SF Bio Entrepreneurship | Why Bio+Tech

by Bradley Miller on August 4, 2010

Bio+Tech was started as a monthly gathering to bring together the best and the brightest entrepreneurial minds in biomedicine and combine them with leaders in the SF tech start-up world.  The idea was that we have an amazing collection of biomedical entrepreneurial minds in SF and with the advent of bio-incubators and tech breakthroughs, the barriers to starting a bio start-up continue to drop.  There’s also a curiosity about biomedicine in the tech realm.  Who better to infuse biomedical and informatics start-ups with entrepreneurial energy and push biomedicine start-ups over the entrepreneurial hump than folks from this bastion of entrepreneurial energy? Plus, the biomedical start-up world doesn’t network nearly to the same degree as does the tech start-up world – that’s critical to the tech start-up world’s success in the SF Bay Area.  Thus Bio [plus] Tech – not just the same old biotech complete with high barriers, lack of networking and support.  Six months in to the Bio+Tech experiment I’d say that so far it’s been a success.

As a note: When I talk about biomedical entrepreneurship I mean that broadly – whether informatics, biotech, pharma, bio-energy, etc – it’s all welcomed and encouraged at Bio+Tech. And, I can’t emphasize enough that not only are we looking to bring together biomedical folks, we’re also looking to bring tech folks – developers, co-founders, start-up managers, etc – in to the mix.  You absolutely do not need a PhD in biophysics to join the group.  Just a healthy interest in bio or medicine – trust me, you’ll blend right in to the group!

Bio+Tech has grown from a group of 10 in January to an average of about 30 people at each monthly gathering.  To boot, that growth has been achieved solely through word of mouth.  I’ve been to a lot of meet-ups and gatherings where there’s lots of noise and very little signal – Bio+Tech has been purposefully kept small to keep the quality of the level of interaction high.  This set up was inspired, in part, by the SF meet-up Founder Dating, which requires an actual application and recommendations from other start-up folks.  Jess Alter and her crew do an amazing job!  Go check it out if you’re looking for a tech start-up or a techie person to help you build your start-up.  I also want to give a shout out to Vinnie Lauria and his Silicon Valley NewTech Meetup as the founding source of inspiration behind Bio+Tech.

Bio+Tech isn’t quite as complicated as Founder Dating and not as large as the SV NewTech Meetup, but to join the invite list you do need to demonstrate a basic interest in biomedical, tech or bio-energy entrepreneurship.  All too often a lot of biotech meet-ups are crowded with sales people and other vendors who are more interested in selling than sharing ideas, tips, contacts or starting businesses.  That’s not to say that we don’t accept sales people in to the group – you just need a genuine interest in creating a company or joining a start-up.


Michael Shuster speaks on the changing IP landscape and how that affects biomedical entrepreneurship.

Want to join us? Each month, the time and date of Bio+Tech will be posted on its webpage, with the location in SF to be announced. If you’re not already on the invite list, feel free to contact me at windmiller@gmail[dot]com and let me know why you’d like to attend.  Just a little paragraph with your interests and what type of company you’re looking to start or join, and a link to your LinkedIn profile – nothing too complicated.  In return, I promise to do my best to connect like-minded people at the meet-up.

We’ve had a couple bio start-ups find co-founders or developers – heck, there’s even been cross-pollination of neuroscience-principles back in to a tech start-up’s social media algorithms!  Yes, it’s a bit nerdy, but I can honestly say that out of the 6 gatherings so far, everyone who has attended has been someone I’ve really enjoyed talking with and sharing ideas.

Each Bio+Tech starts with a good bit of mixing and conversation.  It’s kept that way to maximize interaction and to warm things up.  We then get together to introduce each other to the group – with 30 people I’m always amazed at how efficiently we get through the group.  This is an opportunity to introduce yourself to the group and also spot others with like minded interests.  And, of course, we welcome solicitations for co-founders or technical help or any other start-up needs to the group.  This is a chance to network and find those you’d be interested in working with.

Starting in August we’re going to try to have monthly speakers as well.  It’s a highly informal 10-20 minute talk from people in the biomedical start-up or in the tech start-up world designed to bring ideas and prime the conversation.  We’ve had Michael Shuster, partner at Fenwick & West, speak on the changing landscape of Intellectual Property (IP) and how that’s affecting start-up strategy and execution.  A lot of biomedical start-ups are realizing that execution is just as important as securing IP to start-up success.  This isn’t news to tech start-ups, but this shift in perspective is somewhat groundbreaking in biomedicine start-ups.  We’ve got John Wilbanks, VP of science at Science Commons speaking at our August gathering on the open sourcing of biomedical data sets and tools and how that is altering and encouraging opportunities in the biomedical start-up scene.

And, Bio+Tech is purposefully kept free.  Whether you’re an undergrad or grad student, or on your 5th start-up, everyone is welcome and encouraged to come.  I believe firmly that cost should not be a barrier to attendance.  And, please pass this along to people you think would be interested in Bio+Tech – that’s how we keep new, fresh ideas coming in to the group!


iPhone 3G Downgrade from iOS 4

by Bradley Miller on July 27, 2010

iPhone 3G not working so well? Downgrade before you throw your phone against the wall!

