Friday, November 13, 2015

All unhappy companies?

Here's a long article in the Lebanon, NH Valley News about a small company called Seldon Technologies with a hilarious and horrifically sad middle section when the scientists talk about Seldon's core technology, carbon nanotubes for water filtration: 
During an internal compliance review of the company’s technology, Seldon scientists discovered that its signature innovation — super-small cylinder-shaped carbon nanotubes, or CNTs — “had little or no effect on performance” of the filtration “media” to remove contaminants, according to the company’s confidential 85-page 2013 business plan, a copy of which was provided to the Valley News. 
As a result, the authors of the plan wrote, the tests “have called into question both the validity and value of (Seldon’s) patents.” 
The finding turned out to be both bad news and good news for the company. 
The good news: When reformulated to exclude carbon nanotubes, the filtration media was just as effective and no longer needed approval from the Environmental Protection Agency, meaning it could finally be sold into the U.S. consumer market. 
The bad news: The discovery undermined the company’s selling point as a cutting-edge nanotechnology innovator, the key to Seldon’s industry positioning and marketing. 
Seldon employees, many of whom asked not to be identified because they didn’t want to jeopardize their chances of finding new jobs by talking publicly about their former employer, said the discovery forced Seldon to focus efforts on developing filter technology that did not employ nanotechnology. 
“It looked as though carbon nanotubes were the cat’s [behind]*, but they were not,” said one employee. The reformulated filtration media works nearly as well, the employee said, but “is not that much of a secret sauce.”
The article quotes a lot of Seldon scientists who detail the various financial and management gyrations; they're pretty brutal. I often feel that there are way too many whiz-bang stories about startups and not enough skepticism, or postmortems. There are successes in startups, but there are many more failures.

*CJ's bowdlerization for corporate firewalls

10 comments:

  1. That's sad to hear. It was one of the few non-Dartmouth scientific employers in that region. I was never sold on their tech, but they employed some good people.

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    1. The irony is that they actually got a good workable product they did not know how to sell. Maybe the cost was an issue (for non-military application), but judging by the article, their demise was utterly due to poor business plan and unrealistic management

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  2. PFFT, only $52 mill over 14 years (hopefully the CEO was pulling in at least a quarter mill a year) for carbon filtration, kids stuff. CLSN has been able to fleece investors out of $240 mill to microwave livers to treat hepatocellular cancer, ZIOP was able to pull $250 mill from investors by telling them an inherently unstable mustard could be a drug, INO, over decades, has fooled investors into believing that electroporation was actually a thing, and were even able to spin out an equally scummy company ONCS that's fleeced investors out of $75 mill so far.

    pikers.....

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    1. anon electrochemistNovember 13, 2015 at 7:54 PM

      I object to electroporation delivery being characterized as foolish. It's certainly not a panacea but it's shown to be incredibly effective for localized targeting. INO marketing has a bit of a reality distortion field on it, but who doesn't? Do you have any specific information on them duping investors?

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    2. OK, well let's agree to disagree then. INO has been shown to be incredibly effect at issuing stock to pay executive salaries by floating garbage small studies with promising results and then following up with clinical failures. It's not so much that they dupe investors (they pay sell side investment banks to do that for them), as it is the idea of dosing GT vectors electrically will somehow work in a meaningful clinical study. INO is a Norwegian Blue Parrot biotech.

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  3. Where's the * for the cat's [behind]*? I need to know.

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    1. In the South where I grew up, it was "the cat's meow."

      I did, however, have a manager several years ago that wrote a review of the intellectual property landscape of nanotechnology, beginning with the sentence, "You can't swing a dead cat without hitting someone doing work in nanotechnology." I was reading this in the afternoon with that "I had lunch and would really prefer a nap feeling" and almost fell out of my desk chair laughing. It achieved the desired effect: I finished reading the entire report.

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  4. "A white couch was ordered for the office area. Carbon dust carried in by the workers coming off the manufacturing floor soon turned it gray."

    I wonder how much dust is in the workers' lungs.

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  5. This reminds me of the UK's approach to spending lots of money to try to incorporate graphene into technologies where it is not really necessary.

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