Thursday, October 31, 2013

TedxKrakow Inspiring Creative Krakowians to "Make" Startups

By Paul Chen

I believe that part of the reason for the much deserved buzz about startups in the last few years is the same spirit behind the subculture of makers and their recent rise in popularity.  This spirit is indeed contagious.  It is the central theme in the latest installment of TedxKrakow, MAKE!  It took place on October 25, 2013 in Stara Zajezdna, an event space in the Kazimierz district.   Unlike their previous conferences, they have added a great deal of bells and whistles to the event.  In fact, they made a whole weekend out of it.   

Along with a fine lineup of speakers, presentations, and cultural offerings, the organizers allowed the audience to get their hands dirty by having them participate in many workshops.  The workshops were made possible by the people of Maker Space here inKrakow.  Participants hand the chance to play with the Makey Makey boards, the Stellaris Launchpad, and making jewelery and toys out of electronic components.   In addition, there were workshops held throughout the weekend.  Workshops covered topics such as 3D-Design, 3D-Printing, Bread baking, coffee brewing, an all-night hackathon, dancing, and a Hive 53 Swarm.    

A list of speakers and their passion can be found here. All of the speakers were wonderful and inspiring, but here are some of my favorites.

They say that you can’t fight City Hall but Catherine Bracy taught us that you can hack it with her work with Code for America.  She in cooperation with Open Malopolska have started an initiative called Code of Poland in an effort to streamline the operations of governmental institutions as well as improve the interactions between the citizens and the city offices.  Such initiatives are much needed in order to allow Poland to progress. 

Trine Hahnemann encourages us to step away from the store bought foods once in a while and eat food that is prepared with our own hands in order to preserve some ancient ways as well as staying healthy by taking advantage of the full nutritional benefits of food. 

Brad Feld would agree with Jeroen Beekmans when he proclaimed that it is the citizens of a city that gives it its life, spirit, and energy.

I also enjoyed the walk back in time that the famed journalist, Steve Crawshaw, took us on as he recalled the events that shook the world in 1989 as well as other Middle Eastern milestones.  I think it is that need to archive and report the events of a process that is undergoing a rapid amount of metamorphosis that gave me the motivation to start this blog.  

I also enjoyed the call to intergration from Janusz Makuch as in a future post, I will talk about the benefits of intergration for the Krakow Startup Ecosystem. 

Although, I might not want my kids to play with sharp objects, Gever Tulley told us to allow kids to try new things.  They are more likely to recover quicker and learn more from the mistakes they make while they are young. 

I really enjoyed the Makers center with all their projects.  What is amazing is the amount of mind-blowing projects that is possible based on boards such as the Makey Makey and the Stellaris Launchpad.  With those components, you can turn fruit into a game controller or control quad copters.  They are the latest buzz in the maker subculture and rapidly gaining interest in the mainstream. 

I believe that it is events like this that can inspire someone to want to make something really awesome.  Some of those innovative objects can have the potential to change the way we live such as what Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg, and Bill Gates did, not too long ago.  They had small startups that went on to make millions and change the world.  All it took was an inspiration that turned into an idea.  I am convinced that someone will take the inspirations from this TedxKrakow and Maker Weekend and do something incredible.  Let’s wait and see.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Thinking of Starting a Business? Check Out Consumer Health Technology

New apps and devices are bringing diagnosis and treatment straight to the end consumer.

The Affordable Care Act put a spotlight on the surging cost of health care. That has opened a huge opportunity for companies developing tools to make health care--especially preventive and diagnostic care--more accessible to the masses. Increasingly, such products and services are being delivered online, through mobile apps and Web-connected devices.
The Market Is Big...and Mobile
Apps and devices that encourage consumers' overall wellness have proliferated over the past few years. Two leading products, Nike+ and Fitbit, include wearable sensors that capture their users' vital signs and movement and sync that data to apps on which their users can track their fitness status. Another fast-growing category of apps connects consumers with health care providers. For instance, ZocDoc, which has attracted nearly $100 million in funding, enables its users to research and book appointments with local doctors online. Other health apps aim to address the diagnosis, treatment, and ultimately prevention of diseases. WellnessFX, which launched last year, runs a mobile platform that offers recommendations for lifestyle changes based on the results of its users’ urine and blood tests, which the company supplies.
Mobile apps and devices will continue to drive growth in the consumer health technologyindustry. The segment’s market value will reach $6.6 billion by the end of this year, according to the research firm MarketsandMarkets, and will top $20 billion by 2018.

How to Get Noticed
New companies can stand out by pursuing services that enable consumers to make sense of the large sum of personal health data already in existence. For instance, the New York City-based company Curious is developing an app, currently in private beta testing, that uses data from platforms such as Fitbit to help its users answer questions about their health, such as “Does urine acidity correlate with body pain?” Even Google, which recently announced its launch of Calico, a company focused on solving aging-related health problems, may be entering the fray. Though few details about Calico’s operations have been revealed, industry observers have speculated that the new venture will analyze consumer data to expedite medical research.

 Skills You'll Need
Given that many health apps on the market rely upon the collection and analysis of consumers’ personal information, aspiring entrepreneurs seeking to enter the field should have a strong facility with data. At the same time, developing apps geared toward consumers with minimal medical knowledge requires a nuanced understanding of health concerns, most readily found among former health practitioners. As a result, founding teams for health technology companies are usually interdisciplinary. “Understanding how to build a database is very different from knowing the science behind health care,” says Halle Tecco, the CEO of Rock Health, an incubator specializing in digital health. “Very few people have both skill sets.”
Prior industry knowledge will also lend entrepreneurs an advantage in navigating the many regulations that govern the industry. Companies that handle users’ personal data must comply with privacy standards set by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, or HIPAA. Additionally, companies that provide diagnostic tools or make health-related claims may soon require approval by the FDA before they can launch their services to the public, especially with recent studies raising doubts about the accuracyof certain screening apps.
Above all, in order to be successful, consumer health companies must eliminate the intimidation factor often present in conversations about health and medicine. The most popular apps and devices on the market, such as Nike+, have achieved this goal through an emphasis on design. Some companies have even gone so far as to acquire other firms for their design prowess. Aza Raskin, the designer who founded the mobile app company Massive Health, now serves as a vice-president of Jawbone, which acquired his company in February.
Areas to Avoid
Aspiring health-tech entrepreneurs should steer clear of products that focus solely on sleep. Two start-ups with an exclusive focus on sleep science, WakeMate and Zeo, eventually shut down after high-profile launches. Many wellness apps and devices have taken a broader approach by including sleep tracking as just one of many product features. For instance, Lark, a company that originally focused on sleep science, has since expanded its product offerings to address diet, exercise, and other aspects of health and wellness.
Where to Find Funding
Venture capital funding for health technology has continued to rise, with companies in the industry raising $849 million in the first half of 2013, according to Rock Health. But few health technology companies attract seed funding, as most investors prefer to fund companies that have already shown significant progress in product development. As a result, more companies are turning to crowdfunding platforms like Kickstarter to raise initial funds. Crowdfunding sites dedicated to the industry, such as VentureHealth and MedStartr, have also begun to emerge.
Possible Challenges
Establishing a sustainable business model remains a big hurdle for consumer health companies. Health care costs in the United States top $3 trillion, but consumers typically pay only 12 percent of that cost. “We still haven’t answered the question of who pays,” says Tecco. “We’re not used to paying out of pocket.” Though consumers have shown willingness to buy sleekly designed hardware, most health apps currently on the market are free. Many companies have sought to monetize their products and services by adding premium features, such as live consultations with doctors.
Despite business models, other tech companies have been eager to scoop up start-ups with promising products. Insurance firms and electronic medical record companies have been particularly active in acquisition deals. In February, for instance, the medical-records company PracticeFusion bought 100Plus, a personalized platform that uses game mechanics to encourage better health habits, for an undisclosed sum.

The Quick and Dirty on Consumer Health Technology

Major players
Jawbone, WeightWatchers, Nike. Privately held companies include Castlight Health and ZocDoc.
Investors are very interested...
Digital health care companies raised $1.4 billion from VCs last year, up 46 percent from 2011, according to incubator Rock Health.
...So are strategic buyers.
That includes insurance companies and other tech firms. Aetna bought Healthagen, maker of the health app iTriage, in 2011.

