tej dhawan's random musings

Category: Community

A decade of collaboration

November 17, 2010.

How to be a successful startup
https://www.dsmpartnership.com/news-media/blog/episode-30-tej-dhawan-talks-growth-of-the-dsm-startup-community

I had no idea a chance meeting with Mike on the Mercy Hospital skywalk would lead to a decade of collaboration and friendship. I mentioned that I wanted to help tech companies get started in Des Moines. He, in turn, asked if I had time to go to lunch with another colleague who wanted the same. Mike and I ended up at Proof and talked until Christian arrived. Of the many serendipitous moments in Des Moines startup community’s history, I know and am glad I got to be part of this one.

As Mike transitions to a retirement from *this* job as the entrepreneur-whisperer in Des Moines, his friends know he can’t really retire. Have you ever not seen him working? He’s retired more than once before, and this retirement will prove to be but a transition again.

I am grateful for having been a part of Mike’s circle of friends, where we were able to conjure up, make real, or grow ideas such as StartupCity Des Moines, Plains Angels, Global Insurance Accelerator, Accelerate, Iowa Agtech Accelerator and so much more. So, when I first learned of a new love affair with Colorado, I knew his time in Des Moines was limited. With his imminent departure from Des Moines, I know he’ll be missed by this circle of friends and colleagues, fellow angel investors, entrepreneurs, corporate partners and his colleagues at the Partnership.

I’ll miss our regular (vegetarian – his style) lunches at Centro – made rare by the pandemic, and sadly rarer now in the future by the distance.

Bon voyage, Mike and Beth. You are wonderful friends and I am glad we had lunch at Proof on November 17, 2010.

The metadata on higher education

It takes 18-years (d0h!)

The news is filled with stories predicting higher education’s demise. Whether derived from falling enrollments around the country, high cost of tuition to attend college, the irrelevance(!?) of a college degree to a lifetime of employment, or simply political rhetoric, higher-ed is under persistent criticism. Rhetoric aside, what does data say about the state of higher ed? I was introduced to the book, Demographics and the demand for higher education, in April and read it then as a reference. Something new compelled me to read it with a data perspective and it revealed a few interesting thoughts.

Whatever faces a college today isn’t simply a function of the college admissions office or the school guidance counselors. The student who matriculates into a freshman class is a product of at least 18-years of interactions. The author takes us through a bit of history and (quite) a bit of data. Here are the highlights.

The demographic headwinds

The US faces a trifecta of demographic headwinds, the first of which defines the country itself – immigration. Hispanic and Asian immigrants comprise a majority of the 2.3 to 4.4 new legal immigrants per 1000 existing citizens and settle in enclaves around the country. The second is migration within the US with a measurable move from the northeast and Pacific areas toward the south. The remaining move is generally a zero-sum. Fertility, the third factor, is dropping below the threshold of 2.05/female. Texas is the only populous state among the growing states to reach this threshold.

High school graduation

This was a startling statistic for me. The projected number of high school graduates shifts from 3.45M in 2012 to 3.375M in 2007 to an expected peak of nearly 3.5M in 2025 before cratering to 3.25M by 2032. What’s more startling is the drop by ethnicity where white graduates increase only in MT, SD, ND, KS, TX and OK! A majority of the states’ graduates through 2032 will be of Hispanic, Black and Asian descent. The author’s graphic below displays this shift:

Forecasted growth in 18-year-olds by race/ethnicity, 2012 to 2029

Ethnicity is important because the four segments show a distinct difference in where students typically go to college. Whether one or both parents went to college influences if their children will attend college. The midwest, northeast and Pacific regions, typical destinations for non-Hispanic white students will most certainly suffer or have to redefine themselves!

Higher Education Demand

The author studies the factors impacting demand for higher education. Parents’ education levels directly correlate with what their children pursue in college – a 2-year, a 4-year or no-degree. Migration patterns and parent ethnicity seem to impact the elasticity of demand in certain regions, but, the migration at a macro level seems like a constant.

