The number of women-owned small businesses is at an all-time high. To honor the female entrepreneurs who are changing the face of small business with innovative and valuable companies, we picked their brains for advice for other women setting forth with their own small businesses.
We want to know, “What do you wish you had known before you started your business?”
Here’s what 35 female entrepreneurs had to say.
1. Build a Support System Around You
“I have started a number of businesses, and although external factors change, there are many consistencies in the challenges women face. One thing that I wish I had known was just how important it is to have a support system comprised of smart people who will challenge me (non-family and friends), support from a spouse, and a peer-to-peer advisory group. This comprehensive support system would have made a tremendous difference in how quickly I grew my business.”
—Kathy McShane, CEO of Ladies Launch Club
2. Don’t Be Afraid to Ask for Help
“The one thing I wish I had acted upon earlier was the power of asking for help from people with more expertise than I had. The most accomplished and brilliant people are often eager to help if you share your passion with them. You simply have to be open to the momentary feeling of vulnerability in asking for the insights and help you need. You’ll be surprised by how this improves your business.”
—Stephanie Sprangers, CEO and Founder of Glamhive
3. Share Your Successes and Mistakes
“In growing a business, there are many tough decisions to be made, and everyone stumbles sometimes. I’d advise other women entrepreneurs to not be afraid to share your thought process and mistakes. It’s hard at first, but by doing so, you empower your colleagues to better understand your company vision and develop their own skills.”
—Rashmi Melgiri, Co-founder of CoverWallet
4. Don’t Be Afraid to Say “No”
“What I wish I knew before I started my business was to start with the end in mind and don’t be afraid to say no to projects that don’t help you reach that end goal. This might mean that you pass up some easy money or opportunities that fall in your lap. It will feel counter intuitive to do so, but the cost of devoting time to clients, projects or partnerships that detract from your bold vision can be devastating.”
—Jen Devore Richter, Co-author of Amplify Your Business
5. Partner With Other Female Entrepreneurs
“Here’s my piece of advice: Partner up with as many other female entrepreneurs as possible. No one prepares you for the emotional side of jumping into the unknown. I joined a handful of local and virtual networking groups, which gave me the needed resources, suggestions, and moral support. My favorite part of the whole journey came from the epiphany that I have so many amazing women at my fingertips who are willing to share their experience and expertise.”
6. Know the Numbers
“Even though I started my business 9 years ago, I still wish I had a degree in accounting! I cannot stress the importance of knowing and understanding the numbers enough. From understanding profit margins and cash flow to your overhead costs, your business is nothing without a solid understanding of the numbers. Business is truly a numbers game!”
—Christy Cook, Founder and CEO of Teach My
7. Don’t Go About it Alone
“Instead of largely going it alone this first year, in retrospect I should have reached out for more help and networked in the community more. I was so busy making the business happen that I felt like I didn’t have time to reach out to others. In hindsight, that would have made me more productive, broadened my relationships in the community and with potential new advertisers, and lightened my workload a bit! I think women often, mistakenly, have a difficult time asking for help.”
—Nancy Dewar, Publisher of 406 Bark
8. It Won’t Happen Overnight
“I wish I’d known that building a business doesn’t make for an overnight success. Five years into the entrepreneurial hustle, I’ve learned that entrepreneurship is being on a mission where nothing can stop you. It will take twice as long as you’d hoped, cost exceedingly more than you’d ever budgeted, and will be more challenging than anything you’ll ever try. But if you give it your all and refuse to give up, you can trust it will be the ride of a lifetime. I could be the poster child for the saying, ‘What doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger.’ No matter what … this has been the most rewarding journey of my life. And in the end, I’m going to have a magical story to tell. My advice to other aspiring entrepreneurs is to be brave and follow your instincts. You can’t cheat the grind, but if you give it your all, you can trust that the payoff will be worth it.”
—Lori Cheek, Founder and CEO of Cheekd
9. Be Yourself and No One Else
“I wish someone told me that I could just be me and not have to act like ‘one of the boys.’ Being authentic has helped me grow my business and audience.”
—Syama Meagher, CEO of Scaling Retail
10. Treat Your Business Like a Business
“I wish I knew that the sooner I thought of my business as a business—instead of thinking of my business as an extension of myself—the more quickly I could have scaled.”
—Adrienne Garland, Owner of She Leads Media
11. Know Your Business’s Worth
“I wish I knew that I didn’t need to discount my services just to gain market share. I wish I had just trusted that I was as good as the established companies right off the bat—rather than having to build confidence as I went along.”
—Justine Akley, Founder of JumpStart
12. Build Your Brand at No Cost
“What I wish I had known? I wish I had really understood the importance of search engine optimization and the changing Google algorithms. Startups and small businesses can benefit so much at low-to-no-cost by understanding the fine points of SEO. That is invaluable in finding a cost-effective way to build out a brand.”
—Elizabeth Avery, Founder of Solo Trekker 4 U
13. Learning How to Say “No” Will Teach You How to Say “Yes”
“Get ready and comfortable to say ‘no.’ Say no to low-paying projects. Say no to poor prospects. Say no to getting your brain picked for free. Say no to clients who do not respect how you work or do not value your time or your expertise. Say no to opportunities that aren’t a fit for you. When you say no to those who do not value your work, product, and service, you will get to say yes to those who do.
