Trump must not ignore small and mid-sized tech firms

Co and ghost wrote an OpEd for Kevin Carroll, Executive Director of Tech San Diego for the San Diego Union-Tribune, Jan. 18, 2107

During a tech summit meeting in December 2016, President-elect Donald Trump pledged his aid in helping top technology executives continue to innovate. It’s alarming, however, that no one sitting at the table represented the heart of the American tech industry — small and midsized companies. Even Twitter was left out, because the social media trailblazer was deemed “too small.”

While Trump himself promised to do “anything we can” to help the tech industry, he must keep in mind that the core of innovation comes from smaller businesses as well, not just from the Silicon Valley elite. If innovation is truly going to be one of this administration’s key pillars, these innovators must have a voice.

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Innovation That Matters

Ghost write and edit various articles and interviews, help coordinate events, as well as create social media campaigns for WuXi AppTec Group, a leading pharmaceutical, biopharmaceutical, and medical device capability and technology platform company with 16,000 employees globally, including more than 13,000 dedicated scientists.

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Philanthropy’s role in clean energy economy

Co and ghost-wrote an OpEd piece for Christian Braemer, co-founder of Benefunder for the San Diego Union Tribune, Dec. 4, 2015

America has come a long way in clean energy — thanks in part to government intervention, big risk-taking entrepreneurs, technological advances and early adopters — but we still have far to go. Today only 10 percent of our energy in the United States comes from renewable sources, a far cry from other leading countries like Denmark and Sweden, which are above 40 percent renewable power on their electric grid and moving toward an aggressive 100 percent; and Germany, which produces 30 percent of its electricity from renewable energy sources.

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Changing philanthropy landscape to fill innovation deficit

Co and ghost wrote an OpEd for Benefunder co-founder Christian Braemer for the San Diego Union Tribune, Nov. 29, 2014.

While some nonprofits are working toward a “cure” for many diseases, most of the money donated to these charities does not go toward actual research. Why not create a solution that allows more money to directly flow to researchers and less for overhead and other expenses? Wouldn’t it be more impactful to give that money to a researcher who is working on possible treatments for things like breast cancer, chronic pain, heart failure, strokes, and heart attacks?

Consider this: Over half of all wealth created in the United States since World War II can be directly attributed to university research. Technologies like Internet protocol, MRI, lasers, Google, silicon chips and countless lifesaving medicines were all born out of academic labs.

Today, however, the widening gap between available funding for research and the demand for those funds not only threaten American competitiveness, but also our health, economy, security, and overall well-being. These innovations are crucial to economic growth as new companies and industries are born, creating jobs, cures, and treatments.

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Cancer Survivor Attila Tota Gears Up for 100 Wave Challenge

On December 30, 2016, Attila Tota, who had dropped to 115 pounds, had to have his right arm and shoulder amputated in an emergency surgery to save his life. While an aggressive form of skin cancer took his arm, it did not tarnish his passion, dedication and spirit.

Despite his ongoing health issues, Tota has continued to mentor dozens of at-risk teenage boys through Boys to Men Mentoring (BTM), inspiring both the boys and his fellow mentors. He also plans, for the first time in more than three years, to grab his surfboard and participate in BTM’s annual fundraiser, the 100 Wave Challenge.

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By Andrea Siedsma Special to the U-T 12:01 a.m.Sept. 30, 2013


Donna Buono

Hobbies: Fixing up her old farmhouse, taking care of her llama and goats, hiking and jet skiing.

Favorite quote: “Is there anything sadder than the foods of the 1950s? Canned, frozen, packaged concoctions, served up by the plateful, three meals per day, in an era in which the supermarket was king, the farmers market was, well, for farmers, and the word ‘locavore’ sounded vaguely like a mythical beast.” — Jeffrey Kluger

Career path: Although she took as many horticultural classes as she could, Buono ended up with a business administration degree from Saddleback College. “I was afraid I might end up working at a neighborhood nursery chain selling ornamentals. If you can’t eat it, I’ve never been interested.”

Subscription farm

Morning Song Farm is one of about a dozen Community Supported Agriculture farms in the county. The consumer buys a subscription from a farmer for a set price to receive fresh produce on a weekly or biweekly basis.