Diversity

The data projects what is likely to happen to diversity on campuses. With non-Hispanic white students falling in numbers with a corresponding increase in Asian students, non-Hispanic black students, however, will experience a significant decline. Campuses will look different, won’t they?

A concurrent shift in parents of the enrolled students will show that a significant number of them have one or both parents with at least a Bachelors degree. Think about this – if parents with BAs present children to four-year colleges, does it predict a drop in two-year college enrollments? Yep. Data can accurately predict an uptick in the mid-2020s followed by a precipitous decline at two-year colleges. Remember the ‘it takes 18-years’ rule? Yet, four-year colleges’ gain still results in fewer overall students due to demographics showing fewer numbers of prospective 18-year olds available to go to even these colleges.

So, who will feel this demand most? Another important statistic highlights the impact on schools that attract students regionally or nationally vs the elite institutions. Regional schools attract students from within a few dozen miles, National schools from nearly 200 miles, and Elite institutions who attract students universally. The Elite institutions, despite the lowering population, may still fare well because of their ability to stand above the rest whereas the regional institutions in many parts of the US will need to redefine themselves.

Final takeaways

The latter third of the book shifts toward attitudes toward paying for college, how individual institutions will redefine themselves, and the effects of policy on higher ed. These latter variables could upend the entire demographic impact and shift the face of higher education across America.

I will try to remember

  1. You must begin with the demographics of the markets first to study why higher-ed is undergoing a seismic shift, and
  2. There is no homogeneous solution to the shift. Each institution will have to redefine itself within its shifting market.

Change is constant, even in the glacial movement of academia!

If you want to study this in further detail, start by grabbing the book from the link in the first paragraph. Source data are available at the author’s page at https://people.carleton.edu/~ngrawe/HEDI.htm.

The Venture Educationalist

Why do capitalists create scholarships?
I sat at my alma mater’s annual Scholarship dinner the other night. Hundreds of diners consisting of professors, students, parents, and donors enjoyed performances, listened to speeches, and conversed around their tables. Statements from the keynote triggered a thought and I drafted this post by typing in the title and the lede right at the dinner table.
Pi515 is a non-profit based in Des Moines, Iowa and run passionately by Nancy Mwirotsi. It seeks to deliver computer science education to children whose families sought refuge in our community. A remarkable lift for a vulnerable population in pursuit of life, liberty and happiness through education. The startup community in Des Moines recently connected to this non-profit through the leadership of Brad Dwyer and Ben Milne – technologists, investors, and community leaders who found reason to support Pi515’s mission and put their money and networks behind it. WHY?
Next Level Ventures, is a Des Moines-based venture capital firm that invests solely in Iowa-based companies. Its managing partner, Craig Ibsen is seeking to build a non-profit that would democratize computer-science education across the state while our academic infrastructure moves at its velocity to create the discipline. A state like Iowa increasingly depends on a shrinking workforce as it seeks to retain its role in feeding the nation through ideas and food and cannot wait for the academic deliberation cycle to find and deploy solutions.
Brad Feld, managing partner of globally respected Foundry Group and its many ventures, routinely invests in education through his personal and professional networks, including a personal match he and his wife Amy provided to Pi515 during a conferecne in Des Moines. His leadership in NCWIT (National Center for Women in Technology), Defy Ventures (inmate education), and more are representative of support for education at diverse intersections.
Fred Wilson of and Union Square Ventures routinely speaks about, invests in companies focused on, and invests directly in education focused on the sciences.
Back to Central College, the keynote speaker and outgoing chair of our Board of Trustees, Lanny Little, spoke of being able to attend college, create a remarkable banking and finance career spanning decades, endow his own scholarships for future generations of students. He was able to attend purely due to a scholarship funded by the family behind Rolscreen Corporation (now Pella Corporation of Pella windows). Why did a family focused on growing a global business in a tiny midwestern town choose to invest in a kid from Phoenix, AZ?
Lanny spoke about venture capitalists who invest in a different type of growth outcomes. Their outcomes aren’t as focused on a capital return directly to themselves; rather they focus on the outcomes to society through enabling education and viable careers for those who couldn’t otherwise afford a chance toward upward mobility. This mobility is clearly visible in the city of Pella where family philanthropy from Pella Corporation, Vermeer Manufacturing and other corporate partners has allowed several generations to educate those who often remain within the community thus ensuring its economic stability.
Similar investments are visible in the angel investor communities. Though created for capitalistic intent, many angel investments seek to grow businesses through a form of ‘for-profit philanthropy”, one referred to in this Brad Feld’s post circa 2006.
I am glad there remain altruistic and capitalistic reasons for investment in education, especially for those who are increasingly distant from it due to cost and social friction. I am grateful to the person(s) who chose to endow a scholarship that enabled me to attend college. And I am honored to know this breed of Venture Educationalists – capitalistic investors like Brad Dwyer, Ben Milne, Craig Ibsen, Brad Feld and others enabling K-12, college, vocational and non-traditional education.