The Scoop: This morning I finally got tired of the start, stalls and stops of iOS4 on my iPhone 3G.  The Unofficial Apple Weblog has a great parody of what I was experiencing after “upgrading” my iPhone 3G to iOS4.  From feedback that I was getting on Facebook and Twitter, seemed like most of my friends were experiencing the same things.  While there’s comfort in numbers, I’d rather have comfort in my phone working right.

I was reminded of a story where one of the big luxury car brands had been accused of engineering parts to break just after the warranty expired.  Forcing their customers to foot the bill for expensive repairs.  Ball joint on your car breaks at 50,001 miles on a 50,000 mile warranty?  Things to make you go hmmm. . . yes, I linked to C+C Music Factory.  Enjoy.

Goblins actually hexed my iPhone 3G running iOS4.

In the same vein, I find it a little convenient that as the iPhone 4 comes out, with a brand new operating system, we’re all encouraged to upgrade to the iPhone 4 from our slow, passe, old school iPhone 3Gs.  Seems all too convenient that the iOS4 essentially cripples iPhone 3Gs at a time when Apple is pushing iPhone4s. Upgrade or Die!

And, as an added note, I also did a complete restore of my iPhone 3G to iOS4.  That is, I first upgraded and then when that got kludgy I completely wiped the phone and started from scratch.  This has worked for some people, but when I did it my phone ran great for 3 days and then became all kludgy again.  Ugh.

How’d the Downgrade Go?

What I can report is that there’s a super easy way to downgrade your iPhone 3G to iOS3.1.3 (AKA the last stable build of iOS3 for iPhones).  I found Lifehacker’s post on how to downgrade to be the simplest and worked just fine for me.  Surprisingly, it didn’t really require any serious hacking – just following the simple instructions on Lifehacker.  Thanks guys!!!

It took about 20 minutes for the total downgrade and I’m happy to report that my iPhone 3G is working.  Well, working just as well as it did before the kludgy upgrade.  It’s nice to play a song when you want to or type a text in real time.

Of note – this process is a complete restore of your phone – YOU WILL LOSE ANY STORED DATA OR PHOTOS OR ANYTHING on your phone.  Go and back up your contacts and photos and make sure you’ve got all your songs and shows backed up in iTunes.  Follow Lifehacker’s super easy instructions and good luck!  Enjoy your newly restored iPhone 3G – Back to the Future!

It’s almost enough to get me to switch to Android.  ALMOST.

The smartphone battle rages on. Dammit Android, you're almost there


Patients as Consumers? A Healthcare Cure?

by Bradley Miller on July 15, 2010

Have we been lulled to accept this as the typical patient relationship with healthcare?

Last month I attended the Microsoft Connected Health Conference in Bellevue, WA. It was an interesting conference because although there is close to $20B in ARRA stimulus dollars to be chased for electronic health records (EHRs) and health information exchange (HIE), “consumers” were on the tips of everyone’s tongues – they stole the show.  Everyone at the conference was talking about how patients needed to act more like consumers and providers and payers needed to treat patients more like consumers.  From hyperzealous entrepreneurs to entrenched Microsoft Research folks, “consumers in healthcare” was the topic on the tips of everyone’s tongue.

To me it seems all a bit funny and odd.  What does it even mean to be a consumer in healthcare?  Particularly, what is the difference between being a patient and being a consumer?  I think it has partly to do with how the “well” (AKA people who aren’t sick) interact with healthcare resources and to continue to be well. From healthy living and eating to tracking health information in a personal health record (PHR).  Taking control of your care and doing all that you can outside the care setting (hospital, practice, etc) seems to be an important aspect in transitioning from a patient to a consumer in healthcare.

I completely agree with the concept of utilizing consumer engagement techniques and practices to engage the well into keeping healthy.  From employing game mechanics (Nike+, rewards for consistent health monitoring, etc) to tracking healthy stats or improving an already healthy lifestyle should be encouraged at the consumer level. This includes thinking about how we as a population need to reconsider the foods we consume.  The overall goal for actual healthcare is to engage people more in their care – to both improve outcomes and to engage them on costs and potentially decrease costs.

Should patients act more like a consumer who's car shopping? What if we as patients were more aware of costs, benefits and risks?

However, another key part of being a consumer in healthcare is being aware of the cost of care.  Just like being a consumer at a car dealership, patients should be aware of the cost of the product they’re purchasing.  The only difference is that in healthcare patients have traditionally had costs paid for by insurance companies and therefore been aloof of what their care actually costs – both in terms of system resources and financially. Very few patients even do research prior to their care – some do, most despite the availability of vast knowledgebases on the web, few people take advantage of those resources as they do when making other large purchases.  How should taking more of a consumerist role affect care?  How can financial awareness in healthcare lead to better care, rather than the rationing of care? When was the last time you even looked at a medical bill or got a cost estimate for care prior to receiving that care?