Brace for red tape
Start-ups have to navigate a maze of regulations regarding consumer privacy and health claims. Certain apps, like diagnostic tools, may require FDA approval.
What's the ideal prior job?
Big Data engineer, doctor, or medical researcher. Design skills help, too.

Industry buzzword
Wearables: Sensor-based technology that tracks users' vital signs. Wearables comprise one of the leading segments in consumer health care.

This is a repost of an article that appeared on inc. magazine website on October 9, 2013

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Misbehaving Helps Natalia Maczek Win the Global Student Entrepreneur Awards: Poland in Warsaw

By Paul Chen

With the 2013/2014 school year well under way, I have started my teaching again.  That would probably explain the drop in the amount of postings and writings.  Don’t worry, I still intend to provide you with the latest in the startup happenings here in Krakow.  I appreciate your patience and support.  Recently, I was teaching a group of fourth and fifth year engineering students at AGH about entrepreneurship.  I asked them,”When would it be a good idea to start your own business?”

I got such answers like:
  • When you have money
  • After graduation
  • When you have a good idea
  • When you have some special knowledge
  • When you have some years of experience in a field
  • When you see a gap in the market
  • Anytime

The answer is „G” all of the above or any combinations of the above. 

However, one doesn’t have to wait until after graduation to start a business.  The students competing at the Global Student Entrepreneur Awards can tell you something different.  The Global Student Entrepreneur Awards (GSEA) is a catalyst that inspires students and young people to start and grow entrepreneurial ventures. The Global Student Entrepreneur Awards are a program of the Entrepreneurs’ Organization (EO).
The GSEA operates as an international series of competitions for student entrepreneurs who are attending a recognized high school, college or university, who own a for-profit business, are principally responsible for its operation, and have been operational for a minimum of six consecutive months.
Its mission is to inspire students to adopt entrepreneurial endeavors by bringing global visibility to student business owners whose companies are innovative, profitable, socially responsible, and adhere to high ethical standards.
It strives to be the most prestigious award for student entrepreneurs who are running viable businesses with sales.
On Friday, October 11, 2013  at the Centre for Entrepreneurs, in Warsaw for the first time ever in Poland student entrepreneurs competed to win the prestigious  Virgin Mobile – Global Student EntrepreneurAwards:  Polish edition.

Student entrepreneurs from Krakow, Nowy Targ, Poznan, Gdansk, Slomni, Wroclaw, Bydgoszcz, Kielce, and Warsaw were nominated and competed in the knock out regional events.

The Warsaw finalists were,, MISBEHAVE MISBHV, Studio Prywatne, and Filmaster.

Student entrepreneur’s businesses were judged on criteria that included four major sections: The Entrepreneur, Business Fundamentals, Lessons learned, Growth & Future Plans.

The judging panel included, Jaromir Działo, Justyna Tymicka, Krzysztof Wieczorek, Aureliusz Górski, Daniel Lewczuk, Artur Kurasiński, Konrad Kurkowski, and Paweł Miller.

After more than two long and exhausting hours of deliberation by the judges, the final decision was announced.

 Natalia Maczek, founder of MISBEHAVE, MISBHV, a street wear clothing company based in Krakow Poland, was announced as the first ever-official Polish Student Entrepreneur winner.

MISHBV was founded by Natalia Maczek in April 2008 in the heart of former East Block as a one-off DIY t-shirt fashion line for a small circle of her closest friends - skaters, rapers, artists and models.

Just a few collections later, MISBHV grew into a global brand with a unique aesthetic vocabulary worn by global superstars such as Rihanna, Cara Delevigne, Jourdan Dunn and Azealia Banks.  Its collections are sold in a limited number of carefully selected retailers worldwide including: Browns Focus in London, Galleries Layafette in Paris and I.T. in Hong Kong.

Natalia Maczek, a student of Law and a former Akademickie Inkubatory Przedsiębiorczości member, was delighted that her company MISBEHAVE, MISBHV, was announced as the Poland National Winner, and Natalia is excited to be representing Poland, as she would travel to Washington, USA, to compete with other countries for the title of the Global Student Entrepreneur Champion at the Grand Hyatt Washington on the 23rd of November 2013. We wish her the best of luck!

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Kraków, Brazzaville, Zahlé, and Fabriano designated UNESCO Creative Cities

21 October 2013 – The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has designated Kraków (Poland), Brazzaville (Republic of Congo), Zahlé (Lebanon), and Fabriano (Italy) as new members of its network of “creative hubs” promoting socio-economic and cultural development worldwide through creative industries.
Brazzaville, designated “City of Music”, is the first African member of the Creative Cities Network, which was launched by UNESCO in 2004 to develop international cooperation among cities that have recognized creativity as a driver for sustainable development.
Kraków, Zahlé, and Fabriano join the Network in the categories of Gastronomy, Literature, Crafts and Folks Arts, respectively.
“In implementing local initiatives, policies and strategies, Kraków, Brazzaville, Zahlé, and Fabriano have all tapped into creativity as a source of enrichment for the contemporary urban landscape and the daily life of citizens,” the Paris-based UNESCO stated in a news release.
As new members of the Network, the cities commit to strengthening participation in cultural life through fostering access to the creation and enjoyment of cultural activities, goods and services, promoting creativity and creative expressions, and integrating cultural and creative industries into local development.
Organized around seven categories, reflecting different dimensions of cultural life, the Network serves to facilitate the exchange of experience, knowledge and resources among its member cities as a means to promote the development of local creative industries and to foster worldwide cooperation in the cultural and creative sector, all for sustainable development.
With the latest additions, the Network now comprises 38 cities from all regions of the world. More cities are expected to be designated before the end of the year.
Announcement of the new designees comes on the second day of UNESCO’s Creative Cities Summit, being held in Beijing through Wednesday, 23 October. The meetings and related events are being held in the Capital Museum in Beijing, which itself was named a UNESCO “City of Design” in 2012.
“This is a summit for creativity,” declared Irina Bokova, Director-General of UNESCO as she opened the event. She added: “Standing at the intersection of the past and the future – cities are places where tradition meets modernity, where the ‘local’ and the ‘global’ interact, where the economic, social and cultural dimensions of sustainability interweave most tightly.”
This is a repost of a text that appeared on the United Nations website. 

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Balance and StartUp Life

By Jeff Bussgang

Living the startup life is a hard roller coaster.  One day you think you're on the verge of building a billion-dollar company, the next you wake up in a cold sweat, paranoid that you are about to run out of cash and have to shut the whole thing down.

There a lot of good books on how to develop a customer value proposition, rigorously test it and raise money.  But I have never seen a book address the hard issues of how to live your life while you're working 80 hours a week trying to do all those things.  Until now.

My friend, Brad Feld, has written precisely that book with his wife Amy Batchelor, called Startup Life. The couple tackle how to manage your relationship with your significant other while trying to live in the mad, crazy, demanding world of startups.  Nothing is off limits for this book - Brad shares how he screwed up his first marriage, how they manage their highs and lows together and even addresses the topic of how to find time for sex while running startup.

Brad asked me to share a few thoughts on my perspective on the topic and whether I had any additional tips.  I have been happilly married for 19 years and have known my wife, Lynda, over 25 years (we met our first day freshman year in college while moving in to the same dormitory entryway).  Like Amy, Lynda is not in the startup world at all, but rather has a completely different work and personal profile than I do (she is a former professional Broadway-style performer and is now a pioneer in the world of aging and multi-generational programming).  Additional context:  we have three kids (now ages 16, 13 and 10).  Brad and Amy don't have kids, so they were light on addressing this additional challenge - a topic I struggled with when I was an entrepreneur and still struggle with today as a multi-tasking, over-scheduled venture capitalist trying to be an accessible, loving Dad for my three high-energy children.  

Be Predictable, Even If It's Bad News.  

One of the hardest thing about being an entrepreneur is the unpredictable schedule you face.  A customer calls with a bug and there's a crisis.  A new product needs to get pushed out the door and it's a crisis.  Or you're trying to raise money and you need to prepare all night for tomorrow's investor meeting.  It would drive my wife absolutely nuts when I would say I would be home by a certain time, and then not show up until one or two hours later.  Dinner would be cold, kids would be mad and all hell would break loose.  