Barley and coffee-magical spirits of people and place

I just finished watching Caffeinated, the story of people behind the mighty coffee bean. Originating in a thin tropical band at just the right altitude around the globe, the end-product of the bean ends up as espresso, americano, drip, pour-over, lattes, and more. As I sat listening to the stories of farmers in Nicaragua, Ethiopia, India and beyond, told through translators and purveyors of fine coffees in US, Italy and elsewhere, I couldn’t resist drawing parallels to my other favorite spirit – Whisky.
Coffee grows as a berry, and looks suspiciously like a cranberry on those plants. The bright red shell protects the sugars and bean contained within, clustered in various stages of ripeness. When separated by color, size, shape, and smell, the beans are extracted, allowed to ferment for 27-32 hours, washed, dried on concrete surfaces, and packed away for shipment. Arriving at culinary centers around the world, the coffee bean (white, in color) is roasted for a perfect aroma, sheen, and readiness for grind. What ends up in our cup is a marvelous drink – sweet on its own, intoxicating in its own way, and communal in spirit. Additions like milk and flavors address the palate in fruity, woody, and body.
Barley seeds are immersed in water to allow them to open and release their sugars. Dried on concrete floors for 48 to 72 hours, some are infused with smoke from peat for their own aroma. Yeast converts the sugar to alcohol, ready for a drink. Allowed to relax patiently in wood, the spirit adopts the flavors of the casks. Enjoyed in communal celebrations, the spirit is enjoyed globally. So much like coffee.
The thing that struck me in the movie was how the farmers are resistant to change. A coffee plant may reach production ability in about four years – an eternity of risk before rewards are available. The story no different in whisky producing regions that religiously protect everything from the malting process and the shape (including dents) of the still to maintain uniformity. Unlike coffee, whisky has an even longer patience test – often lasting seven or more years.
If you subscribe to Amazon Prime, movies about both drinks are available as Caffeinated and Whisky.
Ancient processes to produce drinks that mark the beginning and end to a perfect day.

When taking care of employees matters

I saw the newsflashes this afternoon about how Costco had just had a stellar November and beat analyst expectations. This despite their decision to stay closed on Thanksgiving day and bucking the trend established by their competition. Bravo, Costco; I’m glad to be a shareholder and a part of your ‘extended’ family.

