiers and projection equipment for meetings. Incubator tenants share these and other overhead costs.

Many offer services designed to facilitate the development and growth of start-up companies. Business incubators often provide courses in entrepreneurship and seminars on topics of interest to entrepreneurs such as intellectual property protection, access to capital. Business incubator managers also serve as facilitators connecting entrepreneurs to firms and individuals providing services they need such as local artisans such as glass blowers and electricians as well as consultants and advisory services.

A recent survey of National Business Incubator Association members indicated that 83% of incubators provide entrepreneurs with access to seed capital. Also, 76% provide assistance in obtaining federal grants. 74% assist entrepreneurs in preparing financial proposals.

Some incubators with wet labs offer tenants shared access to instruments that would be used by each only a fraction of the time and routine laboratory services. Some offer access to sophisticated laboratory services that are often outsourced in small established companies.

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.

Entrepreneurship. Spinoffs from Former Employers

January 2, 2012

Entrepreneurs are increasingly licensing technology and receiving aid from their former employers and using it as the basis to build new companies.

Divergence, Inc.

Divergence, Inc. chief executive officer (CEO) Derek Rapp described the history of his St. Louis start-up firm in a paper presented at the Revitalizing the Heartland’s Chemical Economy Symposium (part of the 2011 ACS Combined Midwest/Great Lakes Regional Meeting). Divergence began operations in 1999 as a genomics-based company looking to identify pathways to control and prevent parasitic infections of plants. Its goal was to develop a biogenetics means of controlling certain pests (nematodes) that eat crop plant roots thereby reducing productivity. After giving up on this approach, Divergence licensed technology from the CEO’s former employer, Monsanto, and developed it to the point of commercialization. In October 2011, Monsanto bought the company giving investors and Divergence employees a handsome profit and jobs with Monsanto.

Michigan life sciences start-ups

Michigan life sciences start-up firms provide interesting examples of start-ups that received support from the large firm that gave rise to them. In 2003, Pfizer closed its Kalamazoo, Michigan laboratory, the former site of UpJohn’s research center. About 1,000 employees lost their jobs. To prevent the departure of all of these professionals, the state and city provided seed money for aspiring entrepreneurs to start businesses. The more than two dozen start-ups that arose were primarily pharmaceutical service companies rather than companies relying directly on Pfizer technology. Most were born at the Southwest Michigan Innovation Center, which opened in July 2003 at the Western Michigan University Business Technology Research Park in Kalamazoo.

As of 2011 most of these service companies have graduated from business incubators to become fully operational. At least some have become profitable. Together they offer a broad range of services from drug discovery through early stage clinical trials with associated manufacture of the drugs needed for these trials. They employ a number of former Pfizer and Upjohn scientists. In at least some cases, Pfizer has provided these firms with contract research business.

An example is Jasper Clinical Research & Development, which offers early-phase clinical studies. Jasper has received a facility and equipment from Pfizer plus three-year contracts for contract research business Pifzer estimates total as much as $20 million.

Another start-up, CeeTox, Inc., provides in vitro toxicity screening of drug candidates, received equipment and technology from Pfizer and a recent $25 million dollar contract from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

The founders of contract research organization Kalexsyn, Inc., Robert Gadwood and David Zimmerman, based their 2003 start-up company on what they had learned about CROs while working for Pfizer and its predecessor companies in Kalamazoo. Former Kalamazoo employees initially formed the core of Kalexsyn’s workforce. As the firm grew to 23 employees, Kalexsyn outgrew its original 7,000 square foot site in the Southwest Michigan Innovation Center. Kalexsyn built its own $4.5 million, 20,000 square foot facility in the Business Technology and Research Park on the Western Michigan University Parkview campus. The building includes both laboratory and office space.

A mixed record of success

Most but not all the post-Pfizer start-up firms have succeeded. For example, contract research organization firm ADMETRx, Inc. also was founded in 2003 in the wake of Pfizer’s laboratory closure. In May 2010, ADMETRx shut down with CeeTox acquiring some of its assets.

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.