It took me years to learn how to say ‘no’ without fear. When I left my job to be a consultant, I said yes to a lot of things that compromised how I do business and how much I value my time and skills. I did this out of fear that I would not survive on my own. Well, I did. I did because as soon as I started saying no, I sought out opportunities and clients that I’d like to say yes to.”
—Angélique Pivoine, Owner of Good Thinking Agency
14. Take the Plunge—Now
“When I was young, there weren’t many role models of successful women business owners. I didn’t really see it as an option. The skills I learned working in the corporate world the first half of my career are valuable, but if I had it to over again, I would have started a business for myself much sooner. Owning a business allows you to go as far and as fast as your capabilities allow.”
—Pat Harden, Owner of Harden Partners
15. Partner Up for Success
“When I started my business all I had was an idea—no money. I did everything myself, the graphics, the marketing, the content creation … everything! It wasn’t until I joined a group with other female entrepreneurs that I realized that I didn’t have to do it all alone. There are services you may have to pay for. But if you can move past the fear of asking for help, you may find that you can barter services or find a way to get things done in a better, more cost-effective manner. Do not do business alone—partner with others.”
—Elle Clarke, CEO of Elle Clarke Media Group
16. Know Exactly What You’re Getting Into
“I wish I knew how difficult it was going to be to manage my financials and revenue. I dramatically underestimated my profit margin for the first year in business and went into debt because of it. Having a solid business plan with a conservative estimates would have prevented that. My lack of experience operating a business really hurt the way I ran it from the beginning. My best advice for those who want to start a business is to really learn about the industry you’re entering. Know it inside and out before you get your toes wet.”
—Lisa Chu, Owner of Black N Bianco Kids Apparel
17. Be Your Own Cheerleader
“I wish I knew that many people will think that you are just working on a hobby and may not take your business efforts seriously. You will have to continually be your own cheerleader. No one will be as excited about your business as you are.”
—Tenelle Bailey, Owner of Marketing by Branded
18. It Doesn’t Have to be Perfect
“After almost 3 years into my business, I really wish I had been more strategic about spending money. As a small business owner in the digital space, lots of testing is needed before you can expand your brand. When I think about all the money that has been wasted on testing and trying things just to see if they work, it brings me near to tears. When you do know what you need and are ready to scale, you’ll need significant sums of money to take your business to the next level. There is so much talk out there about whether you should wait until you have the perfect product versus putting whatever you have out there.
I have learned through experience that whatever you put out into the world will need to be refined and changed in some way once it reaches the market. So no, it does not need to be perfect. It will be changed many times before you get it right. Save your money for those big changes.”
—Ursula Lauriston, Editor of Capitol Standard Magazine
19. Seek Out Win-Win Situations
“I have been an entrepreneur the last 14 years, and I wish I knew the importance and power of relationships when I was just starting up. You can absolutely build a business on your own, but when you collaborate or partner with others, you will fast track what you’re doing. I set aside time every day to make sure I am reaching out and connecting to other business owners. I have a ‘Dream 50’ of 50 different people or businesses I would love to work with and get in front of their audience. I am not just looking at ways that their business can benefit mine, but looking to see how we can both have a mutually beneficial relationship. Finding a win-win for both parties involved is key.”
—Stacy Tuschl, Entrepreneurial Coach
20. It’s All About the Numbers
“Know your numbers! It isn’t just a mantra thrown around by investors on TV. If I had known how important it was to truly understand my financial statements it would have changed everything about my business. Unless you have good data on cost of goods sold it is impossible to price your product properly. For years I was making decisions and pricing product based on what seemed reasonable. Once I started making choices based on hard numbers, I became profitable!
Learning your numbers isn’t easy without a mentor. I found a fabulous mentor affiliated with the Small Business Development Center. His office is located at a local college is supported by the Small Business Administration. The services of his office are free! They offer lots of classes and one-on-one guidance. Avail yourselves of this resource!”
—Julie Shipley, Owner of The Soup Shop
21. Strangers Build Your Business
“Some business owners are blessed to have family and friends who support and purchase every product. But for the most part, they won’t. I wish I had known this upfront, as it would have saved me some emotional turmoil. Family and friends love you, but they can only see you as the daughter they grew to know until the world begins to recognize you as the awesome business woman you are. Strangers will build your business!”
—Ashley Lounds Brooks, Creator of Live By Faith Brand
22. Get Serious About Your Business
“I wish I had known to treat my business like a business from the get-go. The purpose of a business is to exchange your goods or services for a customer’s money. If you aren’t making money, you’re running a glorified hobby. But I struggled for quite some time to balance doing what I do best, actually making money, and taking care of the drudgery of being a business owner—quarterly taxes and tracking receipts, for example. So I would swing between giving away my services for free or desperately taking whatever I could get. I wasn’t consistent in my practices and didn’t have systems or support in place to run my business effectively.
So how did I do that? First, I got clear on where I wanted my business to be in 1, 3, and 5 years. Then I worked backward to set revenue, profit, and customer goals to work toward. I also gave myself permission to not be perfect and to be open to possibilities and opportunities I wouldn’t expect. I’m still solidifying my business, but the simple task of treating my business like a business has made the most difference.”