I finally swore I'd get better at is keeping track of time and setting expectations better with my wife about when I come home.  So we developed a system together:  at the beginning of each month, I email her when to expect me home at night that month (or not at all if travelling) with a 15 minute range.  Many nights the range is "945-1000pm" if I'm in NYC that day or have an evening event.  But it is what it is and I don't try to sugercoat it.  Then, I work very hard to stick to that hour, treating that deadline as if it were a meeting with an entrepreneur or a portfolio company board meeting.  If I know I am going to miss the deadline for being home (sure, stuff comes up), I always give her the heads up.  This creates a sense of predictability for her and the kids.  

If I see my kids in the morning (which is rare, although I'm working on that), I will tell them verbally what time to expect me rather than try to hide from the fact that I'm travelling or working late that day.  This avoids my family getting more frustrated with my unpredictable schedule than my actual schedule!

You're Just Not That Interesting.

In my early startup days, and the early days of the Internet, we used to refer to the crazy pace that we were living as "Internet Time".  There was this feeling that everyone else was living a slower pace than we were.  Indeed, to me, my 12-14 hour work day was chock full of a week's worth of stories, characters and drama.  Subconsciously, I thought my day-to-day was more exciting than my wife's and would come home eager to share all the drama.  After a few years, I began to realize that as interesting and dramatic as my work life is to me, it's really not that interesting to Lynda.  She cares about the big things, of course, and she cares about how I'm feeling about it, but the ups and downs about new product releases and who's missing the quarter and what competitors are doing are all just noise to her.

So my mantra now is, my work life just isn't that interesting to my family.  I share with them the top-line highs and lows, but I don't think my wife could name each of my portfolio companies.  Instead, when I come home, I focus on them:  the ups and downs of my kids social and academic lives; the ups and downs of my wife's work and social life.  In my head, I try to keep it to "80% them, 20% me" sharing time.  I'm sure it ends up more balanced, but if I aim for 20%, I know I'll come home focused on them rather than on me.  To be clear, I love my work and love being consumed in it.  It's just not that interesting to the four other members of my household.  And I'm ok with that.

Find Together Projects.

My wife and I operate in different professional worlds, but we have found that we love collaborating together on projects beyond the raising of our three kids.  Raising our kids takes an enormous amount of thought and energy.  The topic of our children often dominates our private time together.  We have discussions and make decisions each week about their activities, their school work, who to have a sleepover, who is picking them up when (during the weekend, we often switch to "taxi driver" mode) and what they should do for the summer.  But, we have found that having "adult projects" that we collaborate on is also very rewarding.  We have pored energy into various non-profits, our synagogue and our kids' schools as a way of making a difference, yes, but also spending our outside work time together.  Thus, although our professional communities are very separate, our personal and social communities are totally integrated.

In addition to those few tips and reading Amy and Brad's books, I recommend a few other books:

The Three Big Questions For a Frantic Family by Patrick Lencioni.  Lencioni is one of my favorite business book writers (see this blog post on his work on team dysfunction) and so this book was a refreshing way to apply some of his core business lessons to family management.

Raising Cain by Daniel Kindon and Michael Thompson.  I have two boys.  I have read this book twice - once when they were recently born and again recently as they move into the world of teenagers and found both sessions incredibly helpful and informative.

Nurture Shock: New Thinking About Children by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman.  David Kidder of Clickale suggested this one to me and I have enjoyed it as a book that cuts against conventional wisdom in many areas of raising children.

The Talent Code:  Greatness Isn't Born, It's Grown. Here's How by Daniel Coyle.  My partner Jon Karlen recommended this one to me.  Jon was an all-American squash player and his wife was a 12-letter athlete (!) at Harvard, so I take his recommendations about raising talented kids seriously!

Good luck with your own journey for balance and happiness!

This is a repost of a article that appeared on Seeing Both Sides website on February 10, 2013

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Deutsche Telekom Forming Partnerships with Startups in Krakow

By Paul Chen

As a major telecom, what do you do when you would like to cut cost in research and development,  but still stay among the leaders of innovation?  In Deutsche Telekom’s case the created Hub: Raum.  Hub:Raum is a collection of three incubators and accelerators in Berlin, Krakow and Tel Aviv.  Their goal is to find startups that are developing products and services that will complement Deutsche Telekom’s existing line of products and services.  In both Berlin and Krakow they provide incubation and accelerator mentoring and investment.  In Tel Aviv, they are providing consulting services to help enterprises expand their business to Israel and Europe. 

I sat down with Cosmin Ochisor, a liaison manager of the Krakow branch of Hub:Raum in a chat about his impressions of the Krakjow Startup scene.

Why did Deutsche Telekom start Hub:Raum?

DT still runs the T-Lab, the R&D centers, in Berlin, San Francisco, and Tel Aviv.  However, we felt that it wasn’t enough.  We needed  to look externally for more innovation and openess.  We started in the spring of 2012 and decided to expand to Krakow and Tel Aviv with a possible expansion to London and the rest of CEE region.

Why did you choose Krakow?

Poland has a solid economy in the CEE region so it was an obvious choice.  Krakow has a nice base of good startups.  It is an emerging market where we feel that we can have a good position on the ground floor of their development.  The central geography is advantageous to expand eastwards as well as westwards and southwards.  There is an international atmosphere and R&D presence.  It is a university city so there are lots of fresh and hungry talent.  We also like the fact that there is a nice group of investors already in the city. 

Who are you looking for?

We are looking for startups that can: provide different telecom products and services; app developers; cloud computing services; smart home applications; mobile payment services; and machine to machine communication products.

What do you think about the Krakow Startup Ecosystem?

I am happy with the amount of technical knowledge present on the local market.  We like the amount of investment capital here and that people are open-minded.  We are, however, concerned by the business acumen of the people here.    We don’t think it will be a big obstacle.  We can provide the training to overcome it.  However, there is an amazing amount of potential in Krakow.  

What type of trainings is Hub:raum providing?

We are offering a 1 week intensive acceleration program where startups will be trained on the following topics:

  • Effective pitching
  • Customer development
  • Product development
  • Legal and accounting knowledge
  • Effective communication to the target market
  • Financing and connections to later stage VC's
  • Access to a well equipped co-working space  

Who will be providing these trainings?

We have a team of world class mentors with relevant industry experience ready to share their wisdom.

What happens after this program?

As part of the deal, Deutsche Telekom will form a partnership with the startup where the product or service will add value to our existing line.  The startup will have access to our customer base of over 200 million world wide.  

Thank you very much for your time, any last comments?

Come to Krakow, we are looking for new ideas.  We will help you grow!

Thursday, October 10, 2013

As a Startup, Competing with the Establishment is Easier Than You Think

By Paul Chen

Yesterday, as I tried to extend my internet contract with Netia, a local Polish internet provider, I got charged twice for the transaction due to the fact that when I clicked on the "buy" icon, I was not shown a transaction complete screen.  Therefore, one might think that the transaction had not taken place.  So I tried again.  Nothing, again.  I was still getting internet from roll over.  It wasn't until this morning when I checked my email, I found out annoyingly that I had been charged twice.  As fellow customers, you can probably understand my frustration and anger over the SNAFU.  Polish businesses be it international or local have a reputation of being quite customer unfriendly.  You go to a supermarket in the US and your cashier smiles at you and thanks you and tells you to have a nice day.  Here in Poland that treatment is the exception not the rule.  Most of the time, the cashier puts your change on some tray, not in your hand, and throws the receipt somewhere beyond your reach.  As a tourist, you think it is a quaint custom, but as an expat, it is difficult to get used to.  It leads me to think, now, this is an area that startups can really make a difference.  

Startups often wonder how can they even compete with the major established firms.  Here in Poland, it is easier than ever.  To start off, you can really set yourself apart by providing good customer service.  One of the biggest differences between American customer service and Polish customer service is that in the US when the provider cannot do something they offer alternatives, but in Poland the provider just says they cannot do something outright.  As a result, the customer leaves annoyed and dissatisfied, and the provider misses out on additional possible revenue.   

One of the most difficult things to read as a Polish customer is a chart of offers, be it in a pizzeria or a internet provider.     You are never quite sure of what you are going to get and how much you have to pay.  I am convinced that they are trying to confuse their customers by playing some sorts of Jedi Mind Tricks.  They throw so many numbers and combinations of options, you can become very confused.  I believe simplicity is the best marketing tool.  Gimmicks are nice but overrated.  When you make it easy for the customer to understand what you have to offer and how much they have to pay, you save yourself a lot of headaches later on.   When the customer see the a clear advantage and benefit, you won't have to market as much.  