Cost: A small box is $34.50, weekly or biweekly; and a large box runs $44.50, weekly or biweekly.

Sample contents: Kale, royal purple beans, cucumbers, beets, passion fruit, pomegranates, green onions, parsley, basil, tomatoes and purslane.

Donna Buono –who learned many homesteading skills such as cheese making from her grandmother, an astrophysicist with NASA — has always had a desire for rural living. As a child, Buono and her family of five spent the summers camping on her uncle’s Maine farm in a 20-foot trailer, giving her the conviction that she’d rather live in a shack on acreage than a mansion in the suburbs.

Fast forward to now and you will find Buono on her 20-acre organic farm in the small town of Rainbow, in the northern part of San Diego County. What started out as a “hobby” in 2001 is now Morning Song Farm, which grows 70 different fruits, macadamias and heirloom vegetables.

The farm is a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture), and has drop-off points throughout San Diego and Orange counties for its customers to pick up weekly baskets. CSA is sometimes referred to as a “subscription farm” because the consumer buys a subscription from a farmer for a set price to receive fresh produce on a weekly or bi-weekly basis. Morning Song Farm is one of about a dozen CSAs in the county.

Morning Song Farm is known for its rare fruits and vegetables, such as mulberries, pineapple guavas, dragon fruit, and purslane, a leafy green high in omega-3. More than half of the farm is covered with 700 macadamia trees.

A recent weekly Morning Song Farm basket was packed with kale, royal purple beans, cucumbers, beets, passion fruit, pomegranates, green onions, parsley, basil, tomatoes and purslane. A small CSA box from Morning Song Farm costs $34.50, weekly or biweekly; and a large box runs $44.50, weekly or biweekly. A box of salad fixings goes for $19.75 a week. Morning Song Farm, which is mostly family-run, has one part-time and one full-time employee.

Buono, known as Farmer Donna, is a staunch food advocate, but will be the first to admit that passion aside, organic farming is a tough business. The Chula Vista native talked to U-T San Diego about the challenges and jubilations of owning and running a small organic farm.

Q: What was your motivation behind buying a farm?

A: My original vision was to grow passion fruit and fioja guavas, two underappreciated fruits that I really love. It was supposed to be a hobby. But I realized you can’t run something like this and make it just a hobby. As I started out at the Santa Monica farmers market, it became clear that two mostly out-of-season items on the table wouldn’t even pay the water bill. I wasn’t really thinking in terms of return on investment. I did follow my passion and have ended up doing something I love. In terms of ROI there are probably more lucrative industries to devote one’s life to, so for the young farmer just starting out, I would say that you need passion to get you through the rough times and the unprofitable years.

Q: Why did you choose to become a CSA?

A: I was doing farmers markets, and I love them, but economically it just didn’t pencil out for us. At the end of the day once you pay your employee and pay for gas, you don’t make anything. The CSA model turned out to be great for a mom like me. I didn’t have to work weekends at all anymore, which was life-changing.

With farmers markets, the farmer never knows how much to harvest; rain or a sporting event can change sales figures substantially. We gave or threw away a lot of food. With a CSA, you only harvest for the exact number of boxes you are preparing for your subscribers. We started the CSA with a single friend of mine who had admired the beautiful produce on my kitchen counter.

She and I shared in the cost to grow a vegetable garden, and we split the produce each week. Several other girlfriends joined in soon after, and we were off. Soon friends of friends asked to join.

Q: What are the challenges of marketing a CSA to consumers?

A: We don’t do a lot of marketing. We use Susco Media’s Zip Code Magazines to get the word out a little bit. We also advertise in the two local newspapers. For small farms like mine, getting the word out can be an issue.

Advertising is expensive. A majority of San Diegans who want non-GMO organic foods in their homes are still not aware of CSAs. Every single local organic farm should have a waiting list and should be maxed out. That’s not happening yet. There is no strategy for strong growth.

We haven’t had much growth in years, and have had about the same number of subscribers.

Q: What have been some of your biggest challenges?