—Jacqueline Shaulis, CEO of Awesome Enterprises and Creator of Mistress of Her Domain
23. It’s All About What You Want
“I wish I had heard this advice before starting my business: You define your success and you define your failure. If you decide to close your business or adjust how you do things to fit your life, don’t let anyone make you feel like a failure. Entrepreneurship is about molding your business to be what you want it to be, not someone else.”
24. Just Dive In
“I think the biggest advice I can give to female entrepreneurs is just to go and sell. Most people think that you have to have everything set in place first before you start your own business, like a business model, investment, employees, products, and so on. Essentially, all you need first is an idea and then after that test your idea by selling it. The rest you can do as you go.”
—Dea Rezkitha, Co-Founder of No-Location
25. Stay Hyper-Focused
“Now that we have been in business for five years, I can say with certainty that there are some things I wish I knew going into the business.
Know your strength and weakness. Simply put, we cannot do it all by ourselves. The sooner we realize the things we are not good at, the sooner we can find someone who can help our company grow. Stay focused. When I started my business, I wanted to do it all—sell to 3rd party channels, be on every newspaper, get to know everyone, etc. Ultimately this didn’t work. By staying focused on the few things that mattered, our business grew a lot faster.”
—Vienne Cheung, Founder of VienneMilano
26. Define Your Message and Set Forth
“Get crystal clear on your unique, meaningful message. If you don’t discover what you want to add to the world and specifically provide a solution, your message won’t land or magnetize your ideal customers. Next, come out of hiding. Once you’ve got your message, you’ve got to be willing to shout out from the mountain tops. You’ve got to be willing to be ‘out there.’ Nothing is more attractive to customers than sharing your personal story. It’s essential to do the inner work that allows us to be transparent and authentic with our audience.”
—Nicole Casanova, Owner and Founder of Polished Professional Development
27. Share the Highs and Lows
“I started my business 3 years ago and wish that I had not done it alone. I am lucky to have a supportive partner, but working on your own day in and day out can be hard. You need someone to share the highs and lows.”
—Flora Pringles, Owner of Cracked Candy
28. Follow Your Instincts
“’Go with your gut’ is probably the best piece of advice I could have given myself and that I would give others. Especially as women, we have gut instincts, and we tend to let others talk us out of listening to it. But for the most part, those gut reactions were correct.”
—Angie Scott, COO and Co-Founder of Search Influence
29. You’re the Owner, Not the Employee
“What I wish I had known before starting my business are the habitual techniques that shift people away from an employee mindset and towards the entrepreneurial mindset. I spent too many years being my own employee rather than building my empire.”
—Shirley George Frazier, Owner of Gift Basket Business
30. It’ll Be Hard at First
“I started my business with the goal of having more work-life balance so I could spend more time with my family. After I started my company I didn’t realize how hard it would be to still juggle work and family the first couple of years. In fact, I was working as many hours as I was when I was working in a corporate job for someone else, and there were still pulls and tugs between my family and my business.
My advice to other entrepreneurs: Remember there is light at the end of the tunnel! The first couple of years are hard, but if you can get your business up and running, hire a few quality employees and trust them enough to delegate, you’ll be able to achieve a more sustainable, long-term lifestyle.”
—Erika Taylor Montgomery, CEO and Chief Publicist of Three Girls Media
31. Be Passionate About Your Business
“Carry your passion with you. As a woman in any industry, you have to have thick skin and a strong sense of self. I’ve found that women sometimes—more so than men—are afraid to take chances, and being secure and confident with yourself is sometimes the extra boost you need. For me, as a female in the tech industry, where you do not see many females at the forefront, the key to success for women entrepreneurs lies in being passionate about your dreams and believing in yourself.”
—Ayrin Islam, CEO and Co-Founder of RingID
32. Hire the Right People—Right Away
“My mantra as I do my job each day is, ‘It’s not all about you.’ So, my advice looking back is this: Build your team as soon as possible. As long as you are your business, you’ll stall your growth. The most valuable piece of advice that helped me grow my business into what it is today is how to hire quality people.”
—Kathleen Tomes, President of Brilliant PR and Marketing
33. Remember Why You Started in The First Place
“When you start your own business or work for a new company, you have to remind yourself why you started. We all came from bigger companies where we didn’t have to start from scratch with every deal. But we aren’t here because we thought it was going to be easier. We knew it was going to be hard, but it’s something that we believe in. So when things get difficult, it’s important to remember why you took that leap of faith to begin with. The values and the reasons why you chose this path have to be what drive you every day through the ups and downs.”
–Shannon Marrs, Founder and Paige Greene and Lizzie Shepherd, Leaders of Chirp Research
There you have it—valuable pieces of small business wisdom straight from female entrepreneurs just like yourself.
We hope that this advice is exactly what you need to take a leap of faith for your business, or guide you through the unknowns of starting your own company.
Have any advice for small business owners just starting up? Leave it in the comments!
From pharma giants to medtech start-ups, science and business go hand in hand. But who are the women performing alchemy and turning their groundbreaking research into gold?
As we continue our Science 50, we take a look at the entrepreneurial women who have turned their scientific backgrounds and innovations into successful businesses.
CEO and co-founder of EpiBone, Nina Tandon is a tissue engineering researcher who may have the future of medicine figured out.
Currently serving as an adjunct professor of electrical engineering at Cooper Union in New York, Tandon studies electrical signalling in the context of tissue engineering, with a goal of creating spare parts for human implantation or disease models.
