Thursday, May 28, 2020

Gina Kolata, Flu: The Story of the Great Influenza Pandemic of 1918 and the Search for the Virus that Caused It (Simon & Schuster, 2005)

As we sit in our homes in isolation in an attempt to “flatten the curve,” it’s helpful to remember that this is not the human race’s first rodeo.

A little over a century ago, in the midst of the world’s first experience of total war, a virulent virus raged through every corner of the globe, killing an estimated 100 million people. Most families were touched by the pandemic. My grandfather was spared from service in World War I because the second draft in which he would have been called up was canceled as a result of the pandemic. A strong and healthy young man, he later nearly died from the virus; his aunt suddenly came down with the influenza and was gone within a few days, leaving behind a bereaved husband and several young children.

Such experiences were commonplace, as Gina Kolata, a science journalist for the New York Times, recounts in this book. But this is more than just the story of the 1918 pandemic. Until relatively recently, scientists had no clue about the genetic makeup of the 1918 virus or what made it so dangerous. The search for the answers to these questions about the Spanish Flu, eerily similar to the frenetic search for knowledge about COVID-19 currently underway, makes up the heart of Kolata’s story.

Monday, May 18, 2020

Entrepreneurialism in the Age of COVID-19: from the Sublime to the Ridiculous

Necessity is the mother of invention. We’ve all heard that common phrase. When your need for something is imperative, you will find a way to get it.

While researchers around the globe scramble to meet obvious needs, including new or improved diagnostic tools and methods for detecting the COVID-19 virus, pharmaceutical preparations and devices for treating the disease and — ultimately — a vaccine to prevent it, others have responded to immediate and urgent needs by modifying or re-purposing existing devices and technology to address immediate and urgent concerns.

Methods of cleaning face masks to allow repeated use and modifications of ventilators for multi-patient support may have been developed as temporary fixes, but will likely evolve into longer-term solutions, now that we have experienced the need. Over time, inelegant “MacGyver fixes” birthed in crisis will be improved and institutionalized, but only because their usefulness or benefit was first proven through critical need.

Thursday, May 7, 2020

COVID-19 Crisis: a Catalyst for Entrepreneurship

If any of you have read your emails lately, you are probably aware that “We're All In This Together” during these “difficult” and “uncertain times.”

All joking aside, the global coronavirus pandemic and corresponding policy restrictions have caused the rethinking of countless business practices. For many, video meetings have become a primary form of communication and home workspaces have become workers’ exclusive offices; we are experiencing major shifts in how businesses operate.

Some businesses – especially restaurants, retailers and manufacturers of consumer goods – have experienced a sharp drop in demand or even a complete derailment. At the same time, many people are experiencing shortages, whether it is of products like personal protective equipment (PPE) or hand sanitizer or services like fitness classes. Businesses are responding to America’s challenges by engaging in new entrepreneurial activities. 

As a fellow entreVIEW author has recently pointed out, there are real opportunities presented by this crisis for entrepreneurial-minded businesses. Here are a few businesses in my backyard (Minnesota) that have been reinventing themselves in order to survive the global coronavirus pandemic, including some businesses that are showing citizenship and resourcefulness in developing creative responses to emerging challenges with scarce resources (in combination, citizenship and resourcefulness are drivers of socially aware entrepreneurship, which is something I love promoting and talking about): 

Monday, May 4, 2020

Artificial Intelligence and Inventions

Part of the question of how the proliferation of artificial intelligence will impact intellectual property has been answered in a new ruling by the US Patent and Trademark Office (the “USPTO”).

Many interested in the effects of artificial intelligence on society, law, and the economy have asked whether artificial intelligence could be considered an “inventor” under patent law and who—or what—is entitled to protection, legal personality, and legal rights. Deeper under the surface, this question also requires an analysis of what it means to be a “human” and how our current notions are challenged by advancing technologies and scientific discoveries about the capabilities of non-humans. 

The USPTO has responded to an application for two patents with an artificial intelligence system, DABUS, listed as the inventor. DABUS designed an invention for shape-shifting food containers that are more robot-friendly and an emergency flashlight with an exigent rhythm. DABUS’s creator, Stephen Thaler, argued that he did not help DABUS design these inventions, so it would be technically inaccurate to claim that he, and not DABUS, is the inventor. Significantly, the application was not requesting that DABUS own the patent, just that it be recognized for its contribution as the inventor

Thursday, April 23, 2020

Movies All Entrepreneurs Should Watch

Have you suddenly found yourself with some extra free time at home? Consider spending some of that free time in front of the TV. If you pick the right movies, this will not only fill up some of your extra time — you might even learn some tips for how to be a successful entrepreneur in the process. Based on my many hours of “research” in the past few weeks, the following is my list of must-see movies for every entrepreneur:

1. The Social Network (2010)

The Social Network tells the story of the founding of the social networking website Facebook and the lawsuits that followed thereafter. The movie offers a glimpse into the challenges faced by companies on the path to making it big. It also provides an inspirational reminder that sometimes big companies start small.

2. Fyre: The Greatest Party that Never Happened (2018)

This movie follows the events surrounding the Fyre Festival, the 2017 festival that a young entrepreneur promised would be a luxury music experience on a private island. It turned out to be nothing but a scam. This movie shows the dangers of making big promises but not investing in the end product.

Thursday, April 16, 2020

Entrepreneurial Opportunities in A Pandemic?

One of the reasons that I enjoy working with entrepreneurs so much is because so many of them have a positive outlook. Think about it, would anybody really even think seriously about starting a business if they weren’t looking beyond all the challenges they will face to see the potential opportunities?

As we all know all too well from our current view through pandemic-tinted glasses (sitting in sweatpants, socially distant from others, wondering what day it is, trying to avoid cable news networks, and hoping that our Zoom calls don’t get disrupted), businesses of all sizes are being dramatically impacted by the COVID-19 virus and related stay at home and social distancing measures put into place by governmental officials. Unfortunately, some (possibly many) businesses will not survive the crisis. 

I believe that many of the ones that survive and maybe even end up being stronger will be those run by entrepreneurs who see the glass as half full. Rather than huddle in fear, they will instead look for the opportunities available to them during and as a result of the current coronavirus crisis. While it can be easy to be sucked into all the negative news and real human toll the virus is taking, l — like my entrepreneur clients — prefer to focus on the opportunities.

Monday, April 6, 2020


Businesses have been forced to close their brick and mortar stores. We are all practicing safe distancing. People are working remotely. COVID-19 has already had a significant impact on how we conduct business. 

While the digital transformation was well underway before COVID-19, the transition to more vigorous and expansive e-commerce has never been more apparent. Amazon was set to hire over 100,000 new employees by April 1. Zoom has replaced all face-to face business meetings. Virtual interactions are the new norm. 

Nearly all companies now use some form of online or mobile websites and social media to promote their businesses, sell goods or services, conduct business transactions, and connect and communicate with customers, clients, or other businesses. 

For businesses that already enjoyed a robust e-commerce presence, now is a good time to review and enhance e-commerce strategies. For those businesses with a limited or non-existent online presence, their very survival may require a fresh look at e-commerce.