Suffering Preceded Success
This is my comment in response to Ania Monaco’s blog, “How Hard Is it to Be an Entrepreneur?” and in particular to her last paragraph, “Do you agree with the misperceptions engineers have about starting a business as listed in the Forbes article? What do you believe are the biggest hurdles facing engineers who want to become entrepreneurs? And if you’ve started your own business, share your story below.”
In May 2010 as a Ph.D. physicist in retirement at age 67 as a ‘late bloomer,’ I started my own scientific consulting business, “Frosty’s Physics, LLC.” This was an end-of-career-as-employee decision when I could look back on a research career spanning a half century as a worker paid by employers and encapsulate what I did best, which was to propose and do exploratory research on effects of various types of radiation on materials and people.
Analysis of that experience led to a new model for doing exploratory research in general, called the “Double Hypothesis Algorithm,” a variant of the scientific method for investigations. Further self-knowledge came from realizing that my strengths lay not in being the experimentalist characteristic of most of my career but instead acting as a mathematical physicist who could use his own new analytic theories developed along mathematical lines to peer beneath the surface appearance of things. So that’s how I present myself to potential clients. Most important to fostering these innovations, though, was including in my business model a framework for doing so-called pro-bono-publico work steered along lines important for the long-range good of society and done without payment of a consulting fee.
Contrary to the usual ordering in time, my analysis confirmed the validity and relevance of my business approach. For example, rather than first basing the business model on a traditionally couched likelihood of generating new intellectual property such as U.S. patents, which the company being formed could then exploit as protected new technology to introduce into the marketplace, I looked at the U.S. patents I had already secured during my career (but were assigned to the U.S. DoD) and at their connection to the original ideas that had spawned them. Thus I developed a confidence in concluding that what it meant for my former initial ideas to not only be workable but also ‘doable’ was that the ideas I NOW came up with in my new business would also lead to somewhere measurable and significant to others.
Also I looked at whether these patents comprised important contributions to future technological developments or lay only within a backwater not likely to make the mainstream of business and commerce. To aid in this look, I developed a new model for learning of STEM subjects and their content, a model which featured the core importance of one’s own actual identity as the starting point for an idea- and inquiry-based process of self-guided learning for arriving finally at new knowledge of real importance to society.
In sum, to leave out all the details, several years of study and analysis preceded the actual process of forming my firm as a Vermont business entity. On top of all this, before this planning stage I had had commercialization planning coursework and experience at my former employer, Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL), as part of its technology transfer program which assisted employees such as its staff members to transfer—and transform—their ideas into their own businesses or at least into CRADA-initiated partnerships with existing companies who then paid royalty streams to LANL. This earlier planning experience included strategic thinking and planning along the lines of a ‘SWOT’ model of strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats, plus the triad of technical, marketing, and business plans. All the foregoing went into the ‘mixing pot.’
However, at age 67 I modified what I had been taught as deemed necessary for the future success of my own firm. A major mode was to leave my business open-ended so that it could go wherever unforeseen events lead it to. A second mode was to not insist on ‘right-now’ metrics for measuring the success of my business which would prevent me from doing what I do best, spotting a flaw in another person’s reasoning or analysis or assembling various concepts into a coherent whole or synthesis greater than the sum of its parts.
This in turn meant to (1) allow longer timeframes within which to assess the success of my work, even if they were so long that it would not be I who would make or even see that assessment, and (2) value more highly than is the usual practice the pro-bono part of the business relative to the fee-paid part, as with the former I have had much greater freedom of choice in my methods, schedules, networks of contacts, use of information, and so on.
A price to pay for this approach was the necessity to capitalize my business start-up out of my own financial reserves and to accept the possibility that it might be years before I realized any income. However, these two considerations facilitated not only solving known existing technical problems but also identify new ones and then propose solutions for those, as a catalyst not only for stimulating change but also for forming those future partnerships needed to carry on the work to implement these solutions as innovations important to the nation such as its economy, the health of its people, the sustainability of its energy resources, the stability and surety of its national defense, and so on—even if after I am long gone.
The technical contributions that my firm has made over the past two years that I am most proud of are (1) developing and disseminating a major new ultrasound bioeffects mechanism, termed “sold-state mechanical,” important to the field of the use of ultrasound in medicine such as for biomedical imaging, and (2) proposing via a comprehensive classical physics analysis a major new interaction to include in the theory for NMR for when the test sample is moved uniformly, a new interaction potentially of great importance to the field of MRI as a new 3D image contrast mechanism for internal, endogenous electric fields at nanoscopic to macroscopic size scales in biological tissue and in patients.
A number of other contributions have been made in the sphere of strategic human resources models leading to better business practices for employers to better utilize the human capital pools available to them. This includes (1) greater inclusion in the creative knowledge-based STEM workforce of disabled workers, especially those who are mentally disabled, and (2) more timely assessments of the research and leadership contributions of recently deceased scientists and engineers so that career models could be extracted and proposed in a more timely fashion for emulation by the upcoming generation presently in the STEM pipeline as students—those offering the most promise for a viable, globally competitive national economy in the future.
It was very hard to arrive at this point. The crux of the matter turned out to be a lifelong struggle based on personal identity—to be somebody that someone else had taught me to be OR to be and act out of the only one I could be, which is the one I had been destined to be but had to discover and uncover through the crucible of hardship (including disability acquired in the workplace in 1989) and which finally formed me into the viable and sustainable human person that I am now.
Over my career a false, inculcated understanding of who I really was had comprised the greatest hurdle to having the type of independent work and life style that I needed when working as an employed principal investigator on a federally funded project (as at Penn State or at LANL) and now need as a true entrepreneur (here in rural Vermont). This hurdle was overcome finally by a recent culmination to a long, ongoing experiential and reflective dialectic between that false understanding and the true self-knowledge that was needed to step out onto and explore a sere business terrain that no one had ever, to my knowledge, ventured upon before.
Suffering had to precede success in doing this as a “late bloomer” whose ideas will also bloom one day as flowers in the high mountain desert.
Harold M. Frost, III
President and Owner of Frosty’s Physics, LLC