Tandon studied electrical stimulation for cardiac tissue engineering at MIT and Columbia, and continues to focus on electrical stimulation for broader tissue engineering applications. As a Fulbright Scholar in Rome, she developed an electronic nose to sniff out lung cancer.
Rana el Kaliouby
Egyptian-born Rana el Kaliouby is on a mission to bring emotion to digital technology by enabling cameras in smartphones and computers to read human expressions.
The co-founder and CEO of Massachusetts-based Affectiva, el Kaliouby is commercialising emotion-recognition technology based on her research.
At MIT, el Kaliouby spearheaded the applications of emotion-sensing and facial coding. She holds a PhD from Computer Laboratory, University of Cambridge.
El Kaliouby was recognised by Entrepreneur as one of the ‘7 Most Powerful Women to Watch in 2014’, inducted into the Women in Engineering Hall of Fame, and named one of Technology Review’s ‘Top 35 Innovators Under 35’.
Dr Sally Cudmore is general manager of the APC Microbiome Institute, which launched in University College Cork (UCC) last year.
Formerly known as the Alimentary Pharmabiotic Centre, APC is a partnership between UCC, Teagasc and Cork Institute of Technology, and explores the importance of microbes in health and nutrition, specifically gastrointestinal bacteria.
Since its foundation 13 years ago, APC has made several seminal contributions to the field and was ranked second, globally, in the area of science by Thomson Reuters.
Cudmore has a biochemistry degree from UCC and a PhD from the cell biology programme at the European Molecular Biology Laboratory in Heidelberg, Germany.
Dr Claire Gormley is one of two women (alongside Emily Duffy) behind the award-winning start-up Game Changer. Dr Gormley is an assistant professor in statistics at University College Dublin (UCD) and a researcher with the Insight Centre for Data Analytics. Her start-up won UCD’s commercialisation award earlier this year.
The company is developing a platform to provide post-match sports performance analytics for individuals, teams and organisations. Interestingly, Game Changer also provides a bespoke statistical tool to identify key players for team selection or potential recruitment.
Game Changer won the 2016 UCD Insight Innovation Sprint Programme, a one-day initiative designed and held at NovaUCD.
Prof Jane Farrar successfully co-founded Genable Technologies, a gene therapy business that hit the headlines earlier this year after its €5.4m sale to Spark Therapeutics.
The company started in Trinity College Dublin when Farrar was a PhD researcher. Along with her colleagues, Farrar was looking at the genetics of an inherited form of blindness called retinitis pigmentosa (RP). After devising a gene-therapy approach to suppress the problematic, mutant gene involved in RP, Genable Technologies was formed and immediately impressed.
Chartered physiotherapist and Inspirefest 2015 speaker Ciara Clancy launched start-up Beats Medical in 2012, when she was just 22.
Beats Medical is a smartphone app designed to support those who suffer from Parkinson’s. Utilising individualised metronome therapy, the app improves mobility and reduces instances of gait freezing. It also provides users with daily assessments and regular progress reports.
Last year, Clancy was named Laureate for Europe at the Cartier Women’s Initiative Awards, and Beats Medical beat off the competition in Google’s Adopt a Start-up programme.
Just last month, Beats Medical became the first Irish company to present at Google’s demo day.
Despite being unsure which scientific avenue to go down during her early years of school, Sinéad Kenny quickly realised that the rapidly advancing world of materials science was for her.
A few decades later, Kenny was co-founder of DiaNia Technologies, one of Ireland’s fastest-growing indigenous medical devices companies. From the Inspirefest 2016 stage, Kenny announced that the company had received €2m in seed money in a recent funding round.
Kenny has spoken of a major void existing in the market, which DiaNia’s strong materials, science and project management capabilities can maximise upon during the early development phase of devices.
Dr Emmeline Hill, an equine genomics researcher at UCD, co-founded Equinome (alongside horse trainer Jim Bolger) in 2009.
While analysing genes in thoroughbred racehorses, Hill identified a genetic marker that linked to a horse’s athletic performance. This discovery led to the development of a speed gene test to help match horses with courses, and to inform breeding and training decisions.
This test was instrumental in this year’s decision not to run 2000 Guineas winner Galileo Gold at the Epsom Derby.
In 2015, Equinome was acquired by Plusvital. Hill is Plusvital’s chief science officer, continuing to drive research into genetic tests and performance potential.
Áine Behan is the founder and CEO of Irish start-up Cortechs, the company behind wearable tech that uses brainwave-sensing technology and gameplay to improve attention in children diagnosed with ADHD.
Behan has a background in neuroscience and neuropathology. Her research expertise focuses on the effects of stresses like drugs on mental health and neurodegenerative disease. The Cortechs technology aims to bypass the need for drugs in the treatment of certain conditions.
Behan was the only Irish finalist at 2014’s Lady Pitch night in Paris.
A former Start-up of the Week, Cortechs is already enjoying success, having been named as winner of the 2015 FutureHealth pre-accelerator at NDRC.
Northern Ireland native and aerospace engineer Sinead O’Sullivan has had an interest in space since she was a child but, after a trip to NASA, she soon realised that it was where she wanted to make a career.
