Academic journal article New England Journal of Entrepreneurship

Out on a Limb - and Thriving

Academic journal article New England Journal of Entrepreneurship

Out on a Limb - and Thriving

Article excerpt

This issue of the New England Journal of Entrepreneurship features Robert Seliger, the 42year-old CEO of Sentillion, a fledgling organization headquartered in Andover, Massachusetts, that has developed the means of coordinating and integrating complex applications in the medical technology field. Seliger graduated from Cornell University as an engineering major, holds a master's degree from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and was employed by Hewlett Packard where he moved up the ranks over 18 years to principal architect and senior manager of a product development team in clinical information systems.

NEJE: Our first reaction after learning about your background at HP was to wonder when you first felt the "entrepreneurial urge."

Seliger: I'm going to guess you're not talking about my paper route as a kid growing up in Mt. Vernon, New York.

NEJE: Well, if that's where it all started, why not?

Seliger: No, I can't say the paper route did much for my entrepreneurial spirit. However, Hewlett Packard is a very innovative company where my interest in engineering and new product development could be combined to best advantage.

NEJE: But if HP is anything like the typical U.S. corporation, entrepreneurship is something you don't learn. Most managers are trained and enculturated to be risk averse.

Seliger: To a certain extent that's true, but HP managers actually thrived on thinking "out of the box." We were encouraged to solve business problems by being creative and original. I loved it.

NEJE: Yet you left corporate life and jumped off the proverbial cliff to become CEO of a new venture.

Seliger: It was one of the most difficult decisions I've ever made, but looking back on it now, it was one of the best. When I was working 60 hours a week at HP, I thought I was working hard. That experience only prepared me for the monster hours I'm putting in now. Starting up a company is an exercise in controlled manic behavior, yet so far, we've been doing very, very well.

NEJE: After 18 years and an accumulation of corporate perks, what prompted you to leave the corporate cocoon and become an entrepreneur?

Seliger: It certainly wasn't an impulsive decision on my part. With a bunch of corporate stock options and a company car, a pleasant and secure life style for my wife and children, the last thing I expected to do was to leave HP.

The events that led to my eventual decision to leave corporate life require some background information.

I had two different roles at HP. First, I was a staff principal architect working to make sure the five corporate divisions under the HP Medical Products Group banner developed harmonious products for clinical care use. As a corporation, HP had a history of sometimes not engineering products that were compatible with each other. Imagine buying a Sony television and then a Sony VCR and the two not working together. That was happening at HP and my job was to have the different functional teams in these five divisions work together to produce compatible systems. I had a lot of responsibility but no authority over these folks so it took a deft hand to negotiate my way through various agendas, egos, and conflicting business interests.

I had been asked as well to also serve as a manager and run a large product development team comprised of U.S. and German engineers. I was very aware that information flow was becoming more and more of a serious problem in health care. Breakthroughs in health care technology and the advent of the Internet held the promise for the medical community that it could break out of its isolation of "stand alone" information environments. Doctors were anxious to create new networks and applications where exchanging and sharing patient information literally around the world could be made easy, fast, and responsive to care giver needs.

NEJE: And that's what you came up with? …

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