‘What to Think’ Episode 27: Aneesh Chopra on HealthCare.gov and the future of health

‘What to Think’ Episode 27: Aneesh Chopra on HealthCare.gov and the future of health
Image Credit: VentureBeat

For our latest podcast we connected with former White House CTO Aneesh Chopra at VentureBeat’s HealthBeat conference to talk about the state of the government’s Healthcare.gov insurance marketplace, among other things.

A year ago, then White House CTO Chopra wrote a guest post for VentureBeat about the government health insurance exchange, which at the time was mired in technical glitches and was considered a big black eye for the Obama Administration’s health reform program. Chopra says a lot has happened since then, and that the exchange has gone on to a new, and better, phase.

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Above: Former (and first) White House CTO Aneesh Chopra

Chopra also discusses new digital health approaches to personalizing health care for consumers, and new federal initiatives that will pay health providers to begin sharing health care data with each other.

Plus, we tell you what to think about

You can subscribe to “What to Think” on iTunes. Or you can listen to Episode 27 right here:

In addition, you can listen to us on Stitcher or get the What to Think RSS feed for the podcast player of your choice.

Or download the MP3 of episode 27 here.


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Box was founded on a simple, powerful idea: it should be easy for people to access, collaborate, and share all their content, wherever they are. Co-founders Aaron Levie and Dylan Smith, along with our fast-growing team, have since esta… read more »

Aneesh is the former (and first) U.S. Chief Technology Officer. As an Assistant to the President, he designed the National Wireless Initiative, helped launch Startup America, and executed an “open innovation” strategy across the go… read more »



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Why middle-aged entrepreneurs will be critical to the next trillion-dollar business

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Why middle-aged entrepreneurs will be critical to the next trillion-dollar business
Image Credit: VLADGRIN / Shutterstock

Steve Jobs was 52 when he announced the iPhone. That was in 2007. Years later, the Apple cofounder introduced the MacBook Air, App Store, and iPad. Tim Cook, who was 51 when he took over from Jobs, is building on his legacy. They both shattered a myth that the young rule the technology industry.

Silicon Valley’s venture capitalists, however, speak openly of their bias toward the young.

“People under 35 are the people who make change happen; people over 45 basically die in terms of new ideas,” Vinod Khosla, a prominent investor, said at a conference I attended.

Referring to the age of entrepreneurs whom venture capitalists fund, investor Paul Graham told the New York Times, “The cutoff in investors’ heads is 32; after 32, they start to be a little skeptical.” He acknowledged that he could be “tricked by anyone who looks like Mark Zuckerberg.” Others go so far as to claim that Internet entrepreneurs peak at age 25.

The cult of youth is so powerful that billionaire Peter Thiel announced in September 2010 that he would pay college students $100,000 to drop out. Instead of “wasting” precious years in school and then being burdened by “incredible amounts of debt,” he said, they could be “focused on breakthrough technologies that will take civilization to the next level.”

The result of this bias is that older entrepreneurs are often shunned while younger entrepreneurs receive attention and funding. This is hurting the venture-capital system as well as Silicon Valley — because the stereotypes are flawed.

Research on successful technology firms by a team I led at Duke and Harvard in 2008 looked only at companies that had made it out of the garage and were generating at least $1 million in revenue. The research revealed that the average and median age of their founders was 39. Twice as many were older than 50 as were younger than 25. And twice as many were older than 60 as were younger than 20. In a follow-up project, we studied the backgrounds of 549 successful entrepreneurs in 12 high-growth industries. The average and median age of male founders in this group was 40, and a significant proportion were older than 50.

Dane Stangler, vice president of research and policy at the Kauffman Foundation, built on our findings by analyzing Kauffman Firm Survey data and the Kauffman Index of Entrepreneurial Activity, which uses data from the U.S. Census. He found that, in every year from 1996 to 2013, Americans in the 55-to-64 age group started new businesses at a higher rate than those in their twenties and thirties. And the trend is building. Those ages 55 to 64 started 14 percent of all new businesses in 1996 but nearly 24 percent of them in 2013.

There are hordes of young founders in Silicon Valley, some of whom drop out of school to start their companies. Venture capitalists collectively invest billions in them. The vast majority of these startups fail, however, because there is no substitute for experience and knowledge. What makes entrepreneurs successful, as my team’s research revealed, is work and industry experience and management ability. These come with age. The inexperience — and immaturity — of youth is one reason venture capitalists’ track record is so poor. In 2012, the Kauffman Foundation analyzed 20 years of investment data from nearly 100 venture funds. It found that the vast majority of them produced lower returns than did the public markets.

The experiment by Thiel to pay college students to drop out did not result in any world-changing startups. Most Thiel fellows joined other companies or went back to school. The Thiel Foundation quietly redesigned its program, which now provides an alternative education to children. Perhaps the realization set in that the innovation advantage isn’t provided by youth, but by knowledge, maturity, experience, and connections.