Going on to work at NASA, where she developed parts of the technology that would take spacecraft – and future humans – to Mars, she has now entered the entrepreneurial game as CEO of Fusion Space Technologies.
Now describing herself as part of the ‘space mafia’, she and her start-up are creating the first ever platform for crowdsourced drone data. [SiliconRepublic]
Amy Herman created and conducts all sessions of ‘The Art of Perception’, an education program that was initially used to help medical students improve their observation skills. Often in diagnostics, you’re not looking for what you can see, but what you can’t – this is called the ‘pertinent negative’. The same goes for investigations, and so the program was adapted for the New York City Police Department, and other intelligence agencies. Really, Herman says, it’s about fine-tuning something we take as a given: our visual intelligence. This refers to the concept that we see more than we can possibly process. What we register is just a fraction of the world around us, so how can we see more? Like any other skill or muscle, to get the most and best use out of it, it needs training.
According to Herman, we need to think more consciously about what we see and deliberately take information in so that we can do our jobs more effectively and live our lives more purposefully. To that end, she runs us through a building block of ‘The Art of Perception’ course: The Four A’s.
Tune into the video above for four practical steps to make more perceptive and informed decisions. Amy Herman is the author of Visual Intelligence:Sharpen Your Perception, Change Your Life. [BigThink]
What could a global hotel executive have to say about Airbnb? The rule is typically: ‘If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.’ Since peer-to-peer accommodation start-up Airbnb launched in 2008, the mood has been tense between traditional lodging providers and the DIY movement that Airbnb represents.
However Kimo Kippen is the Former Chief Learning Officer at Hilton Worldwide and view on Airbnb is defined by one word: exciting. Airbnb many not own hotel rooms, valuable property, or even a long-standing reputation, but what it does have is an ingenious platform that grants so much more autonomy and choice to its users. Kippen sees this competition as inspiration and is pushing Hilton to make greater efforts to innovate and keep up, for example through an integrated app that allows digital check in, greater room control, and digital room keys.
There are countless studies which demonstrate that competition increases motivation – as far back as 1891, psychologist Norman Triplett found that the presence of another cyclist made his study participants pedal faster.
The rivalry between companies like Apple and Microsoft has led to ever-advancing technology for the public, the result of two competitors spring-boarding off one another and pushing each other to innovate.
The hotel business is booming, with the industry showing all-time high performance and growth projections in 2015, according to competitive benchmarking firm STR. Supply is climbing, and the pace of hotel closings is slowing. This is even as a study from Boston University in June 2016 found that Airbnb has contributed to a reduction in “aggressive hotel room pricing, an impact that benefits all consumers, not just participants in the sharing economy.” That likely hurts the bottom-line of hotels and yet they have, on the whole, been resourceful enough to have the best year ever. In turn, changes are being enforced on Airbnb, most recently through a new law in New York that only permits room rentals if the host is also living in the apartment, and prohibits rentals in multi-unit buildings for less than 30 days – violations are punishable by a $7,500 fine. This is controversial for many reasons, and no doubt hinders Airbnb’s ability to function. Will they find ways to remain competitive?
Hotels and peer-to-peer accommodation will find themselves in a beneficial rivalry only if the focus is on self-improvement, as opposed to the destruction of the other. When the latter happens, it punishes the client and hinders the spirit of innovation. [BigThink]
Quality time = alone time. (LUIGI MORANTE)
In a just-published study about how our ancestral needs impact our modern feelings, researchers uncovered something that will surprise few among the highly intelligent. While most people are happier when they’re surrounded by friends, smart people are happier when they’re not.
The researchers, Norman P. Li and Satoshi Kanazawa, of the Singapore Management University, Singapore and the London School of Economics and Political Science, UK, respectively, were investigating the “savannah theory” of happiness.
The savannah theory — also called the “evolutionary legacy hypothesis” and the “mismatch hypothesis” — posits that we react to circumstances as our ancestors would, having evolved psychologically based on our ancestors’ needs in the days when humankind lived on the savannah.
Savannah (BJØRN CHRISTIAN TØRRISSEN)
The study analyzed data from interviews conducted by the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health (Add Health) in 2001-2002 with 15,197 individuals aged 18–28. The researchers looked for a correlation between where an interviewee lived — in a rural or urban area — and his or her life satisfaction. They were interested in assessing how population density and friendships affect happiness.
How We Feel About Being in Large Groups
Crowded (KEVIN CASE)
The study found that people in general were less happy in areas of greater population density. The report’s authors see this is as support for the savannah theory because we would naturally feel uneasy in larger groups if — as evidence they cite suggests — our brains evolved for functioning in groups of about 150 people:
- Comparing the size of our neocortex to other primates and the sizes of the groups in which they dwell suggests the natural size of a human group is 150 people (Dunbar, 1992).
- Computer simulations show that the evolution of risk aversion happens only in groups of about 150 people (Hintze, Olson, Adami, & Hertwig, 2013).
- The average size of modern hunter-gatherer societies is 148.4 people (Dunbar, 1993).
- Neolithic villages in Mesopotamia had from 150–200 people (Oates, 1977).
- When a group of people exceeds 150-200 people, it will tend to break into two in order to facilitate greater cooperation and reciprocity among its members (Chagnon, 1979).
- The average personal network, as suggested by the typical number of holiday cards sent per person per year, is 153.5 people (Hill & Dunbar, 2003).
