Wednesday, 24 June 2015

Intellectual Ventures Dublin HQ Mentoring Day

So, today was amazing. As part of the Intellectual Ventures prize I won at BTYSTE this year, I got a day of mentoring in Intellectual Ventures' Dublin HQ and worked out details of my Seattle trip next month. I had a wonderful time. Let's get down to it.

So, Intellectual Ventures (henceforth IV - I use a lot of acronyms, as you may know) kindly arranged our transport to their HQ, which was unexpected. The return journey alone in the taxi cost €94 so I'm very impressed they paid both ways, and lots more besides. 

We arrived coming up to ten, went through a revolving door (I tottered a little as this was one of the first times I'd worn heels) and were shown in by Avril, the lovely receptionist. We went into this beautiful meeting room called Monaco and met Karen. It was great to put a face to the email address, and of course it's much easier to make a connection in person. Karen is Operations Analyst at the Dublin branch of Intellectual Ventures, Invention Investment Ireland and I'm quite amazed by how much time she spends co-ordinating me, the BTYS winner. I appreciate it! 

She showed me a quick video on what IV does and asked me what I know about the company. It was then that I realised (and I would be reminded of this often throughout the day) that I really hadn't done my homework, and could definitely have been better prepared for the mentoring day. But hey, that's just me, and they pulled off a great day anyway. 

We then started going through details of the trip and myself and my guardian (who wishes not to be named) were thoroughly amazed. We really underestimated how great this trip is. Karen managed to get us into a really good hotel where we'll each have a queen-size bed, free food, free town car, free spa, free flights, beautiful hotel. Speaking of flights, this was also really exciting. Because we're flying business class, we get access to all this cool stuff like VIP lounges, free food and drinks both on the lounge and in the plane, and fast-tracking through the airport. It's so cool. We also get private little pods on the plane. I've never been in that sort of luxury before.

I was told this trip would be all-expenses-paid, but I never imagined this. Karen said we could easily go over and get on fine without spending a penny.

While I'm there, I'll be touring their labs, meeting the company president and some other cool people and touring the founder's office. We watched a video about their labs and they're really cool. IV has four different branches, and if I recall correctly they're the patent buying, labs, licensing and philanthropy. They have one of almost any scientific equipment you could imagine and keep all the extra stuff in a warehouse, so that every few weeks the lab's purpose can completely transform from, say, biotechnology to semiconductor engineering. We also saw a little about some of the projects they have going on, like mosquito zappers.

I was happy about the Seattle trip before today, but now I'm exceedingly excited. I need a stronger word for excited. I also found out that most IV employees visit Seattle a lot.

Another reason I'm excited is that I might have the opportunity to visit and speak to people from some really cool companies in Seattle. It's always worth asking anyway, am I right?

Anyway, then a ton of visitors came in one at a time for the rest of the day. I have notes on most of them, but I really appreciate all of you taking the time to come in, I loved hearing from you. We just had fairly informal chats across the table in the meeting room, they weren't talks, per se. All of them came in and shook my hand (I think I have a pretty good, firm handshake), and many congratulated me.

Declan Carew

I'm afraid I only started taking notes after Declan Carew, Portfolio Director, spoke to me. He explained how they go about choosing markets to invest in, which sounded pretty interesting.

Steve Winter

Steve Winter came in next, who's the Managing Director. I really enjoyed talking to him, although we definitely went off on tangents about American universities and scenic driving routes in Seattle. He advised me to go to college in America or Europe, and responded to my cost objection by saying that I should be able to get a scholarship "with your academic record". So that was nice to hear. I don't like the sound of a €100 application fee though, that's crazy. I think I might look into American universities for my Masters or PhD - if I want to do undergrad there, I'll have to take the SAT soon. The Max Planck etc. are also great (and free!) but I'd rather be in an English-speaking country.

Steve told me about IV's four branches and their global inventor network, gave me some information on patents and - my favourite - some details of IV's innovations, including one for using a different kind of uranium for nuclear power. He told us about Boeing in Seattle, which apparently has 700 acres under one roof in their 747 factory. He said Bellevue and Seattle are actually quite like Ireland. He was very enthusiastic altogether and it was lovely and relaxing talking to him. 


It was lunchtime then, and all I have in my notes for this is "Bainbridge Island" and "Bizworld primary", so I must have been distracted by the food. Can you blame me? Look at it!

Mary Lou Nolan, Commercial Director Europe

I was sent out after lunch while the adults talked (harrumph, bah humbug, etc.) so I sat down on the nice carpet outside the room and read a book. Before long, Mary Lou rescued me and took me to her office to have a chat. And that's what it was, we just got to know each other. She had given a talk at Bootcamp but that wasn't as good because it was quite impersonal, so this was lovely. She said today was an opportunity for everyone to find out about me as a person, which is good because I talked a ton about myself (and was promptly embarrassed about it). We talked about the Leaving Cert and the horrors of History and Irish, and especially Irish history (see what I did there?)