If you are a web-based company, make sure your payment infrastructure works.  It was incredibly aggravating to get charged twice all because the payment system was faulty.  Most American online retailers will give you a warning to only click once on the "buy" icon. 

One of the biggest advantage of being a startup is that you can pivot relatively easily, especially if you are using the Lean Startup methodology.  With the big boys, they have a bulky bureaucracy to deal with whenever they want to do something.  As a result, they are rather inflexible to major shifts in market trends.  However, as a startup the only person to get approval from is you , your partners and possibly your investor(s).  Consequently, you will benefit from the ease of adapting to that shift.  

One of the major weakness in the Polish market is that they are very stingy with their services.  A major example is the offers you get from the mobile service providers.  When you compare the prepaid packages and plans to similar ones in the western countries.  Startups can do even better due to the fact that they don't have to support the bulky extended empires that the big boys have.   They can offer more because they are more flexible with their profit margins.     If you offer just one more unit of product at the same price of the your competitor, people will choose you.  

So as startups, some might worry about being able to compete with the big boys.  However, the big boys should be worrying about how can they compete with you.  There are obviously many deficiencies in the more established "institutions" that a good startup can exploit.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

What's Next For The Poland Phenomenon? Lessons From Silicon Valley

Polish IT entrepreneurs operating in the U.S. met with Polish President Bronislaw Komorowski and Deputy Economy Minister Ilona Antoniszyn-Klik during the Polish politicians’ visit to New York for the U.N. General Assembly meeting last week.

“Several years ago we could only dream that Polish firms could be in Silicon Valley,” said President Komorowski, according to the website of the office of the president of the Republic of Poland. “Today we should have another dream—that we create a Silicon Valley in Poland.”

Over the last 25 years Poland has metamorphosed from a gray, poor, post-communist country into a European economic powerhouse. It is now the world’s 23rd largest economy, and Europe’s sixth largest. It is the only country in the European Union that did not suffer recession during the recent crisis, and the projected growth rate for 2014 is 57% higher than for the EU as a whole.
Poland also has a very well educated population and creative professionals. As an example, a Forbes Insights/ACCA study, “Nurturing Europe’s Spirit of Enterprise: How Entrepreneurial Executives Mobilize Organizations to Innovate,” concluded that Polish respondents were most likely to say that they had championed an innovation. They were also most likely to say that they had succeeded in getting the innovation implemented. Meanwhile, UK, German and Swiss executives were least likely to say that they had proposed an innovation.

Innovation is what Poland needs to move its growth to the next level. Poland has creativity in spades. Still missing are the factors needed for its implementation, such as financing for new ideas and commercialization of university research. And, perhaps most important, what’s also needed is a cultural shift in approach to risk taking. That’s where cooperation with Silicon Valley can be helpful.

The country has been, however, lagging other European countries in R&D investment, and it is ranked in 49th place on the Global Innovation Index produced by INSEAD and WIPO (World Intellectual Property Organization). There is clearly room for improvement.

It is the holy grail of all emerging markets to create new, worldwide brands that would transform the countries into licensors and not just licensees or subcontractors. That’s easier said than done. The proof of just how difficult it is to create a global brand is the Forbes list of the 100 most valuable brands. Topped by Apple, a brand estimated by Forbes to be worth $87 billion, and ending with Kleenex, which clocks in at $3 billion, the list includes no brands from the European emerging markets.

Developing new technologies or designs depends on the level of innovation in a given country or region. This in turn requires openness of the economy and ease of doing business, pay incentives, financing opportunities for entrepreneurs—such as angel investors and venture capitalists—as well as an educational system fostering critical thinking.

Many of these factors, such as venture financing or commercialization of university research, are at embryonic stages in Poland. What’s most important, however, may be creating the right mindset for innovation. In terms of Poland, this means more appetite for smart risk taking, and eradicating the social stigma associated with making mistakes, said Marek Belka, president of the National Bank of Poland, at a recent economic conference at the Kosciuszko Foundation.

In terms of a business or professional reputation, in Poland it’s very hard to bounce back from a bankruptcy or a professional mistake, as these are often associated with fraud or incompetence. Such low tolerance for failure makes for a reliable and stable society, as crooks, incompetents or misfits find it hard to practice their trade again. As a result, there are relatively few financial scandals or ethical breaches.

But this also means there is less opportunity for second or third acts, and learning from mistakes, which is the only way to innovate and move forward. For a Polish financier, investing in a startup knowing that it’s got a 10% chance of succeeding would be hard to swallow. In contrast, U.S. venture capitalists like to invest their money with people who have participated in a failed startup before: the assumption is that they have learned from their mistakes. The venture capital financing business is, after all, a hits business, where one good exit such as Facebook can change the fortunes of a firm and make irrelevant many other losses.

What Poland needs now is some of that Silicon Valley spirit.

This is a repost of an article that appeared on the Forbes website on October 1, 2013

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Why Are There Still So Few Women in Science?


Last summer, researchers at Yale published a study proving that physicists, chemists and biologists are likely to view a young male scientist more favorably than a woman with the same qualifications. Presented with identical summaries of the accomplishments of two imaginary applicants, professors at six major research institutions were significantly more willing to offer the man a job. If they did hire the woman, they set her salary, on average, nearly $4,000 lower than the man’s. Surprisingly, female scientists were as biased as their male counterparts.

The new study goes a long way toward providing hard evidence of a continuing bias against women in the sciences. Only one-fifth of physics Ph.D.’s in this country are awarded to women, and only about half of those women are American; of all the physics professors in the United States, only 14 percent are women. The numbers of black and Hispanic scientists are even lower; in a typical year, 13 African-Americans and 20 Latinos of either sex receive Ph.D.’s in physics. The reasons for those shortages are hardly mysterious — many minority students attend secondary schools that leave them too far behind to catch up in science, and the effects of prejudice at every stage of their education are well documented. But what could still be keeping women out of the STEM fields (“STEM” being the current shorthand for “science, technology, engineering and mathematics”), which offer so much in the way of job prospects, prestige, intellectual stimulation and income?

As one of the first two women to earn a bachelor of science degree in physics from Yale — I graduated in 1978 — this question concerns me deeply. I attended a rural public school whose few accelerated courses in physics and calculus I wasn’t allowed to take because, as my principal put it, “girls never go on in science and math.” Angry and bored, I began reading about space and time and teaching myself calculus from a book. When I arrived at Yale, I was woefully unprepared. The boys in my introductory physics class, who had taken far more rigorous math and science classes in high school, yawned as our professor sped through the material, while I grew panicked at how little I understood. The only woman in the room, I debated whether to raise my hand and expose myself to ridicule, thereby losing track of the lecture and falling further behind.

In the end, I graduated summa cum laude, Phi Beta Kappa, with honors in the major, having excelled in the department’s three-term sequence in quantum mechanics and a graduate course in gravitational physics, all while teaching myself to program Yale’s mainframe computer. But I didn’t go into physics as a career. At the end of four years, I was exhausted by all the lonely hours I spent catching up to my classmates, hiding my insecurities, struggling to do my problem sets while the boys worked in teams to finish theirs. I was tired of dressing one way to be taken seriously as a scientist while dressing another to feel feminine. And while some of the men I wanted to date weren’t put off by my major, many of them were.

Mostly, though, I didn’t go on in physics because not a single professor — not even the adviser who supervised my senior thesis — encouraged me to go to graduate school. Certain this meant I wasn’t talented enough to succeed in physics, I left the rough draft of my senior thesis outside my adviser’s door and slunk away in shame. Pained by the dream I had failed to achieve, I locked my textbooks, lab reports and problem sets in my father’s army footlocker and turned my back on physics and math forever.

Not until 2005, when Lawrence Summers, then president of Harvard, wondered aloud at a lunchtime talk why more women don’t end up holding tenured positions in the hard sciences, did I feel compelled to reopen that footlocker. I have known Summers since my teens, when he judged my high-school debate team, and he has always struck me as an admirer of smart women. When he suggested — among several other pertinent reasons — that innate disparities in scientific and mathematical aptitude at the very highest end of the spectrum might account for the paucity of tenured female faculty, I got the sense that he had asked the question because he genuinely cared about the answer. I was taken aback by his suggestion that the problem might have something to do with biological inequalities between the sexes, but as I read the heated responses to his comments, I realized that even I wasn’t sure why so many women were still giving up on physics and math before completing advanced degrees. I decided to look up my former classmates and professors, review the research on women’s performance in STEM fields and return to Yale to see what, if anything, had changed since I studied there. I wanted to understand why I had walked away from my dream, and why so many other women still walk away from theirs.