A: As a small farmer I think talented labor is a huge issue. So much of our farming knowledge was coming from Mexico, and then there was a crackdown on labor laws and immigration issues. Immigration laws changed the face of farming in California. It’s been said that it takes at least 20 years to know what you are doing in farming. That knowledge base is precious. Current California law also states that farm internships are noncompliant. That’s a problem industrywide. The average age of a farmer in California is 60, which is scary. Where are the young people just starting out supposed to learn? We have a knowledge base that is not transferring as fast as it needs to. And many small family farmers aren’t expecting their children to continue the family farm, because the kids see firsthand the economic trade-offs that are involved and decide to do something else.

Q: How do you deal with profit pressure?

A: We’re profitable most months, but we would be much stronger by simply increasing our CSA subscriber base. We have a much larger capacity for production than we are utilizing.

We’re considering adding macadamia tours, a farm experience bed-and-breakfast, a sprouting class, and more cheese classes to diversify our income base and increase exposure.

Q: What fuels you to get up before dawn every day to farm?

A: I really believe in myself and I think I can do it. Healthy food should not be considered a luxury. I have an infectious passion for amazing fruits and vegetables. Many of our subscribers say they feel like it’s Christmas when they open their boxes every week.

I’m really excited about the new things that are successfully growing, such as our dragon fruit, olives, and sapote. We’re just starting a trial of carissa plums. It’s a lot of hard work and most of my customers are aware of that. I also have a blog, and love to tell our farm stories. We recently started a cheese-making class here, which is another way to get people interested in the farm and in great food.


Raising the ‘bar’ on organic snacks

U-T San Diego
Raising the ‘bar’ on organic snacks

Former Olympic athlete striving to expand her GoodOnYa organic food enterprise

By  Andrea Siedsma • Special to the U-T

Kristen Buchanan

Kristen Buchanan, founder of The Good On Ya Bar, is seen with her 1970 VW bus in Cardiff. Eduardo Contreras • U-T

As a former U.S. Olympic athlete, Kristen Buchanan will be the first to tell you that competition can be fierce. Buchanan (formerly Kris Fillat), who played for the women’s field hockey team for 11 years, also discovered that being an entrepreneur can be just as tough. But, as in sports, dedication, passion and hard work can pay off in the business world.

After retiring from the U.S. Olympic team in 2001, Buchanan used about $40,000 in savings from working part time at Home Depot to open a 1,000-square-foot cafe in a San Diego business park called the GoodOnYa Deli, which makes and sells organic food made with ingredients from local farmers and suppliers. Instead of the usual condiments and sides in this plastic-free deli, there are things like cranberry sauce, sweet potatoes, chutney, mushrooms, raw honey and organic sugar.

After meeting a raw food chef four years ago, Buchanan and her Encinitas company launched the GoodOnYa Bar, an organic and nutritious snack in three varieties that are sold in about 100 health food stores, such as Jimbos, Seaside Market and WholeFoods. A fourth bar, called Superhero, which will be launched this month, is 100 percent raw, complete with coconut butter, sprouted flax, hemp seeds, maca, goji berries and lucuma (Peruvian fruit). The bars, which used to be handmade in GoodOnYa Deli until last year, are made in a 100 percent solar-powered facility in Corona and sell for $2.59 to $2.99.

Buchanan, who can often be spotted cruising the coast in her 1970 GoodOnYa Volkswagen bus, is part of a growing cadre of entrepreneurs whose M.O. is sustainability and health.

Who she is

Title: Founder, CEO of Encinitas-based The GoodOnYa Bar and Deli

Age: 42

Latest accomplishment: Getting the GoodOnYa Bar into all the WholeFoods in Northern California

Last book read:“Confessions of an Economic Hit Man.” It’s an awesome book; I love politics. Food politics exist, too, and that is why I got behind the non-GMO (genetically modified organism) movement so strongly.

Hobbies: Surfing, yoga, skateboarding, snowboarding, reading, traveling

Favorite quote: Any question you ever have, the answer you will find in nature if you know where to look and how to ask. — “The Power of One”

Buchanan’s food for thought

Passionate about nutrition: I have learned a lot about nutrition over the years, and even went back to school and became a certified nutritionist. I became passionate about the state of the food in our country. And if you look at the state of the health of our country — we are literally killing ourselves.

Going against the grain: It’s time to understand what we are eating, find local sources and tap back into decisions that benefit the earth.   When you drink a sports drink with a coloring that is petroleum based, you are supporting the companies that think it’s OK to put chemicals in your body. Those companies don’t care about anything except profits. And the health of the earth, as well as the health of your body, doesn’t cross their mind.

