It Also Offers Entrepreneurs an Amazing
Lesson About Competition

Mapping the human genome had been a goal that modern bio-scientists yearned to conquer for decades. Human genome, basically a map of each humans cell make-up, if properly researched and documented, could provide the answer to myriad mysteries, including: why we age, genetic markers, causes and cures for diseases and many more questions previously thought unobtainable. The drive to chart this monumentally complex scientific puzzle lead to an interesting competition. Entrepreneurs can learn much from this race.

The United States government’s National Institute of Health, partnering with the British government was tasked with charting the human genome in the mid 1980’s. The government employed the finest bio-scientists, facilities and equipment in the effort to successfully complete the work. Budgeted funds were generously appropriated for the project. The United States was reported to have spent over $3 Billion on research, the British government added considerably more.

In 1998, a brilliant scientist named Dr. Craig Ventner, while reviewing the published work product of the government, decided that a different approach could be undertaken to provide a faster, more accurate answer to the complexity of the chore. He wrote a business plan that was based on a “shotgun” type of research format. Dr. Ventner approached venture capitalist funding sources and raised $300 million in private funds. His venture, Celera, was charged with mapping the genome in order to commercialize the findings. The race was now on.

The government team enjoyed the advantage of a decades long head start, huge funding commitments and a deep roster of talent. The government was not seeking to profit from the discovery of the map. As always, the goal of government was to provide for the common good.

Celera, however, also wanted to provide for the common good. The ability to accelerate the speed of discovery, convert the knowledge gained into commercial cures and products, and thus make profits, was the goal of this private venture. Celera did not have unlimited, funds, talent or time. The investors wanted the markers laid down in the business plan to be met and to see a return on their investment. In order for this to happen, the scientific task needed to be completed and the resulting knowledge commercialized.

Celera was a start-up in 1998 and completed the genome map in 2001. In a fraction of the time and with a fraction of the funding of the government group Celera was widely considered the winner of the race that was never formally acknowledged. The result should surprise no one. The result also should inspire every entrepreneur.
The government team was playing the game by different rules than Celera. The pressure applied by private investors was absent from the government effort. Politicians are not exactly known as tough taskmasters when applying large sums of money to solving problems and demanding results. Government is great at establishing bureaucracies, lousy at solving problems. The urgency impressed on Celera to move ahead quickly and successfully was just never a consideration for the government.

Who really won this race? The consumer was the real winner. The speed with which Celera mapped the human genome enabled numerous medical products and treatments to be moved quickly ahead to market.

The lesson we can all learn is that a hungry entrepreneur has an innate advantage over the large, bureaucratic enterprise that seemingly holds the cards in any business competition. How did MicroSoft, starting in a garage, create the source code for software that IBM totally missed? How did Wayne Huizenga create a roll-up business model that lead to Waste Management, Blockbuster Video and Auto Nation while large, established companies in each industry slept? Google, Hard Candy, Home Shopping Network and Sephora are only a handful of now large and successful businesses that were just start-ups not so long ago. They were opportunistic, agile, creative and fearless in the face of much larger, more established rivals.

There has never been a better time for entrepreneurs with a novel idea to take on the big boys. In fact, the bigger the competitor, the better I like the entrepreneur’s odds of success. I counsel dozens of entrepreneurs in my consulting business. I always encourage these pioneers to face behemoths with respect, but not fear. Celera’s Dr. Craig Ventner is an ideal model for all of us to study.

If you have an idea that you would like to discuss feel free to contact me. Geoff Ficke can be reached at 407 260 1127, .

Author's Bio: 

Geoff Ficke has been a serial entrepreneur for almost 50 years. As a small boy, earning his spending money doing odd jobs in the neighborhood, he learned the value of selling himself, offering service and value for money.

After putting himself through the University of Kentucky (B.A. Broadcast Journalism, 1969) and serving in the United States Marine Corp, Mr. Ficke commenced a career in the cosmetic industry. After rising to National Sales Manager for Vidal Sassoon Hair Care at age 28, he then launched a number of ventures, including Rubigo Cosmetics, Parfums Pierre Wulff Paris, Le Bain Couture and Fashion Fragrance.

Geoff Ficke and his consulting firm, Duquesa Marketing, Inc. ( has assisted businesses large and small, domestic and international, entrepreneurs, inventors and students in new product development, capital formation, licensing, marketing, sales and business plans and successful implementation of his customized strategies. He is a Senior Fellow at the Page Center for Entrepreneurial Studies, Business School, Miami University, Oxford, Ohio.