In many ways, of course, the climate has become more welcoming to young women who want to study science and math. Female students at the high school I attended in upstate New York no longer need to teach themselves calculus from a book, and the physics classes are taught by a charismatic young woman. When I first returned to Yale in the fall of 2010, everyone kept boasting that 30 to 40 percent of the undergraduates majoring in physics and physics-related fields were women. More remarkable, those young women studied in a department whose chairwoman was the formidable astrophysicist Meg Urry, who earned her Ph.D. from Johns Hopkins, completed a postdoctorate at M.I.T.’s center for space research and served on the faculty of the Hubble space telescope before Yale hired her as a full professor in 2001. (At the time, there wasn’t a single other female faculty member in the department.)

In recent years, Urry has become devoted to using hard data and anecdotes from her own experience to alter her colleagues’ perceptions as to why there are so few women in the sciences. In response to the Summers controversy, she published an essay in The Washington Post describing her gradual realization that women were leaving the profession not because they weren’t gifted but because of the “slow drumbeat of being underappreciated, feeling uncomfortable and encountering roadblocks along the path to success.”

Although Urry confessed in her op-ed column that as a young scientist she interpreted her repeated failures to be hired or promoted as proof that she wasn’t good enough, anyone who meets her now would have a hard time seeing her as lacking in confidence. She has a quizzical smile and radiant eyes and an irreverent sense of humor; not one but five people described her to me as the busiest woman on campus.

Before we met, Urry predicted that the female students in her department would recognize the struggles she and I had faced but that their support system protected them from the same kind of self-doubt. For instance, under the direction of Bonnie Fleming, the second woman to gain tenure in the physics department at Yale, the students sponsor a semiregular Conference for Undergraduate Women in Physics at Yale. Beyond that, Urry suggested that with so many women studying physics at Yale, and so many of them at the top of their class, the faculty couldn’t help recognizing that their abilities didn’t differ from the men’s. When I mentioned that a tea was being held that afternoon so I could interview female students interested in science and gender, Urry said she would try to attend.

Judith Krauss, the professor who was hosting the tea (she is the former dean of nursing and now master of Silliman College, where I lived as an undergraduate), warned me that very few students would be interested enough to show up. When 80 young women (and three curious men) crowded into the room, Krauss and I were stunned. By the time Urry hurried in, she was lucky to find a seat.

The students clamored to share their stories. One young woman had been disconcerted to find herself one of only three girls in her AP physics course in high school, and even more so when the other two dropped out. Another student was the only girl in her AP physics class from the start. Her classmates teased her mercilessly: “You’re a girl. Girls can’t do physics.” She expected the teacher to put an end to the teasing, but he didn’t.

Other women chimed in to say that their teachers were the ones who teased them the most. In one physics class, the teacher announced that the boys would be graded on the “boy curve,” while the one girl would be graded on the “girl curve”; when asked why, the teacher explained that he couldn’t reasonably expect a girl to compete in physics on equal terms with boys.

The only members of the audience who didn’t know what the rest were talking about were the women who had attended all-girls secondary schools or had grown up in foreign countries. (The lesbian scientists with whom I spoke, at the tea and elsewhere, reported differing reactions to the gender dynamic of the classroom and the lab, but voiced many of the same concerns as the straight women.) One student — I took her to be Indian or Pakistani — said she arrived on campus having taken lots of advanced classes and didn’t hesitate to sign up for the most rigorous math course. Shaken to find herself the only girl in the class, unable to follow the first lecture, she asked the professor: Should I be here? “If you’re not confident that you should be here” — she imitated his scorn — “you shouldn’t take the class.”

After the tea, a dozen girls stayed to talk. “The boys in my group don’t take anything I say seriously,” one astrophysics major complained. “I hate to be aggressive. Is that what it takes? I wasn’t brought up that way. Will I have to be this aggressive in graduate school? For the rest of my life?” Another said she disliked when she and her sister went out to a club and her sister introduced her as an astrophysics major. “I kick her under the table. I hate when people in a bar or at a party find out I’m majoring in physics. The minute they find out, I can see the guys turn away.” Yet another went on about how even at Yale the men didn’t want to date a physics major, and how she was worried she’d go through four years there without a date.

After the students left, I asked Urry if she was as flabbergasted as I was. “More,” she said — after all, she was the chairwoman of the department in which most of these girls were studying.

In the two years that followed, I heard similar accounts echoed among young women in Michigan, upstate New York and Connecticut. I was dismayed to find that the cultural and psychological factors that I experienced in the ’70s not only persist but also seem all the more pernicious in a society in which women are told that nothing is preventing them from succeeding in any field. If anything, the pressures to be conventionally feminine seem even more intense now than when I was young.

For proof of the stereotypes that continue to shape American attitudes about science, and about women in science in particular, you need only watch an episode of the popular television show “The Big Bang Theory,” about a group of awkward but endearing male Caltech physicists and their neighbor, Penny, an attractive blonde who has moved to L.A. to make it as an actress. Although two of the scientists on the show are women, one, Bernadette, speaks in a voice so shrill it could shatter a test tube. When she was working her way toward a Ph.D. in microbiology, rather than working in a lab, as any real doctoral student would do, she waitressed with Penny. Mayim Bialik, the actress who plays Amy, a neurobiologist who becomes semiromantically involved with the childlike but brilliant physicist Sheldon, really does have a Ph.D. in neuroscience and is in no way the hideously dumpy woman she is presented as on the show. “The Big Bang Theory” is a sitcom, of course, and therefore every character is a caricature, but what remotely normal young person would want to enter a field populated by misfits like Sheldon, Howard and Raj? And what remotely normal young woman would want to imagine herself as dowdy, socially clueless Amy rather than as stylish, bouncy, math-and-science-illiterate Penny?

Although Americans take for granted that scientists are geeks, in other cultures a gift for math is often seen as demonstrating that a person is intuitive and creative. In 2008, the American Mathematical Society published data from a number of prestigious international competitions in an effort to track standout performers. The American competitors were almost always the children of immigrants, and very rarely female. For example, between 1959 and 2008, Bulgaria sent 21 girls to the International Mathematical Olympiad, while the U.S., from 1974, when it first entered the competition, to 2008, sent only 3; no woman even made the American team until 1998. According to the study’s authors, native-born American students of both sexes steer clear of math clubs and competitions because “only Asians and nerds” would voluntarily do math. “In other words, it is deemed uncool within the social context of U.S.A. middle and high schools to do mathematics for fun; doing so can lead to social ostracism. Consequently, gifted girls, even more so than boys, usually camouflage their mathematical talent to fit in well with their peers.”

The study’s findings apply equally in science. Urry told me that at the space telescope institute where she used to work, the women from Italy and France “dress very well, what Americans would call revealing. You’ll see a Frenchwoman in a short skirt and fishnets; that’s normal for them. The men in those countries seem able to keep someone’s sexual identity separate from her scientific identity. American men can’t seem to appreciate a woman as a woman and as a scientist; it’s one or the other.”

That the disparity between men and women’s representation in science and math arises from culture rather than genetics seems beyond dispute. In the early 1980s, a large group of American middle-schoolers were given the SAT exam in math; among those who scored higher than 700, boys outperformed girls by 13 to 1. But scoring 700 or higher on the SATs, even in middle school, doesn’t necessarily reveal true mathematical creativity or facility with higher-level concepts. And these were all American students. The mathematical society’s study of the top achievers in international competitions went much further in examining genius by analyzing the performance of young women in other cultures. The study’s conclusion? The scarcity of women at the very highest echelons “is due, in significant part, to changeable factors that vary with time, country and ethnic group. First and foremost, some countries identify and nurture females with very high ability in mathematics at a much higher frequency than do others.” Besides, the ratio of boys to girls scoring 700 or higher on the math SAT in middle school is now only three to one. If girls were so constrained by their biology, how could their scores have risen so steadily in such a short time?