Costco came to the Des Moines metro about ten years ago, opening its warehouse in the newest commercial district around the Jordan Creek mall. My dad, a retired worker keeping himself busy working at a local grocer decided to give employment there a try. I remember his interview process well, and he was hired as temporary staff over the holidays. Each time we spoke that winter, I heard things from him about this employer that were different than any other in his prior life. He had spent a majority of his life working at the US Embassy in New Delhi, India and had risen from a low wage job to a fairly critical position. Once retired, he came to Iowa and has lived and worked here ever since. Despite his experiences working for the embassy, the benefits, the management style, and the work ethic expected and developed seemed remarkable.
I had just read Jim Collins’ book, Good to Great, (G2G) and kept hearing things about Costco from my dad that sounded eerily like those of “great” companies in Collins’ research. So, like I had invested in most of the G2G companies, I bought Costco stock over the next several months. All in all, I dollar cost averaged my purchases over a six month period.  My cost basis for these purchases amounts to about $46 a share.
As dad’s employment continued and age happened, I continued to marvel at how the company worked with him – accommodating his age, restrictions, style, idiosyncrasies and all. I had to assume this was the norm – and saw this in employees’ faces at each shopping trip. I held onto the stock.
Costco sells higher-end merchandise than the normal grocer or home improvement store. I like to refer to Costco as the ‘bulk Target’. Sort of like Sams Club being the bulk Walmart. I’ve enjoyed their Kirkland branded beer, milk, vodka, breads, coffee and much more. A weekly trip is norm for me, and the adage that Costco has a ‘minimum $100 spend’ holds true for me – not because they force it, but because I can usually fill most of my grocery items there. At a great price. With traffic increasing per their annual reports, I held onto the stock.
It was encouraging to see that Costco retained its policy of putting employees first this Thanksgiving. When the doorbusters and Thursday sales were driving America’s craziness, not only did Costco remain closed, it didn’t seem to put notices up about being closed. There were no apologies masked as notices from Costco. It was closed so employees could stay with their families.
I am glad they did… sales up. Customers up. Volume up. Stock up.
costco10yr

How killing net neutrality will affect you

This off today’s news stories – FCC poised to changes in net neutrality policy
The lobbies, supporters and the FCC continue to make the debate around net neutrality more complex than it really is.  Through the various gyrations, the lobby for media and internet companies has figured out that by removing the immediate costs to us end users, they can take us out of the debate. They’re right – most people you speak with don’t really give a damn about this issue because it won’t cost them a dime…. yet.
I have a simple analogy that I’m sure I’ve heard someplace but can’t recall to properly credit – how would you like the public highways to provide priority to those who can afford to pay for high speed driving privilege down the left lane. If the left lane gets filled up, the middle lane becomes available to the payor, continually squeezing the ‘public’ to the right lane, shoulder, and ultimately off the road. It really is that simple in networking terms also.
If you’d like to read my reasoning why – read further.  If not, think about your commute this morning and imagine the above scenario.
The news out of FCC this morning hints at rules allowing a Netflix or Apple to pay for better, faster connections to the Internet for better delivery of video. The way it actually happens in Internet hardware is that, in addition to a fatter pipe to the Internet, Netflix is provided a higher Quality of Service that gives a priority to its traffic, through networking gear, over others’ on the pipe.  Our corporate networks implement such a priority where telephone traffic is generally given higher priority than someone browsing social networks.  Extend this analogy for a moment –
highwayrobbery
You are entering a freeway and the on-ramp checks your license plate. The freeway computer recognizes that you are a standard driver, checks current traffic, and gives you access and you start driving merrily.  A convoy of trucks enters the highway and they happen to pay 10 bucks a truck. Their priority is, therefore, set higher and the highway computer moves your car off any lanes needed by the trucks until they have passed. On the Internet today, it is reality that lanes are so busy that the entity using it as a public infrastructure will be moved off-road (network term: squelched).
We enjoy Netflix, Amazon VOD, Hulu, Youtube, Vimeo, and many other services because the Internet was setup as a public utility without being called one. No one entity had more rights over the other. It isn’t a libertarian concept to seek to keep it that way. Just like our public highways, our common airspace, our electric supply, phone lines, and access to fire department or police, our Internet needs to remain a public utility, devoid of favoritism.
Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, Youtube, Vimeo were all startups once. And there will be startups again. Will they get squelched because NBC and Comcast chose to pay for higher QoS and eliminate the potential for competition. Bet your bottom $ they will.
Your senators and representatives need to hear. Your newspaper needs to hear. And ultimately, people fighting this fight need support. Head on over to Freepress and the EFF. Join their work, support their work, and more importantly, spread the word about their work. They’ve made it as simple as a button click.

Machines need TLC too….