We also talked about sexism in business and science and whether gender quotas are a good idea. I hate gender quotas, as a regular blog reader will know, but agree with Mary Lou's opinion that opportunities should be 50/50 but no jobs should actually be allocated based on gender. Meritocracy, that's the way to go. 

We talked about more, but I can't for the life of me remember what it is. She said have fun in Seattle. Trust me, I will.

She also said something lovely, that I was carrying myself really well there. She also said she doesn't think I'm a nerd, since I do actually get very engaged in conversations and I'm not shy. We have differing definitions of a nerd - I'm proud to be the type of person who's into science and reading, and that's how I define it. 

Mike Tierney, Senior Engineering Director

Mike Tierney then came in, and I loved talking to him. He's Senior Engineering Director at IV, but what interested me most (sorry, IV) is that he worked at NASA for ten years as an engineer, in the Goddard Space Centre. How cool is that? He worked on shuttle parts. It was such an interesting conversation (well, probably not for him), covering multi-spectral imaging, agronomists, lasers, measuring glaciers, chaos theory and n-body problems, the Deep Space Climate Observatory, the L1 point one million miles from Earth where the gravitational forces from the Sun and the Earth on a satellite at the point are equal, Myers-Briggs, asteroid mining, Elon Musk and more. So much geeking out. 

At one point he even drew a diagram on the whiteboard (this was to demonstrate the L1 point). It was pretty simple since we get that sort of question all the time in Physics class, but I loved it. He also talked about the inaccuracies of movies about space, saying that every move during a spacewalk is carefully choreographed and tested in special underwater centers. I think he said he was an electronics and optics engineer - hope I got that right. He also gave me his card and said feel free to email him, as a lot of the people I met did. I'm definitely going to take him up on that at some point, so I hope he's prepared. I didn't ask many questions today since I'm quite frazzled from Sentinus, but I'll almost certainly have more later. 

I can't believe I didn't take a photo of the diagram, but I'll just draw a replica now. 

Mathan Ganesan

A former NASA engineer is a hard act to follow, but Mathan was still great. He has a background in micro-electronics and software engineering, and said something about neural networks. He was headhunted as an investment banker from college and did that for two years, then created (and successfully sold) a signal processing startup to fit more memory on chips. He explained things nicely and has an awesome accent (sounds posh-British, but I can't be sure). He advised me to always look for real issues when inventing, and said "we need more people like you", which was nice. I got a card from him too. 

Naoise Gaffney, Senior Patent Attorney

At the risk of repeating myself, Naoise was awesome. I felt familiar with him straight away because he gets animated about topics and when he does he looks exactly like my CTYI mentor Ogden, only without the afro. It was great hanging out with a nerd. Fittingly, he said he and his colleagues are "geeks that pretend to be lawyers rather than lawyers that pretend to be geeks". He said he wanted to be able to combine different subject areas of science, and the options he could think of for that were journalism and law. Since he can't write (he says), and all you need for law is to "be pedantic", he went into patent law. He said patent lawyers are like translators, taking information from scientific or technical language into legal language, so that the idea itself rather than just one specific implementation of it can be protected.

He also used a ton of strange metaphors, it was funny. He compared being a patent attorney to juggling plates on a cane since you have loads of things on the go and you just pay attention to which plate is wobbling when and attend to that, i.e. send a letter to the patent office to continue the negotiation.

He said there are three usual routes for an inventor: academia, joining a big company, and creating a startup, which was a good point. He also said patents are a contract between the inventor and society. Yeah, he's really paraphrasable. Funny, too - at one point he said he was like "I need a lawyer. Wait, I am my layer." He said I was a person after his own heart and I feel the same, because he said he has commitment issues choosing just one branch of science. Then again, at this age I'm probably allowed have those.

Raymond Hegarty, Vice President Global Licensing

After shaking my hand and telling me "we're very proud of you", Raymond introduced himself as an "IP strategist - or IP geek". He talked about the invention gap and some of their clients. He then asked me to guess how many patents covered everything in an iPhone. I guessed 200, thinking that was high enough to be safe. He said I was off by a few zeroes, and that it was more like 200,000. Then he segued into a really good explanation of IV, saying they act as a one-stop shop for inventions. It also lets inventors avoid "putting on a suit and talking to people, it's not what they do."

Karen & Outro

We did some final flight-arrangement stuff with Karen and got organised. I have a bit of work to do now but it's very exciting. I want to make the most of this trip now that I've been made aware of its potential. I also got some photos for you, blog readers, which have been scattered throughout this post (photos, not readers). 

Miscellaneous point: one of their computers had "" as a previous search, and apparently many of them have read my blog. That's both absurd and awesome. 

I had a wonderful time, and this is just the beginning. Thanks, IV. You may be a corporation, but at least you're not faceless anymore. I'll be in touch!

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