What fuels me: Doing the right thing and getting to have a job you can be proud of. I love my life. When you become a surfer you are emerged in the earth. For example, when you surf here at Cardiff and it smells like sewage you become motivated to do the right thing and to care. It’s easy to get disconnected from nature when we go from our office to rush hour to the couch. Because nature is a part of my daily life, I feel like I need to give back and create responsible products.

Buchanan’s Business Bites

Bar wars: Selling bars is like selling beer because there are so many different kinds on the shelf. We need to have people who can be in the store and make sure our stuff is there. It will get moved over. People take the tags off. It’s a battle. We aren’t making money on our bars yet. With food it’s all about volume. You don’t make money until you are in a couple hundred stores, at least. We make 25 cents to $1.50 a bar at the end of the day. But we are actively seeking an investor who is mission-driven, who can help us with that.

Earning while learning: We were really lucky because when we opened the deli we had instant customers. It’s a scary thing when you’re worried about your cash. Honestly, I didn’t have a business degree. I knew restaurants, but I didn’t know how to run them. I just knew how to treat the customers right. We learned as we went, and we made a lot of mistakes. I signed a credit card machine lease because the sales woman said it was only $30 a month. It turned out to be a seven-year lease costing me thousands! We could have just bought the machine for $300. But she was really good at selling me.

Entrepreneurial advice: The biggest advice I could give someone who is starting a business is to read the book the “E Myth.” It’s about the entrepreneur myth. The entrepreneur is all about working for ourselves and wanting all this free time, but then it’s the opposite — you’re stressed 24 hours a day instead of eight. It’s about creating your system — the system runs the business and the people run the system. You also have to have good people. (She employs 10.) Some people say employees are the worst part. Some can be, but they can be the best part, too. You have to trust. If you don’t trust you will be there 24 hours a day. Then what are you doing it for? (She starts work about 7 a.m. and tries to end her day at 4 p.m. during the week. But she is often handling weekend events.)

Healthy expense: The deli makes about $2,000 to $3,000 a day, but my food costs are higher than most delis. I could buy bread for 50 cents a loaf and save money, but it tastes like rubber. Instead, I buy organic bread every day for $4 a loaf from a local company called Sadie Rose. We have always wanted the best ingredients for our deli. Eleven years ago, “local” wasn’t the fad it is now; we just tried to be good. But that meant buying local. We get our coffee, bread, honey, milk and some produce from different local companies — which means different invoices and different deliveries. That’s hard to do. But when you stand at the counter and take someone’s money, I see that as a huge responsibility to do right by them. We all watch our costs, but there is a line we aren’t willing to cross because we value some things over money. We care about money, and we want to be successful and create a company where our employees can earn a decent wage and afford to live in San Diego. That is a main reason we started The GoodOnYa Bar; we hope to grow that into a multimillion-dollar business so I can reward the employees who have been with me for over 10 years. But we aren’t even willing to cut corners with our bar ingredients to save a few pennies.

The GoodOnYa life: I worked for an office park deli when I was 14. The owner strolled in at 10 a.m. and we were slamming busy, and then he went home at 2 p.m. every day. I thought this guy’s brilliant — he has a captive audience, he’s closed on weekends and closed at night. So when I as 14 I thought this is what I’m going to do. Owning a restaurant is not rocket science — you have good, quality food, a fair price, and smile at the people.

Andrea Siedsma is a San Diego freelance writer.

Marriott Hopes to Win With Facebook Game

Workforce Magazine Published: July 11, 2011

The novel interactive game, called My Marriott Hotel, was born out of the mega-hospitality corporation’s quest to fill 50,000 jobs worldwide by the end of 2011.

By Andrea Siedsma

Marriott International Inc.’s launch of its own Facebook game to attract thousands of potential employees is scoring points quickly. The novel interactive game, called My Marriott Hotel, was born out of the mega-hospitality corporation’s quest to fill 50,000 jobs worldwide by the end of 2011. And it is spreading rapidly across the globe. The game, which was officially launched June 6, had players from 58 countries within the first 48 hours, including Germany, Hungary, Malaysia and South Africa. That number grew to 99 countries in the game’s third week. Continue reading

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