In elementary school, girls and boys perform equally well in math and science. But by the time they reach high school, when those subjects begin to seem more difficult to students of both sexes, the numbers diverge. Although the percentage of girls taking high-school physics rose to 47 percent in 1997 from 39 percent in 1987, that figure has remained constant into the new millennium. And the numbers become more alarming when you look at AP classes rather than general physics, and at the scores on AP exams rather than mere attendance in AP classes. The statistics tend to be a bit more encouraging in AP calculus, but they are far worse in computer science. Maybe boys care more about physics and computer science than girls do. But an equally plausible explanation is that boys are encouraged to tough out difficult courses in unpopular subjects, while girls, no matter how smart, receive fewer arguments from their parents, teachers or guidance counselors if they drop a physics class or shrug off an AP exam.

That cultural signals can affect a student’s ability to perform on an exam has long been known. In a frequently cited 1999 study, a sample of University of Michigan students with similarly strong backgrounds and abilities in math were divided into two groups. In the first, the students were told that men perform better on math tests than women; in the second, the students were assured that despite what they might have heard, there was no difference between male and female performance. Both groups were given a math test. In the first, the men outscored the women by 20 points; in the second, the men scored only 2 points higher.

It’s even possible that gifts in science and math aren’t identifiable by scores on tests. Less than one-third of the white American males who populate the ranks of engineering, computer science, math and the physical sciences scored higher than 650 on their math SATs, and more than one-third scored below 550. In the middle ranks, hard work, determination and encouragement seem to be as important as raw talent. Even at the very highest levels, test scores might be irrelevant; apparently, Richard Feynman’s I.Q. was a less-than-remarkable 125.

The most powerful determinant of whether a woman goes on in science might be whether anyone encourages her to go on. My freshman year at Yale, I earned a 32 on my first physics midterm. My parents urged me to switch majors. All they wanted was that I be able to earn a living until I married a man who could support me, and physics seemed unlikely to accomplish either goal.

I trudged up Science Hill to ask my professor, Michael Zeller, to sign my withdrawal slip. I took the elevator to Professor Zeller’s floor, then navigated corridors lined with photos of the all-male faculty and notices for lectures whose titles struck me as incomprehensible. I knocked at my professor’s door and managed to stammer that I had gotten a 32 on the midterm and needed him to sign my drop slip.

“Why?” he asked. He received D’s in two of his physics courses. Not on the midterms — in the courses. The story sounded like something a nice professor would invent to make his least talented student feel less dumb. In his case, the D’s clearly were aberrations. In my case, the 32 signified that I wasn’t any good at physics.

“Just swim in your own lane,” he said. Seeing my confusion, he told me that he had been on the swimming team at Stanford. His stroke was as good as anyone’s. But he kept coming in second. “Zeller,” the coach said, “your problem is you keep looking around to see how the other guys are doing. Keep your eyes on your own lane, swim your fastest and you’ll win.”

I gathered this meant he wouldn’t be signing my drop slip.

“You can do it,” he said. “Stick it out.”

I stayed in the course. Week after week, I struggled to do my problem sets, until they no longer seemed impenetrable. The deeper I now tunnel into my four-inch-thick freshman physics textbook, the more equations I find festooned with comet-like exclamation points and theorems whose beauty I noted with exploding novas of hot-pink asterisks. The markings in the book return me to a time when, sitting in my cramped dorm room, I suddenly grasped some principle that governs the way objects interact, whether here on earth or light years distant, and I marveled that such vastness and complexity could be reducible to the equation I had highlighted in my book. Could anything have been more thrilling than comprehending an entirely new way of seeing, a reality more real than the real itself?

I earned a B in the course; the next semester I got an A. By the start of my senior year, I was at the top of my class, with the most experience conducting research. But not a single professor asked me if I was going on to graduate school. When I mentioned shyly to Professor Zeller that my dream was to apply to Princeton and become a theoretician, he shook his head and said that if you went to Princeton, you had better put your ego in your back pocket, because those guys were so brilliant and competitive that you would get that ego crushed, which made me feel as if I weren’t brilliant or competitive enough to apply.

Not even the math professor who supervised my senior thesis urged me to go on for a Ph.D. I had spent nine months missing parties, skipping dinners and losing sleep, trying to figure out why waves — of sound, of light, of anything — travel in a spherical shell, like the skin of a balloon, in any odd-dimensional space, but like a solid bowling ball in any space of even dimension. When at last I found the answer, I knocked triumphantly at my adviser’s door. Yet I don’t remember him praising me in any way. I was dying to ask if my ability to solve the problem meant that I was good enough to make it as a theoretical physicist. But I knew that if I needed to ask, I wasn’t.

Years later, when I contacted that same professor, the mathematician Roger Howe, he responded enthusiastically to my request that we get together to discuss women in science and math. We met at his office, in a building that still has a large poster of famous mathematicians (all male) in the lobby, although someone has tacked a smaller poster of “famous women in math” on the top floor beside the women’s bathroom. Howe appeared remarkably youthful, even when you consider that when I studied with him, he was the youngest full professor at Yale. He suggested we grab a sandwich, and as we sat waiting for our panini, I told him that one reason I didn’t go to graduate school was that I compared myself with him and judged my talents wanting. After all, I’d had such a difficult time solving the problem he had challenged me to solve.

He looked puzzled. “But you solved it.”

“Yeah,” I said. “At the end I really understood what I was doing. But it took me such a long time.”

“But that’s just how it is,” he said. “You don’t see it until you do, and then you wonder why you didn’t see it all along.”

But I had needed to drop my class in real analysis.

Howe shrugged. There are a lot of different math personalities. Different mathematicians are good at different fields.

I asked if he had noticed any differences between the ways male and female students approach math problems, whether they have different “math personalities.” No, he said. Then again, he couldn’t get inside his students’ heads. He did have two female students go on in math, and both had done fairly well.

I asked why even now there were no female professors on Yale’s math faculty. No tenured women, Howe corrected me. Just recently, the department had voted to hire a woman for a tenure-track job. (That woman did not receive tenure, but this year the faculty did hire a senior female professor.) Well, I said, that’s still not very many. He stared into the distance. “I guess I just haven’t seen that many women whose work I’m excited about.” I watched him mull over his answer, the way I used to watch him visualize n-dimensional toruses cradled in his hands. “Maybe women are victims of misperception,” he said finally. Not long ago, one of his colleagues at another school admitted to him that back when all of them were starting out, there were two people in his field, a woman and a man, and this colleague assumed the man must be the better mathematician, but the woman has gone on to do better work.

I finally came straight out and asked what he thought of my project. How did it compare with all the other undergraduate research projects he must have supervised?

His eyebrows lifted, as if to express the mathematical symbol for puzzlement. Actually, he hadn’t supervised more than two or three undergraduates in his entire career. “It’s very unusual for any undergraduate to do an independent project in mathematics,” he said. “By that measure, I would have to say that what you did was exceptional.”

“Exceptional?” I echoed. Then why had he never told me?

The question took him aback. I asked if he ever specifically encouraged any undergraduates to go on for Ph.D.’s; after all, he was now the director of undergraduate studies. But he said he never encouraged anyone to go on in math. “It’s a very hard life,” he told me. “You need to enjoy it. There’s a lot of pressure being a mathematician. The life, the culture, it’s very hard.”

When I told Meg Urry that Howe and several other of my professors said they don’t encourage anyone to go on in physics or math because it’s such a hard life, she blew raspberries. “Oh, come on,” she said. “They’re their own bosses. They’re well paid. They love what they do. Why not encourage other people to go on in what you love?” She gives many alumni talks, “and there’s always a woman who comes up to me and says the same thing you said, I wanted to become a physicist, but no one encouraged me. If even one person had said, ‘You can do this.’ ” She laughed. “Women need more positive reinforcement, and men need more negative reinforcement. Men wildly overestimate their learning abilities, their earning abilities. Women say, ‘Oh, I’m not good, I won’t earn much, whatever you want to give me is O.K.’ ”

One student told Urry she doubted that she was good enough for grad school, and Urry asked why — the student had earned nearly all A’s at Yale, which has one of the most rigorous physics programs in the country. “A woman like that didn’t think she was qualified, whereas I’ve written lots of letters for men with B averages.” She won’t say that getting a Ph.D. is easy. “It is a grind. When a young woman says, ‘How is this going to be for me?’ I have to say that yes, there are easier things to do. But that doesn’t mean I need to discourage her from trying. You don’t need to be a genius to do what I do. When I told my adviser what I wanted to do, he said, ‘Oh, Meg, you have to be a genius to be an astrophysicist.’ I was the best physics major they had. What he was really saying was that I wasn’t a genius, wasn’t good enough. What, all those theoreticians out there are all Feynman or Einstein? I don’t think so.”

