Spie Press BookEngineering a High-Tech Business: Entrepreneurial Experiences and Insights
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This book provides actual entrepreneurial stories giving insight into the pitfalls and successes one might find in starting or even continuing with a small high-tech business. Insights into innovative, speculative, and (largely) successful new ventures, as experienced by those who went through the process, are complemented by comments and observations from others in the field including researchers, economists, investors, regional development agencies, technology transfer organizations, and universities.
The book is recommended to entrepreneurs in all high technology disciplines and in particular for students and early career professionals. It can be also useful for undergraduate and postgraduate courses in entrepreneurship, which many institutions are currently introducing, and to those who are interested in how a high-tech business might develop.
Moving into a start-up company, particularly in its very early stages, either as a founder or as an early employee, can be a uniquely rewarding experience. Whilst there are many books about creating and growing start-ups (particularly in the US) this book is the first one, to my limited knowledge, that focuses on the start-up phenomenon in the photonics space. The book does not try to provide a linear story of the growth of companies in the photonics space but rather provides some excellent snap-shots and first-person case studies of how the start-up process can occur.
The book is based on contributions from authors (the majority of them entrepreneurs themselves) and this provides a breadth of views, although the disparity of styles, together with the light hand of the editors, often leaves something to be desired in terms of continuity. However, this approach does allow the personalities of the individual chapter authors (many of them known personally by the reviewer) to shine through.
The book is divided into four sections, the first of which, entitled "Reflections, Motives and Money", aims to provide an overview of the process, etc. The first chapter, however, provides a reasonably incomprehensible economist's take on the process of innovation which could be enough to put many readers off pursuing the rest of the book. However, be not deterred, dear reader, as both the content and readability of the book increases significantly once past this very dry beginning.
The second section, devoted to various case studies written by the entrepreneurs themselves, provides (to me) the real meat of the book, both in terms of the space devoted to it (over half the book) and in terms of the stories that are told. Whilst some of the chapters tend to be a bit formulaic in presentation (with a "first we did this, then we did that" approach) others really capture the trials and tribulations, highs and lows of creating and building a photonics company from scratch. The eclectic choice of contributors from a range of countries (not just the US) provide a broad range of raisons d'etre and business models which provide food for thought for anyone contemplating taking the plunge into a start-up. As a minor gripe, I would have liked to have seen a couple of failures (e.g., from the photonics bubble of 1998-2001) but maybe the people concerned (and their lawyers) didn't want to get involved. (For a good article on the downside, see the Wall Street Journal article from August 2002 on Latus Lightworks, which can be found at http://www.happinessonline.org/InfectiousGreed/p26.htm)
The third section, "Supporting the Entrepreneur", could be valuable to someone just setting out on the road towards a start-up, although I found the chapter on IP strategy rather abstract and surprisingly US-centric, with little discussion of the various options for IP protection outside of the "traditional" US patent.
The final section focusing briefly on the role of universities seems very much an afterthought and does not link well into the main body of the book. The two examples discussed are far too country-specific (Spain and the US) but at the same time too general to be of any real value.
Overall, the editors have done a good job of capturing some of the flavour of being involved in a start-up in the photonics space, and the book is recommended to provide an insight into some of the strategies and war stories of those who have succeeded in this space.
Recommended follow-up reading:
- "City of Light" by Jeff Hecht - an extremely well-written view of the development of fibre optics up to 1995
- "Telecosm" by George Gilder - a fascinating read of one-man's hyping of the photonics bubble
- "The Innovator's Dilemma" by Clayton M Christianson - a seminal, must-read book for anyone contemplating a technology start-up
--Simon Poole, Finisar Australia
(from Australian Physics, November/December 2009)
- Part I: Reflections, Motives, and Money
- 1. Some Suggestions from an Economist to a New High-Tech Starter
- 2. The Academic Entrepreneur: An Oxymoron?
- 3. Money
- 4. Confessions of a Start-Up Junkie
- 5. Being Both an "Intrapreneur" and Entrepreneur in Optoelectronics Industry
- Part II: Some Case Studies
- 6. Mirada Solutions: The Case Study of a University Spin-Off
- 7. Building a Company the Old Fashioned Way: Meadowlark Optics, Inc.
- 8. Building a Lasting Optical Design and Manufacturing Company
- 9. The Life and Times of a High-Tech Entrepreneur
- 10. A Case from a Russia: IPG Photonics
- 11. Wacko WYKO
- 12. The Ocean Optics Story in a Nutshell
- 13. Experiences in Starting a Nano-Sized Company
- 14. The Story of Fiberonics
- 15. Founding a Fiber-Optic Component and Sensor business
- 16. How to Start a Small High-Tech Business in Troutdale, Oregon
- 17. SMARTEC: Bringing Fiber-Optic Sensors into Concrete Applications
- 18. "An Earth Odyssey" or Fibersensing
- 19. The First Years of Crystal Fibre A/S from a University Perspective
- 20. Multiwave Photonics: Our Experience Building a Fiber-Optic Company Based in Portugal
- Part III: Supporting the Entrepreneur
- 21. Bullnet Capital: Our Experience as a Venture Capital Firm Participating in the Development of Technology-Related Companies in Spain and Portugal
- 22. Intellectual Property in High-Tech Entrepreneurship
- 23. Support for a Young Company
- Part IV: The Universities
- 24. Strategic Support for the Creation of New Technology-Based Enterprises from Spanish Public Universities: The Case of the Technical University of Madrid
- 25. University Research and the Optics Industry
- Postscript: Some Concluding Thoughts
- Editor and Author Biographies