The study discovered, though, that the negative effect of the presence of lots of people is more pronounced among people of average intelligence. They propose that our smartest ancestors were better able to adapt to larger groups on the savannah due to a greater strategic flexibility and innate ingenuity, and so their descendants feel less stressed by urban environments today.
You’ve Got to Have Friends. Or Not.
BFFs (SONNY ABESAMIS)
While it seems self-evident that good friendships increase life satisfaction in most people, Li and Satoshi and Kanazawa note, surprisingly, that they know of only a single study that looked at the reason why this is true, and which concluded friendships satisfy psychological needs such as relatedness, the need to be needed, and an outlet for sharing experiences. Still, the reason a person has those needs remains unexplained.
Li and Kanazawa feel that we need look no further than the savannah. They say that friendships/alliances were vital for survival, in that they facilitated group hunting and food sharing, reproduction, and even group child-rearing.
The data they analyzed supports the assumption that good friendships — and a few good ones is better than lots of weaker ones — do significantly increase life satisfaction for most people.
In highly intelligent people, though, the finding is reversed: Smart people feel happier alone than when others, even good friends, are around. A “healthy” social life actually leaves highly intelligent people with less life satisfaction. Is it because their desires are more aspirational and goal-oriented, and other people are annoyingly distracting?
However, just in case this makes too much sense, the study also found that spending more time socializing with friends is actually an indicator of higher intelligence! This baffling contradiction is counter-intuitive, at least. Unless these smart people are not so much social as they are masochistic. [BigThink]
The researchers were attempting to find a series of chemical reactions that could turn CO2 into a useful fuel, when they realized the first step in their process managed to do it all by itself. The reaction turns CO2 into ethanol, which could in turn be used to power generators and vehicles.
The tech involves a new combination of copper and carbon arranged into nanospikes on a silicon surface. The nanotechnology allows the reactions to be very precise, with very few contaminants.
“By using common materials, but arranging them with nanotechnology, we figured out how to limit the side reactions and end up with the one thing that we want,” said Adam Rondinone.
This process has several advantages when compared to other methods of converting CO2 into fuel. The reaction uses common materials like copper and carbon, and it converts the CO2 into ethanol, which is already widely used as a fuel.
Perhaps most importantly, it works at room temperature, which means that it can be started and stopped easily and with little energy cost. This means that this conversion process could be used as temporary energy storage during a lull in renewable energy generation, smoothing out fluctuations in a renewable energy grid.
“A process like this would allow you to consume extra electricity when it’s available to make and store as ethanol,” said Rondinone. “This could help to balance a grid supplied by intermittent renewable sources.”
The researchers plan to further study this process and try and make it more efficient. If they’re successful, we just might see large-scale carbon capture using this technique in the near future.
In 1998, Andy Clark and David Chalmers proposed that a computer operates together with our brains as an “extended mind,” potentially offering additional processing capabilities as we work out problems, as well as an annex for our memories containing information, images, and so on. Now a professor of biomedical engineering at the University of Southern California, Theodore Berger, is working to bring to market human memory enhancement in the form of a prosthetic implanted in the brain. He’s already testing it attached to humans.
The prosthetic, which Berger has been working on for ten years, can function as an artificial hippocampus, the area in the brain associated with memory and spatial navigation.
Hippocampus (LIFE SCIENCE DATABASES)
The plan is for the device to convert short-term memory into long-term memory and potentially store it as the hippocampus does. His research has been encouraging so far.
Berger began by teaching a rabbit to associate an audio tone with a puff of air administered to the rabbit’s face, causing it to blink. Electrodes attached to the rabbit allowed Berger to observe patterns of activity firing off in the rabbit’s hippocampus. Berger refers to these patterns as a “space-time code” representing where the neurons are in the rabbit’s brain at a specific moment. Berger watched them evolving as the rabbit learned to associate the tone and puff of air. He told Wired, “As the space-time code propagates into the different layers of the hippocampus, it’s gradually changed into a different space-time code.” Eventually, the tone alone was enough for the hippocampus to produce a recallable space-time code based on the latest incoming version to make the rabbit blink.
The manner in which the hippocampus was processing the rabbit’s memory and producing a recallable space-time code became predictable enough to Berger that he was able to develop a mathematical model representing the process.
Berger then built an artificial rat hippocampus — his experimental prosthesis —to test his observations and model. By training rats to press a lever with electrodes monitoring their hippocampuses, Berger was able to acquire the corresponding space-time codes. Running that code through his mathematical model and sending it back to the rats’ brains, his system was validated as the rats successfully pressed their levers. “They recall the correct code as if they’ve created it themselves. Now we’re putting the memory back into the brain,” Berger reports.
It’s maybe the this last statement that’s so intriguing. Does the brain have some kind of master memory index? Has it somehow integrated the artificial hippocampus’s memories into the rats’ directory? Will it also happen in humans?
Dustin Tyler, a professor of engineering at Case Western Reserve University, cautioned Wired, “All of these prosthetics interfacing with the brain have one fundamental challenge. There are billions of neurons in the brain and trillions of connections between them that make them all work together. Trying to find technology that will go into that mass of neurons and be able to connect with them on a reasonably high-resolution level is tricky.”