The claim that only the young can effect change has been disproved not only by Apple, but also by founders, inventors, innovators, and executives at almost every major technology company, including Google, LinkedIn, Salesforce.com, Qualcomm, and Intel. Qualcomm, for example, was founded by Irwin Jacobs when he was 52 and Andrew Viterbi, who was 50.

It also is untrue that people “die in terms of new ideas” as they approach 45 or that “young people are just smarter,” as Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg told an audience at Stanford in 2007.

Benjamin F. Jones, an economist at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University, analyzed the backgrounds of Nobel Prize winners and other great achievers of the 20th century. He found that the average age at which Nobel laureates performed their prizewinning work and the average age at which inventors had their great achievement was 39. He also found that twice as many — 14 percent — were older than 50 as were younger than 26. Jones found that the average age of innovators is steadily rising, with the average age of greatest achievement for Nobel Prize winners and great tech inventors having increased six years, to 45, in the 20th century.

Young entrepreneurs surely have an advantage in social media and app building. They understand these new technologies better than their parents do because they have grown up using them. It also is easier to write code for a cellphone than to learn how to motivate and inspire employees, manage finances, and market products. But building a business requires all of those skills. That is why older entrepreneurs have more success. As baby boomers become as familiar with Internet and mobile technologies as their children are, they surely will give the youngsters a run for their money. They also have greater buying power and a better understanding of the markets for the next generation of technologies.

A technology shift is happening that will dramatically alter the entrepreneurial landscape in the next few years. Several technologies — involving medicine, robotics, artificial intelligence, synthetic biology, 3D printing, and nanomaterials — are advancing at exponential rates and are converging. This is the same type of advance that is occurring with computers — with processing power doubling every 18 months, prices falling, and devices becoming smaller. A $500 laptop today has more computing power than did a Cray 2 supercomputer that cost $17.5 million in 1985 and had to be housed in a large building.

These advances are making it possible to solve the global problems of health, energy, education, and hunger. Inexpensive sensor-based devices, for example, allow the continual measurement of heart rate, temperature, movement, pressure and light. They can be used to build devices that keep track of blood pressure, glucose and blood oxygen levels, respiration and even sleeping habits. They also can be used to improve agriculture, monitor the environment and reduce food spoilage. Systems based on artificial intelligence can be used to make medical diagnoses, to drive autonomous cars, and to predict traffic patterns, crime and trends. Robotic devices will allow us to care for the elderly and automate routine processes. Digital tutors will be able to transform education.

These technologies will make it possible to create the next trillion-dollar industries and to better our lives. But they require knowledge of fields such as medicine, biotechnology, engineering, and nanotechnology. They require experience, an understanding of the problems people face, and cross-disciplinary skills. All of these come with age and experience, which middle-aged entrepreneurs have in abundance. That is why we need to get beyond the stereotypes and realize that older entrepreneurs are going to better the world.

Vivek Wadhwa is a fellow at the Rock Center for Corporate Governance at Stanford University, director of research at the Center for Entrepreneurship and Research Commercialization at Duke’s engineering school and distinguished scholar at Singularity and Emory universities. His past appointments include Harvard Law School and University of California Berkeley.


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NantMobile raises $50M for digital advertising platform

NantMobile raises $50M for digital advertising platform

One of the cool features in Amazon’s Fire phone is Firefly, which can recognize images, movies, or music in the real world and launch related Web content on your phone.

The Los Angeles-based startup NantMobile has a technology platform that can put that capability on any mobile device via an app.

The company has now raised $50 million for the platform from an unknown investor or investors, according to an SEC filing.

Calls to the company were not returned Friday.

NantMobile’s software platform lets marketers and media outlets bridge the gap between the real and digital worlds. Using the NantMobile app, a user can aim the camera at a poster, advertisement, or at a piece of product packaging. Then your mobile device will launch some related content, like demonstration video for marketers or extended coverage for media.

The app can also listen to music or movies and identify the content, then launch related content.

NantMobile is one of two subsidiaries of a parent company called NantWorks, which is run by serial entrepreneur Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong. The other is a health startup called NantBioscience.


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Virgin Galactic crash is a tragic reminder of the dangers of space flight

Virgin Galactic crash is a tragic reminder of the dangers of space flight

Above: SpaceShipTwo, under rocket power.

Image Credit: Virgin Galactic

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This week was a sobering reminder about the inherent dangers of space flight.

On Tuesday, an unmanned Antares rocket containing 5,000 pounds of supplies and experiments bound for the International Space Station malfunctioned, prompting its operator, Orbital Sciences, to trigger its self-destruct system.