We should already be encouraging patients to understand the cost of care.  However, one of the traditional roadblocks to making patients aware of costs is that it’s incredibly hard to get access to cost data.  Virtually everything else we consume has a transparent cost.  However, in healthcare there’s no real list of what certain types of care or procedures costs.  Except for those we have to pay for in cash, like cosmetic surgery.  As consumers we know more about what it costs to insert breast implants than we do about what a life-saving surgery (like an appendectomy) costs.  Costs are anything but transparent, and the odd thing to me is that insurance companies should be more open about cost structures – it might even save them money if people decline unnecessary, expensive care.

Traditionally, being a patient came with very few responsibilities with respect to the doctor-patient relationship.  You arrive at the doctor’s office on time, answer the doctor’s questions, listen to the care instructions and then take your medications or do your therapies.  It was and still is very paternalistic in that sense.  When these patient norms were set, the cost of care was incredibly low, but now more expensive drugs and techniques are taking over.  Nowhere in that traditional role were patients asked to  “think about cost” – it was just assumed that it would be covered.

Being a consumer implies that you have the freedom to walk away from a purchase or product if it’s too expensive.  Our medical ethos doesn’t allow for this in medicine.  Or at least it shouldn’t for the right care and therein lies the catch.  People need to understand cost and reduce their healthcare usage, while maintaining a high level of care.

With little mind to costs, America's healthcare rates are increasing at 8% per year. We need to get smarter with how we spend those dollars.

So, patients need to better understand what their care costs – how we do that is for another post.  But, for now I’d like to propose that patients remain patients, and we continue to consider how to leverage consumer principles and awareness to help drive patients helping to keep the cost of care down.  We’re spending an inordinate amount of time and effort trying to engage patients with their data.  I think connecting patients to their cost will have a much more dramatic effect, but it needs to be done carefully.

I’d like to suggest that while the concept of consumerism is being applied to being a patient, I think that patients should remain patients, but become more engaged with their care.  We should begin to act and think more like consumers when it comes to healthcare, but we still need to be patients at some point.  More on that in a future post.

What do you think? Do you want to know what your healthcare costs?  Should cost ever be a determining factor in whether someone receives healthcare?

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The Ecstasy of Life

by Bradley Miller on June 26, 2010

I’ve been reading Jack London’s The Call of the Wild this afternoon and came upon this paragraph, which I missed the last time I read the book about half a lifetime ago. Now more experienced, this passage seems to ring more and more true.

“There is an ecstasy that marks the summit of life, and beyond which life cannot rise. And such is the paradox of living, this ecstasy comes when one is most alive, and it comes as a complete forgetfulness that one is alive. This ecstasy, this forgetfulness of living, comes to the artist, caught up and out of himself in a sheet of flame; it comes to the soldier, war-mad on a stricken field and refusing quarter; and it came to Buck, leading the pack, sounding the old wolf-cry, straining after the food that was alive and that fled swiftly before him through the moonlight. He was sounding the deeps of his nature, and of the parts of his nature that were deeper than he, going back into the womb of Time. He was mastered by the sheer surging of life, the tidal wave of being, the perfect joy of each separate muscle, joint, and sinew in that it was everything that was not death, that it was aglow and rampant, expressing itself in movement, flying exultantly under the stars and over the face of dead matter that did not move.”

The Call of the Wild Chapter 3,


Passion Fundamentals – the Drive Inside

June 7, 2010

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about what drives me and what I’d like to do with my next start-up.  AKA the “right” space and opportunity for me – and I think that I’ve been thinking about it somewhat from the wrong perspective and too hard. I’ll explain. The last time I was in Seattle [...]

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23andme + Genetic Testing = Consumer Engagement

May 11, 2010

I haven’t posted on genomics in a while, so it’s about time. Two weekends ago I attended the Sage Bionetworks and Science Commons 1st annual Sage Congress here in San Francisco. The main aim of the conference was to begin to gather science folks from across the country and begin thinking about making scientific research [...]

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UK Election Day

May 6, 2010

It’s election day in the UK and it’s been an historical election – the first ever in the UK with televised debates.  While the UK election system is vastly different than the US, it’s also a much shorter season as well.  The Queen dissolved parliament on April 6th, meaning it’s been just about a month [...]

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Wanted: General Practitioners. NOW!

April 29, 2010

I’ve got a job for you!  How does this sound – spend your college days studying away (sorry, only minimal time for parties) worrying about standardized tests, spend 7-8 years after college training for your job, go in the financial hole on average $160,000 and for the first 4 years of your career earn $45,000.  [...]

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Consulting In a Nutshell

April 19, 2010

Been busy working on some consulting engagements recently.  That’s a good thing for me, but bad thing for Medicine Think.  I’m working on a new entry for later this week, but for now I’d like to share one of my favorite graphics from Bud Caddell over at What Consumes Me created this awhile ago and [...]

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The Electric Car is for Real

April 8, 2010

Here’s a non-traditional Medicine Think entry, but I wanted to share my first drive of an all-electric car – the Tesla Roadster Sport. I feel like last night I had one of those rare experiences where you feel like you’ve seen the future.  It might sound like a hyperbole, but that’s what it felt like [...]

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