Not long ago, I met five young Yale alumnae at a Vietnamese restaurant in Cambridge. Three of the women were attending graduate school at Harvard — two in physics and one in astronomy — and two were studying oceanography at M.I.T. None expressed anxiety about surviving graduate school, but all five said they frequently worried about how they would teach and conduct research once they had children.

“That’s where you lose all the female physicists,” one woman said.

“Yeah, it’s even hard to get your kid into child care at M.I.T.,” said another.

“Women are just as willing as men to sacrifice other things for work,” said a third. “But we’re not willing to do even more work than the men — work in the lab and teach, plus do all the child care and housework.”

What most young women don’t realize, Urry said, is that being an academic provides a female scientist with more flexibility than most other professions. She met her husband on her first day at the Goddard Space Flight Center. “And we have a completely equal relationship,” she told me. “When he looks after the kids, he doesn’t say he’s helping me.” No one is claiming that juggling a career in physics while raising children is easy. But having a family while establishing a career as a doctor or a lawyer isn’t exactly easy either, and that doesn’t prevent women from pursuing those callings. Urry suspects that raising a family is often the excuse women use when they leave science, when in fact they have been discouraged to the point of giving up.

All Ph.D.’s face the long slog of competing for a junior position, writing grants and conducting enough research to earn tenure. Yet women running the tenure race must leap hurdles that are higher than those facing their male competitors, often without realizing any such disparity exists.

In the mid-1990s, three senior female professors at M.I.T. came to suspect that their careers had been hampered by similar patterns of marginalization. They took the matter to the dean, who appointed a committee of six senior women and three senior men to investigate their concerns. After performing the investigation and studying the data, the committee concluded that the marginalization experienced by female scientists at M.I.T. “was often accompanied by differences in salary, space, awards, resources and response to outside offers between men and women faculty, with women receiving less despite professional accomplishments equal to those of their colleagues.” The dean concurred with the committee’s findings. And yet, as was noted in the committee’s report, his fellow administrators “resisted the notion that there was any problem that arose from gender bias in the treatment of the women faculty. Some argued that it was the masculine culture of M.I.T. that was to blame, and little could be done to change that.” In other words, women didn’t become scientists because science — and scientists — were male.

The committee’s most resonant finding was that the discrimination facing female scientists in the final quarter of the 20th century was qualitatively different from the more obvious forms of sexism addressed by civil rights laws and affirmative action, but no less real. As Nancy Hopkins, one of the professors who initiated the study, put it in an online forum: “I have found that even when women win the Nobel Prize, someone is bound to tell me they did not deserve it, or the discovery was really made by a man, or the important result was made by a man, or the woman really isn’t that smart. This is what discrimination looks like in 2011.”

Not everyone agrees that what was uncovered at M.I.T. actually qualifies as discrimination. Judith Kleinfeld, a professor emeritus in the psychology department at the University of Alaska, argues that the M.I.T. study isn’t persuasive because the number of faculty members involved is too small and university officials refuse to release the data. Even if female professors have been shortchanged or shunted aside, their marginalization might be a result of the same sorts of departmental infighting, personality conflicts and “mistaken impressions” that cause male faculty members to feel slighted as well. “Perceptions of discrimination are evidence of nothing but subjective feelings,” Kleinfeld scoffs.

But broader studies show that the perception of discrimination is often accompanied by a very real difference in the allotment of resources. In February 2012, the American Institute of Physics published a survey of 15,000 male and female physicists across 130 countries. In almost all cultures, the female scientists received less financing, lab space, office support and grants for equipment and travel, even after the researchers controlled for differences other than sex. “In fact,” the researchers concluded, “women physicists could be the majority in some hypothetical future yet still find their careers experience problems that stem from often unconscious bias.”

Jo Handelsman spends much of her time studying micro-organisms in the soil and the guts of insects, but since the early 1990s, she also has devoted herself to increasing the participation of women and minorities in science. Although she long suspected that the same subtle biases documented in the general population were at work among scientists, she had no data to support such assertions. “People said, ‘Oh, that might happen in the Midwest or in the South, but not in New England, or not in my department — we just graduated a woman.’ They would say, ‘That only happens in economics.’ ” Male scientists told Handelsman: I have women in my lab! My female students are smarter than the men! “They go to their experience,” she said, “with a sample size of one.” She laughed. “Scientists can be so unscientific.”

In 2010, Handelsman teamed up with Corinne Moss-Racusin, then a postdoctoral associate at Yale, to begin work on the study that was published last year, which directly documented gender bias in American faculty members in three scientific fields — physics, chemistry and biology — at six major research institutions scattered across the country.

Moss-Racusin, along with collaborators in the departments of psychology, psychiatry and the School of Management, designed a study that involved sending out identical résumés to professors of both sexes, with a cover page stating that the young applicant had recently obtained a bachelor’s degree and was now seeking a position as a lab manager. Half of the 127 participants received a résumé for a student named John; the other half received the identical résumé for Jennifer. In both cases, the applicant’s qualifications were sufficient for the job (with supportive letters of recommendation and the coauthorship of a journal article) but not overwhelmingly persuasive — the applicant’s G.P.A. was only 3.2, and he or she had withdrawn from one science class. Each faculty member was asked to rate John or Jennifer on a scale of one to seven in terms of competence, hireability, likability and the extent to which the professor might be willing to mentor the student. The professors were then asked to choose a salary range they would be willing to pay the candidate.

The results were startling. No matter the respondent’s age, sex, area of specialization or level of seniority, John was rated an average of half a point higher than Jennifer in all areas except likability, where Jennifer scored nearly half a point higher. Moreover, John was offered an average starting salary of $30,238, versus $26,508 for Jennifer. Handelsman told me that whenever she and Moss-Racusin show the graph to an audience of psychologists, “we hear a collective gasp, the significance is really so big.”

I asked Handelsman if she was surprised that senior female faculty members demonstrated as much bias as male professors, regardless of age, and she said no; she had seen too many similar results in other studies. Nor was she surprised that the bias against women was as strong in biology as in physics or chemistry, despite the presence of more female biologists in most departments. Biologists may see women in their labs, she says, but their biases have been formed by images and attitudes they have been absorbing since birth. In a way, Handelsman is grateful that the women she studied turned out to be as biased as the men. When she gives a talk and reveals the results, she said, “you can watch the tension in the room drop. I can say: ‘We all do this. It’s not only you. It’s not just the bad boys who do this.’ ”

I asked Handelsman about the objection I commonly heard that John is a stronger name than Jennifer. She shook her head. “It’s not just a question of syllables, believe me,” she said. “There have been studies of which names convey the same qualities to respondents in surveys, and John and Jennifer are widely seen as conveying the same level of respectability and competence.” That faculty members reported liking Jennifer more than John makes the covert bias all the more insidious. As the authors make clear, their results mesh with the findings of similar studies indicating that people’s biases stem from “repeated exposure to pervasive cultural stereotypes that portray women as less competent by simultaneously emphasizing their warmth and likability compared to men.”

And when you combine that subconscious institutional bias with the internal bias against their own abilities that many young female scientists report experiencing, the results are particularly troubling. Of all the data her study uncovered, Handelsman finds the mentoring results to be the most devastating. “If you add up all the little interactions a student goes through with a professor — asking questions after class, an adviser recommending which courses to take or suggesting what a student might do for the coming summer, whether he or she should apply for a research program, whether to go on to graduate school, all those mini-interactions that students use to gauge what we think of them so they’ll know whether to go on or not. . . . You might think they would know for themselves, but they don’t.” Handelsman shook her head. “Mentoring, advising, discussing — all the little kicks that women get, as opposed to all the responses that men get that make them feel more a part of the party.”