And then today, during a manned test flight, Virgin Galactic and Scaled Composites’ space plane SpaceShipTwo suffered an “anomaly” — code for something seriously wrong — and crashed. As I’m writing this, the status of the pilots is unknown, but it appears that one was killed and the other suffered serious injuries.

We don’t know all the details of these two incidents — it may take months to complete full investigations — so I’m not going to speculate. But I think I can say that this week will set the private space industry back by years.

That’s unfortunate, but it is probably necessary.

Our admiration for the work astronauts do has always been tempered by our knowledge of how dangerous it is.

I grew up reading books and poring over photos of the Apollo program, which was a terrific triumph (we put men on the moon, and did it in less than a decade) punctuated by the disasters of the Apollo 1 launchpad fire and Apollo 13.

Later, like many aspiring nerds, I obsessed about the Space Shuttle program. There, too, years of success were marred by two high-profile disasters. When the Challenger exploded 72 seconds into its flight in 1986, killing everyone aboard, I was in high school. I can still remember how the principal came on the P.A. to let us know what had happened, and to ask for a moment of silence and prayer. The images of that explosion’s fragmenting smoke trails still make my heart clench. Then, many years later, in 2003, the Columbia broke apart upon reentry, killing its crew. After that happened I felt like the Shuttle program might never recover. And in some ways it didn’t: While NASA continued to fly Shuttle missions, they happened less frequently and at far higher cost than the designers of the Shuttle had ever anticipated, partly because of the complexities involved in making sure they were safe.

But for the past five years, it has seemed that we’d moved into a new era of space flight. Instead of the old, expensive, nationalistic bureaucracy of NASA, we have a nimble, international movement powered largely by private corporations.

As these corporations began to play a larger role, the variety of space travel increased, encompassing high-budget and low-budget projects and everything in between.

That’s been a fantastic thing to watch for space enthusiasts like me, and I think it’s on balance been good for humanity, too. National governments could cooperate to build and supply the International Space Station. Ordinary schoolkids could design experiments and actually send them into space. The super-rich, like Richard Garriott (aka Lord British) or Anousheh Ansari, could spend tens of millions of dollars to play space tourists aboard the ISS. A NASA astronaut could record a music video for YouTube or publish Instagram photos from orbit, engaging millions in the adventure of space travel.

And those who were wealthy enough to afford a $250,000 ticket could dream of going on a short but exhilarating suborbital flight aboard Virgin Galactic, which made remarkably fast progress toward FAA approval and actual paid space flights, which were scheduled to begin in 2015.

All of that seems sadly naive now.

Yes, there is a lot of vibrant innovation happening in space travel now. And that innovation is both exhilarating and, I think, necessary. But after this week, it seems clear we need to take a strong, sober look at the risks, as well as the rewards, of space flight.

Bloomberg estimates that, if U.S. air travel were as risky as space travel is, we’d have 272 airplane crashes a day. Clearly there is more work to be done in making rockets safer, and maybe that’s what the space industry needs to focus on next.

Those risks, great as they are, should not ever stop us from going into space. But we should be looking at them with open eyes.

And while we ponder those risks, let’s stop for a moment to silently reflect on the bravery of those who are leading the way, and who — like today — sometimes pay the ultimate price.

Virgin Galactic, owned by Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Group and Aabar Investments PJS, is on track to be the world’s first commercial spaceline. The new spaceship (SpaceshipTwo, VSS Enterprise) and carrier craft (WhiteKnightTwo, VMS E… read more »



Major Bitcoin mining pool BTC Guild ‘likely being sold’ after shutdown warning

Major Bitcoin mining pool BTC Guild ‘likely being sold’ after shutdown warning
Image Credit: Antana/Flickr

BTC Guild, a popular Bitcoin mining pool, is announcing today that it could very well be sold, hours after founder Michael Marsee posted plans to close the organization early next year.

“[Mu]ltiple parties have expressed strong interest in purchasing BTC Guild and keeping it running,” Marsee wrote on the BTC Guild homepage. “As a result, the previously announced timeline for closure of operations has been cancelled, and the site will continue to operate normally.”

Marsee originally gave miners a three-month warning in announcing plans to close the pool; he sought to shut it on Jan. 31, 2015. Marsee cited concerns about regulatory actions against Bitcoin businesses and fears of an attack on BTC Guild.

“State regulators are starting to make noise about Bitcoin,” he wrote in a post earlier today. “New York is the first to publicly put anything forward, but there are 49 other states which can put their own spin on things. Due to the ability for states to establish a nexus for businesses dealing with their state’s residents, it is a scary landscape to continue operating in.”

In the post he also pointed miners to alternatives such as BitMinter, Eligius, and p2pool. The shutdown post is no longer available on the BTC Guild homepage, presumably because BTC Guild will be sticking around — at least in the near future.


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