The Big Leap

When did my entrepreneurial journey begin?

Neither of my parents was an entrepreneur. They both worked as teachers in Germany.

One might say my entrepreneurial journey began when I decided to earn money as a high school student tutoring others in math and Latin. I even started to write a program for learning Latin. (Can you believe that? Geez.)

One might say it was when in Graduate school I had an idea for an invention. I wrote it up and met with a couple of people whose work had triggered the idea. Then I decided the market was too small and that I was too busy with finishing my Ph.D. degree in chemistry.

One might say the journey started during the eight years I worked at a small but fast-growing high-tech company, Quantum Magnetics, in San Diego. During that time, first Invision Technologies and then GE Security acquired us.

No One Cares About The Commercialization Plan?!?

Right after joining the company in 1997, I started to write research grant applications. The U.S. government has a Small Business Innovative Research (SBIR) program. Various government agencies post solicitations. They describe problems for which they seek solutions. Small businesses get to apply and get grants for the solutions they propose.

A colleague showed me the ropes of writing an SBIR proposal. Then we got to section 9. Commercialization plan. What do we say here? My colleague shrugged his shoulders. It is a half-page blurb.

“You don’t have to say much. No one cares. Just copy something from another proposal.”

This is not quite verbatim; after all, that happened about 24 years ago. But it was the gist of it.

I Was Stunned. What Was The Point Of Our Work?

I was stunned. No one cares about how we would commercialize our innovations? What then was the point of doing this work?

I didn’t quite know what to say in that commercialization section. But I decided to find out what a good answer could look like. I decided to make myself smart about how to commercialize innovations.

As a little sidebar here: I’m not saying no one in the company cared about commercialization. Yet, we were like many innovative science companies: much better at inventing things and cracking hard science problems than understanding how to commercialize our innovations.

The gap between innovation and commercial success has been famously termed as “crossing the chasm.” I became very passionate about this subject. I even won the first grant the company had ever received for establishing a commercialization plan. All our other grant money was strictly for Research & Development.

That Was The Moment I Started To Think Like An Entrepreneur

Looking back that was the moment in time when I started to think like an entrepreneur. I say “started to” because I was still on someone else’s payroll. With that comes safety and predictability (unless you get laid off).

I felt like I was working as an “intrapreneur” – a person with an entrepreneurial mindset working inside a company I don’t own. And I had lists of ideas for starting my own company.

During Halloween 2003, Adam and I met on a dive boat off of the Chanel Islands. About a year later, we planned our wedding and bought a house together. We got married in April 2005. We toured the Southern part of Spain for our honeymoon, riding on Harley motorcycles. Yes, I rode my own. That is another story for another day.

Then the big leap .. as if getting married and buying a house while fixing up two other houses for sale wasn’t enough of a leap already.

I Decided That Corporate Ladder Was Not For Me

Shortly, after coming back from our honeymoon, I was tired of working as an employee. I have always been ambitious. Yet,

  • My entrepreneurial blood was boiling over.
  • The company had become part of a big corporation. The big opportunities were on the East coast; not where we lived or wanted to live.
  • The GE Security corporate ladder didn’t seem to be designed for Ph.D. scientists. I also don’t recall seeing a single female in the higher-level positions (I don’t think that alone would have deterred me though). In any case, looking at the profiles of those in charge told me: Working to climb this ladder is not what I want to do.
  • I hated the commute with all that traffic.
  • And even this: My office had no windows and I wanted so see some sunlight during the day. Funny, huh?

It all added up to: I want to make a change.

In 2004, we had started a direct marketing business for high-end nutritional supplements. It was a side business. All the mentoring we had gotten had added to my entrepreneurial development.

I thought I could make a go of it as a full-time business. Adam was supportive of the idea. My colleagues were stunned, They must have thought I had have gone nuts.

We Did The “Reasonable” Thing… We Ignored Their Advice

Even our business sponsors advised against the plan. “You are not there yet,” they said.

We did the reasonable thing – and ignored their advice.

Then I finally leaped into entrepreneurship.

What happened next? That will be another “Brilliance Nugget.”

I’m Curious

Where in life did you leap? And: Which leap is your next one?

Stephie Althouse

2 thoughts on “The Big Leap”

  1. In 2014 I took a leap and decided to walk away from being a band director…a safe and stable career. I had been fortunate to have worked for, at that time, two of the top band programs in the state of Texas, Coppell and Allen. For seventeen years, I taught students grades 6th-12th in band halls, ensemble rooms, portable buildings, cafeterias, stages, attics, 4×4 rooms, classrooms, parking lots, porches, and loading docks. For seventeen years, I lead my students through countless concerts, contests, music festivals, fundraisers, lock-ins, parties, football games, pep rallies, trips, etc. These momentous events were all going to be in my rearview mirror. For seventeen years, I walked the halls, and I befriended colleagues, students, and parents alike. The field of education became part of my family. After seventeen years, I decided to put away the baton and metronome and pursue another passion of mine which is healthcare in America.

    An opportunity with a growing company that was the leader of putting primary care in the forefront of the medical world presented itself. Knowing that this career change might not have been permanent, as nothing here on this earth is, I felt strongly that it was an opportunity I could not pass up, so I took the leap.

    No doubt it was emotional leaving a career that had meant so much to me. While I met the most incredible people and was and am forever changed by my brilliant and compassionate colleagues and the incredible students I had the pleasure of teaching, I have not one regret. We can all do hard things if we just believe!

    1. Molly, thank you so much for sharing this personal story! Incredible. You have touched countless lives in your work as a band director. And the leap you took… bravo. When you know it is time to leap, then leap. And yes, there is nothing more certain than this one thing: Things change. I believe that we are constantly evolving our “game”. And you, my friend, are a strong player! Big hugs to you!

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