My 11-year old snowblower began making harsh, jerky movements during its most recent use. Though I ignore the jerkiness for a bit, knowing oil etc. were freshly checked and replaced, I made a mental note to check it out once done. I was dismayed to find, once back in the garage, that the metal beneath the auger blades was ripped-up, bent, broken, and destroyed. The shave plate was still there but the body behind it was gone.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Landfill.jpg

source: wikipedia


I had to make a decision on whether to buy a new snowblower and trash this one, call a repair shop and spend a couple of hundred bucks and wait two weeks, or just slice off the metal and hope for the best. Being American in the 2000s, I was heavily leaning toward the first option.
It was then I remembered my neighbor’s son who had asked me last winter about any odd-jobs related to small engine repair items. It is his hobby and he dabbles in all sorts of machines. Jake came over to look and instantly suggested that we buy a new shave plate and skid shoes for the blower and he’d cut the bent-up and rusted portions of the body, cut a new piece of metal from his stock and weld it to the body. He’d then drill new holes and attach the shave and skid plates. All I’d need to do is paint the new surfaces. Again, being a member of the ‘new’ economy of throw and re-buy, I distrusted him, but the old green-cred and the desire not to throw away two hundred pounds of metal and engine won. I had him check out the machine, buy the parts locally and take my snowblower late Thursday evening.
I was surprised, then to find the snowblower sitting outside my garage FRIDAY morning. Jake had taken it Thu evening and spent a couple of hours cutting, welding, shaving, drilling and returning my snowblower to usable status. Bent edges were fixed and the machine was good as new. I simply owed him for the parts and labor. But before giving me an invoice he went a step further and told me exactly what I needed to do to make sure this doesn’t happen again – rebalance my snowblower prior to storage. Though the steps are well documented at Sears, Lowes, etc. (see here), I’d never bothered reading or following. Stupid Stupid Stupid.
I might have to give this repair thing a shot more often. And not forget that there are real skills still being learnt by young people in this country who love machines – making them, repairing them, using them, and modding them. We need them!
Now, to dig out similar maintenance sheets for my camera, lawn mower, trimmer, and other machines I rely on regularly. And to move Jake’s number to my speed dial!

What if someone like the NRA defended the fourth amendment?

Almost as old as the United States of America itself, this particular portion of the Bill of Rights known as the fourth amendment prohibits unreasonable searches and seizures and requires any warrant to be judicially sanctioned and supported by probable cause. It states –

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

image copyright, www.eff.org


As many who are vigilant against the activities of the US Government and its intelligence network have pointed out since late 2001, the police state is growing in its clandestine watches against its citizens. It took the audacious acts of Edward Snowden in the early 2013 to actually wake a few more Americans to the issue. Though a bit more familiar, we remain woefully clueless and apathetic about our eroding privacy. And the Government continues to expand its reach.
Unsurprisingly, there is a neighbor of the fourth amendment under a similar onslaught. Though I happen to fall on a different side of the debate, I find it admirable that the proponents of gun ownership have attached themselves so tightly to the second amendment which, according to the text, merely states –

A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed

Though its various words and phrases are perpetually in question, the second amendment is seen nationally as sacred and not to be infringed upon. It is considered sacrosanct enough to be attributed to the founding fathers who must have intended American’s to always have the right to bear arms. Yet, we forget that the fourth amendment too is a creation of the same founding fathers (introduced by James Madison and announced by Thomas Jefferson).
What is obviously lacking isn’t patriotism or some sense of right or wrong. What I believe is lacking is the mean marketing machine that is the benefactor of the second amendment (and incidentally the beneficiary).  If the NRA didn’t exist, would the general public alone be able to protect its right to bear arms?
Many of us in the tech world expressed outrage, chagrin, and outright anger at Snowden’s revelations. We teamed up against SOPA and PIPA (and for a short time, won), we rallied against ACPA, immigration laws etc., but always went back to our keyboards, expecting our lives to remain normal and untouched by the bureaucrats. How wrong we were. We need an organization, national in scope, mean in execution, persistent and tenacious. We need an NRA like entity to protect the citizenry from unlawful search and seizure, illegal and warrantless data collection by the NSA, and the propaganda unleashed by Congress and its minions daily.
It turns out that we do have such an organization that is equipped to do many of these things but needs every ‘gun owner’ to join the battle – that is anyone utilizing a computer, a smartphone, a telephone, or a tablet to support the EFF.  Follow its writings, its protests, and its campaigns to get to Congress. Support it with your cold hard cash so it can fund the fight, Distribute its links on social media. NSA spying isn’t all the EFF monitors, but the simple history and timeline will get you on your journey.
Join the EFF here.