Still, Bergen himself is optimistic, telling IEEE Spectrum, “We’re testing it in humans now, and getting good initial results. We’re going to go forward with the goal of commercializing this prosthesis.”
What he envisions bringing to market based on his research is a brain prosthetic for people with memory problems. The tiny device would be implanted in the patient’s own hippocampus from where it would stimulate the neurons responsible for turning short-term memories into long-term memories. He hopes it can help patients suffering from Alzheimer’s, other forms of dementia, stroke victims and people whose brains have been injured.
Berger’s business partner in this is tech entrepreneur Bryan Johnson. After selling his payment gateway Braintree to PayPal for $800, he started a venture capital fund, the OS Fund. Its web site states its mission: “The OS Fund invests in entrepreneurs working towards quantum-leap discoveries that promise to rewrite the operating systems of life.” Johnson sees Berger’s work as one such discovery, and formed kernel to support it, running the company himself with Berger as the company’s Chief Science Officer.
Rats and monkeys — the prosthetic improved the memories of rhesus monkeys attached to their prefrontal cortex — are one thing. The greater number of neurons in human brains is a big issue that needs to be grappled before Berger’s implant will work well for humans: It’s difficult to gain a comprehensive view of what’s going on with larger brains due to their greater number of neurons. (Rat brains have about 200 million neurons; humans have 86 billion.) Berger warns, “Our information will be biased based on the neurons we’re able to record from,” and he looks forward to tools that can capture broader swaths of data going forward. It’s anticipated that they’ll need to pack a greater number of electrodes into prostheses.
Human trials so far have been with in-patient epileptics with electrodes already in place for their epilepsy treatments. Berger’s team has observed and recorded activity in the hippocampus during memory tests, and they’ve been encouragingly successful at enhancing patients’ memories by stimulating neurons there. kernel will be funding additional human trials. [via BigThink]
Will President Trump really slash funding of NASA’s “politicised” climate change science?
It certainly has been politicised, but not by the scientists conducting it. Blame instead the fossil fuel industry-funded lobby groups and politicians that have for more than a generation tried using doubt, obfuscation or straightforward untruths to argue that humans are not in fact causing significant changes to the climate.
That is what must irk Trump’s team of sceptics. NASA’s organisations such as the Goddard Institute for Space Studies and Jet Propulsion Laboratory have made seminal contributions to our understanding of how humans are changing the Earth’s climate. All funded by the US taxpayer.
De-funding NASA’s climate change science is effectively sticking your fingers in your ears and whistling Dixie. The Earth’s climate is indifferent to politics and will continue to respond to human emissions of greenhouse gases. All that would happen is US leadership in this area would end, with the risk that not just America but humanity would be the loser.
Specifically, here are five reasons why de-funding (aka wilfully destroying) NASA’s climate change research would be colossally stupid.
1. NASA’s satellites are our eyes on our world
NASA currently operates more than a dozen satellites that orbit the Earth and remotely sense ocean, land and atmospheric conditions. Its research encompasses solar activity, sea level rise, the temperature of the atmosphere and the oceans, the ozone layer, air pollution, and changes in sea and land ice.
All of this is directly relevant to climate change, but also represents vital research on these different components of the Earth system itself. Billions of dollars have been sunk into these programs which produce data that is used by an international community of scientists studying many different aspects of the Earth.
2. Climate science is a key part of NASA’s mission
Okay, we can’t turn all these satellites off, but we can stop the Administration using its data to progress climate change science. NASA was created with the National Aeronautics and Space Act of 1958 with a remit to develop technology for “space observations” but not Earth science. That was the job of other federal agencies.
But the model of cross-agency research failed during the 1970s due to a lack of funding. Budgets were cut and NASA ended up conducting some of the science that was made possible by the data it was collecting. Moreover, it was told to put more emphasis on research towards “national needs” such as energy efficiency, pollution, ozone depletion and yes, climate change. As such, Earth and climate change science is one of the central remits of the agency which has become a global leader in it.
3. NASA attracts the best of the best
NASA is world famous, largely because of programs such as Apollo which put humans on the Moon. But its fame extends well beyond those interested in space flight. NASA attracts some of the world’s best and brightest Earth and climate change scientists because its operations offer unparalleled breadth and scale of research. And saying “I work for NASA” is still pretty cool.
De-funding climate change science would mean putting many scientists – some of whom are just starting their careers – out of work. Some would be happily gobbled up by other agencies in other countries, in fact I’m sure overtures to some staff are already in the post. This would be America’s loss.
4. NASA has transformed climate change communication
A visit to climate.nasa.gov will immediately show how effective NASA’s communication of Earth science has become. Climate science is complex. NASA along with other US agencies such as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration produce unparalleled visualisations of climate change. These are used by other agencies and communicators around the world and further increases the profile and reputation of NASA and the US as leaders in Earth science.
5. Climate science can be NASA’s next great legacy
It’s easy to get misty-eyed about some of NASA’s operations. Apollo was a staggering achievement. But while US astronauts visited the Moon “for all mankind” we should remember that the space race was driven by the cold war and rivalry with the USSR. The fact humans have never returned to the Moon should tell us that there isn’t much to be gained from such fleeting visits.