Some critics argue that no real harm is done if women choose not to go into science. David Lubinski and Camilla Persson Benbow, psychologists at Vanderbilt University, spent decades studying thousands of mathematically precocious 12-year-olds. Their conclusion? The girls tended from the start to be “better rounded” and more eager to work with people, plants and animals than with things. Although more of the boys went on to enter careers in math or science, the women secured similar proportions of advanced degrees and high-level careers in fields like law, medicine and the social sciences. By their mid-30s, the men and women appeared to be equally happy with their life choices and viewed themselves as equally successful.

And yet the argument that women are underrepresented in the sciences because they know they will be happier in “people” fields strikes me as misdirected.

The problem is that most girls — and boys — decide they don’t like math and science before those subjects reveal their true beauty, a condition worsened by the unimaginative ways in which science and math are taught. Last year, the President’s Council of Advisers on Science and Technology issued an urgent plea for substantial reform if we are to meet the demand for one million more STEM professionals than the United States is currently on track to produce in the next decade.

But beyond strengthening our curriculum, we need to make sure that we stop losing girls at every step as they fall victim to their lack of self-esteem, their misperceptions as to who does or doesn’t go on in science and their inaccurate assessments of their talents.

As daunting as such reform might be, it is far from impossible. A book called “Math Doesn’t Suck,” by the actress Danica McKellar (who starred as Winnie Cooper on “The Wonder Years” before earning her bachelor’s degree in math at U.C.L.A.), along with her follow-up books, “Kiss My Math,” “Hot X: Algebra Exposed” and “Girls Get Curves: Geometry Takes Shape,” may well have done more to encourage girls to stick with math than any government task force. McKellar’s math books might go a little far in pandering to adolescent girls’ stereotypical obsessions (the problems involve best friends, beads and Barbies rather than baseballs and speeding cars), but the wildly enthusiastic response they have received speaks to the effect that can be achieved by reworking the contents of standard math and science problems and countering the perception that boys won’t like girls who are smart.

The key to reform is persuading educators, researchers and administrators that broadening the pool of female scientists and making the culture more livable for them doesn’t lower standards. If society needs a certain number of scientists, Urry said, and you can look for those scientists only among the males of the population, you are going to have to go much farther toward the bottom of the barrel than if you also can search among the females in the population, especially the females who are at the top of their barrel.

In addition, she said, her colleagues need to recognize the potential of women who discover a passion for science relatively late. Studies show that an early interest in science doesn’t correlate with ability. You can be a science nut from infancy and not grow up to be good at research, Urry said, or you can come to science very late and turn out to be a whiz.

With a little practice and confidence, girls can even make up for an initial disadvantage working with machines, tools and electronic equipment. While boys consistently outperform girls in tests that measure the spatial skills essential for lab work and engineering, studies also show that spatial aptitude is a function of experience. At Olin College of Engineering in Massachusetts, the administration is dedicated to making sure that half the students in each entering class are women. All of Olin’s incoming students are required to take a machining course the first semester. According to Yevgeniya Zastavker, a faculty member who conducts research in biophysics and studies the role of gender in science: “Everyone is faced straight on with gender differences in the lab. We set them up in coed teams and ask them to design a tool or a product. If the gender dynamics get weird, we intervene, and that one intervention early on has a ginormous effect.”

Back at Yale, Urry laughed at my own stories of how inept I had been in lab — drizzling acid on my stockings, which dissolved and went up in smoke, getting hurled across the room by a shock from an ungrounded oscilloscope, not being able to replicate the Millikan oil-drop experiment. Even she had been a disaster in lab in college. Only when she took a more advanced lab and spent hours poring over a circuit diagram, figuring out that her fellow students had set up an experiment wrong, did she realize she knew as much as they did.

“I’m soldering things, and I’m thinking, Hey, I’m really good at this. I know the principles. It’s like an art. It took me years to realize I’m actually good with my hands. I have all these small-motor skills from all the years I spent sewing, knitting and designing things. We should tell young women, ‘That stuff actually prepares you for working in a lab.’ ”

As the Yale study laid bare — scientists of both sexes also need to realize that they can’t always see the way their bias affects their day-to-day lives. Abigail Stewart, director of the University of Michigan’s Advance program, which seeks to improve the lives of female and minority faculty members, told me in an e-mail that Handelsman’s study shakes the passionately held belief of most scientists that they are devoted to accurately identifying and nurturing merit in their students. “Evidence that we are not as likely to recognize and encourage talent (even modest talent, as in this study) shakes our confidence and (I hope) will make us more attentive to our limitations in recognizing talent where we don’t expect to find it.”

Like Stewart, Urry thinks Handelsman’s study might catalyze the changes she has been agitating to achieve for years. “I’ve thought for a long time that understanding this implicit bias exists is critical. If you believe the playing field is equal, then any action you take is privileging women. But if you know that women are being undervalued, then you must do something, because otherwise you will be losing people who are qualified.”

Most of all, we need to make sure that women — and men — don’t grow up in a society in which they absorb images of scientists as geeky male misfits. According to Catherine Riegle-Crumb, an associate professor at the University of Texas at Austin, gender differences in enrollment rates in high-school physics tend to be correlated with the number of women in the larger community who do or do not work in STEM fields. Handelsman, who is awaiting Senate confirmation as associate director of science in the White House Office for Science and Technology Policy, told me that she would love to see murals of women scientists painted on the walls of Yale’s classrooms, “say, a big mural with Rosalind Franklin in the front and Watson and Crick in tiny proportion in the back.”

The good news is that, slowly and steadily, as more institutions acknowledge the bias against women and initiate programs to remedy it, real change is taking place. Peter Parker, who was director of undergraduate studies in physics when I was at Yale and for many years thereafter, told Urry that he wasn’t surprised that all the students and professors in the department were male. In his later years, Urry said, he would exclaim with glee that, say, 21 out of 49 of the physics majors in the junior class that year were women. Not long ago, Roger Howe wrote me to say that he’d had a gifted female student, would I get in touch with her to offer some advice and support? At M.I.T., 19 years after those three senior women began comparing their experiences and demanding changes, the university now has a significant number of female administrators. Day care is more readily available. Faculty members find it more acceptable to have children before they achieve tenure. And deans and department chairs seem committed to increasing the number of female professors.

Urry, who stepped down as chairwoman of Yale’s physics department this summer but will soon be president of the American Astronomical Society, wonders if her department’s commitment to gender equality will continue or stall. One fall Friday, she invited me to attend a picnic the physics and astronomy departments were throwing to welcome back its graduate students and faculty. The professors were sipping wine from plastic cups and chatting with colleagues they hadn’t seen all summer. Hungry graduate students surveyed tables crowded with bowls of salad, barbecue fixings, pies, cakes and a plate of brownies that Urry’s husband baked that morning when he realized she had overslept. Four young women — one black, two white, one Asian by way of Australia — explained to me how they had made it so far when so many other women had given up.

“Oh, that’s easy,” one of them said. “We’re the women who don’t give a crap.”

Don’t give a crap about — ?

“What people expect us to do.”

“Or not do.”

“Or about men not taking you seriously because you dress like a girl. I figure if you’re not going to take my science seriously because of how I look, that’s your problem.”

“Face it,” one of the women said, “grad school is a hazing for anyone, male or female. But if there are enough women in your class, you can help each other get through.”

The young black woman told me she did her undergraduate work at a historically black college, then entered a master’s program designed to help minority students develop the research skills and one-on-one mentoring relationships that would help them make the transition to a Ph.D. program. Her first year at Yale was rough, but her mentors helped her through. “As my mother always taught me,” she said, “success is the best revenge.”

As so many studies have demonstrated, success in math and the hard sciences, far from being a matter of gender, is almost entirely dependent on culture — a culture that teaches girls math isn’t cool and no one will date them if they excel in physics; a culture in which professors rarely encourage their female students to continue on for advanced degrees; a culture in which success in graduate school is a matter of isolation, competition and ridiculously long hours in the lab; a culture in which female scientists are hired less frequently than men, earn less money and are allotted fewer resources.

And yet, as I listened to these four young women laugh at the stereotypes and fears that had discouraged so many others, I was heartened that even these few had made it this far, that theirs will be the faces the next generation grows up imagining when they think of a female scientist.

Eileen Pollack is a professor of creative writing at the University of Michigan and author of “Breaking and Entering” and “In the Mouth.” She is at work on a book about women in the sciences.

This is a repost of an article that appeared on the New York Times Magazine on October 6, 2013