Do we care enough to buy-fresh-buy-local?

There has been a movement underway to return to buy-fresh-buy-local.  Whether initiated as a corporate gesture with Des 4395_95732896643_696607_nMoines’ campaign for “Buy into the circle” or through the various farmers markets, it urges us (consumers) to connect with the product we buy.  When we buy a corporate product (i.e. mass-produced product), we lose our connection to the soul of the product – regardless of what the product may be.
I once argued strongly on this position with the then CEO and Chairman of a large insurer in Des Moines who was initiating a offshoring undertaking.  My position was that the company’s bread and butter business came from small businesses – a fact the company touted in its marketing.  Yet, through the very act of offshoring, it was going to disconnect from the small businesses – the consulting and IT shops in Des Moines, and lose not only their insurance business as their profits dropped, but potentially because the firms themselves would be out of businesses in short order.  It went against Thomas Friedman’s “The World is Flat” journal, and it went against bottom lines of the insurance company, but I argued, that it would be better for the community if the company were to continue nurturing  its local economy to the fullest.  The landscape is markedly different today, with the mid-sized firms mostly non-existent from the software and services marketplace, replaced instead by the mega-outsourcers or those with tiny groups of developers with rare exceptions buying the company’s products (from my informal email surveys…).
Though I am not as well traveled as many, I do see the spirit of supporting your community alive in UK, Italy, and now Germany.  Pick up a tiny plastic watering can and turn it over – Made in Germany.  See the cars on the road – German, bread and rolls sold in a gas station – being baked by the cashier behind the counter (Casey’s style!), hotel checkout receipts with the name of the proprietor who owns it – in today’s case “The Armatowski Family”.   It was alive in London and Cornwall, Rome and Florence, and just as I remember from the city of New Delhi.  You can’t help but have a different connection with the product you’re using or buying when a human being is attached to it.
I think it will take a lot more than us buying some fresh produce from the seasonal farmers  markets – if we want a true buy-fresh-buy-local, we will need to seek out the people who sell us everything from food and lodging to our goods and services, software, insurance, lawn care, pest control, car repair, office supplies, and much more.
If we don’t know who we are buying from, do we really connect with them enough to care?

Central Iowa Technology wantrepreneurs – your opportunity is here!

I have an exciting opportunity to share with my fellow techies in Iowa, especially the central Iowa region.  If you have been dreaming up the next killer app or the tech toy but were either short of cash, peer feedback or other hangups, your home State has a contest that may be of interest to you.
The Business Innovation Zone (http://www.bizci.org) is sponsoring a contest to attract new ideas and choose a popular winning idea to win $5000!  If you can generate enough excitement about your idea statewide, you also stand to win an additional $10000!
If you’ve read the history of technology in the United States to any depth, you know that Accidental Empires don’t come from America’s largest corporations.  Big ideas have been born in dorm rooms, garages, school buses and the playground.
This is your chance to expose your idea –
1. Grab a video camera or a webcam
2. Record a 1 to 5 minute pitch of your idea
3. Create a login and submit your idea at Dream Big Grow Here (http://goo.gl/hk2W9)  between now and August 15th, 2011
…and now the MOST IMPORTANT STEP…
Starting August 16 market your idea to as many people in your circles, walls, address books and more to generate votes at http://www.dreambiggrowhere.com.
There are a few rules and FAQs that apply to this contest — please read them at http://www.dreambiggrowhere.com/
This is free capital for simply verbalizing and marketing your idea – don’t let it slip away!
What’s in it for me?  I am a Principal of Startup City Des Moines, a sponsor and supporter of this contest.

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