In terms of legacy, I think Eugene Cernan, the commander of Apollo 17 and so the last human to walk on the moon, summed it up best: “We went to explore the Moon, and in fact discovered the Earth”. It was one of the crew of Apollo 17 that took photograph AS17-148-22727 as they left Earth orbit on their way to the Moon on the December 7, 1972. This photograph is now known as the Blue Marble and has become one of the most reproduced images in all of human history.
There have been profound changes to the Earth since that photograph was taken. There are nearly twice as many humans living on it. The number of wild animals has halved. Concentrations of CO₂ in the atmosphere are higher than they have been for many thousands of years. And yes, the Earth’s surface and oceans are warmer, glaciers are melting and sea levels rising.
The Blue Marble, like all of NASA’s images, was released to the public domain. Free to be used by anyone. The science that NASA conducts on climate change is similarly shared across the world. Its Earth and climate science represents the best of not just the US, but humanity. We need it now, more than ever.
The high ambition of the Paris Agreement, to limit global warming to “well below 2°C”, was driven by concern over long-term sea level rise. A warmer climate inevitably means melting ice – you don’t need a computer model to predict this, it is simple common sense.
As temperatures rise, sooner or later much of the world’s glaciers will become water, which will end up in the ocean. With enough warming, ice sheets could also begin to melt irreversibly. Also, water expands as it warms. Although the full impact will take a long time – centuries or more – the implications of even only 2°C warming for low-lying coastal areas and island states are profound. This is why, in Paris, the world agreed to “pursue efforts” to go further, and limit warming to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels.
“Pre-industrial” is not always well-defined, but is often taken as 1850-1900 since that is when accurate measurements became widespread enough to estimate global temperature change. By the 1980s, when scientists first warned about the risks of climate change, the world had already warmed by around 0.4°C. Things have accelerated since, and while year-to-year changes show downs as well as ups, the general ongoing trend is upwards. Latest data from the Met Office shows 2016 is expected to be 1.2°C above pre-industrial levels – the hottest year ever recorded.
So given this, what will a world above 1.5°C look like?
Not much different … at first
Depending on climate sensitivity and natural variability, we could conceivably see the first year above 1.5°C as early as the late 2020s – but it is more likely to be later. In any case, the first year above 1.5°C above pre-industrial temperatures will not represent what a world that warm looks like in the longer term.
During that year we’d expect some extreme weather events somewhere in the world, as happens every year. Some of these heatwaves, heavy downpours or droughts may well have become more likely as part of the changing climate. Others, however, may not have changed in likelihood. Teasing out the signal of climate change from the noise of natural variability is hard work.
But there will be some places which do not yet see major impacts in that first year, that nevertheless will have become more likely to be affected. The “loaded dice” analogy is rather clichéd, but nevertheless useful – even a pair of loaded dice will not roll a double six every time, just more often than normal dice. So while the chances of an extreme heatwave, for instance, may have increased by the time we exceed 1.5°C, it may not necessarily occur in that year.
Furthermore, some impacts such as sea level rise or species extinctions will lag behind the change in climate, simply because the processes involved can be slow. It takes decades or more to melt glaciers, so the input of extra water to the oceans will take time.
None of this should lull us into a false sense of security, however. While rising seas or biodiversity losses may not be obvious in the first year above 1.5°C, some of these changes will probably be already locked in and unavoidable.
Beyond global warming
The impacts of increased carbon dioxide do not just come from its effects as a greenhouse gas. It also affects plant growth directly by enhancing photosynthesis (“CO₂ fertilisation”), and makes the sea less alkaline and more acidic. “Ocean acidification” is unhealthy for organisms which make calcium in their bodies, like corals and some forms of plankton. All other things being equal, CO₂ fertilisation could be viewed to some extent as “good news” as it could help improve crop yields, but even so, the implications for biodiversity may not all be positive – research has already shown that higher CO₂ benefits faster-growing species such as lianas, which compete with trees, so the makeup of ecosystems can change.
The extent to which a 1.5°C world will see these other impacts depends on the still-uncertain level of “climate sensitivity” – how much warming occurs for a given increase in carbon dioxide. Higher sensitivity would mean even a small rise in CO₂ would lead to 1.5°C, so fertilisation and acidification would be relatively less important, and vice versa.
Impacts of staying at 1.5°C
There is a huge debate about whether limiting warming to 1.5°C is even possible or not. But even if it is, limiting global warming will itself have consequences. I’m not talking here about potential economic impacts (whether positive or negative). I’m talking about impacts on the kind of thing we are trying to protect by minimising climate change itself, things like biodiversity and food production.
In scenarios that limit warming at 1.5°C, net CO₂ emissions would have to become negative well before the end of the century. This would mean not only stopping the emission of CO₂ into the atmosphere, but also taking huge quantities of it out. Large areas of new forest and/or large plantations of bioenergy crops would have to be grown, coupled with carbon capture and storage. This will require land. But we also need land for food, and also value biodiverse wilderness. There is only so much land to go round, so difficult choices may be ahead.
So while the Paris Agreement ramped up the ambition and committed the world to trying to limit warming to 1.5°C, we should remember that there is much more than a single number that is important here.
It would be naive to look at the climate in the first 1.5°C year and say “Okay, that’s not so bad, maybe we can relax and let the warming continue”. It’s vital to remember that at any given level of global warming, we have not yet seen the full impacts of it. But nor have we seen the impacts of holding back warming at low levels. One way or another, ultimately the world is going to be a very different place.