Do advisory boards [do any] work and how do they work?
The obvious answer is that experts in a particular field – often academics without commercial conflicts of interest - are invited to join a technical advisory board or TAB and in return for a small fee they meet periodically to provide their experience, expertise and sometimes plain old gut feelings to the company's engineers and management. Or perhaps for a similar fee they make themselves available on the end of the telephone or on email to provide consultancy or access to networks of other experts or even potential investors.
Or perhaps it isn't such a small fee?
Of course, there is always a temptation for the advisory board members to take the fee but provide a minimum by way of consultancy. After all, having already spent the fee, who wants to get on a plane and spend a day sorting out someone else's problems.
However, sometimes I wonder how often these technical advisory boards do meet or whether a few famous names on a startup's website listed as forming an advisory board are there to serve a marketing purpose. The marketing message being: "These engineers/academics that you have heard of have looked us over and take us seriously, so you should too."
I am prompted to ask questions about advisory boards because of the news that energy harvesting startup MicroGen Systems Inc. (Ithaca, New York) has attracted three well-known semiconductor and MEMS industry pioneers and executives to join its advisory board.
They are: Timothy Davis, co-founder and CTO of Kionix Inc., a division of Rohm Co. Ltd.; Kristofer Pister, a professor at University California at Berkeley and co-founder and CTO of Dust Networks Inc., a division of Linear Technology; and Matthias Wagner, a founder and former CEO of Redshift Systems and Aegis Lightwave. These three join a number of other industry and academic experts already in place on the MicroGen advisory board.
Having met and spoken with MicroGen CEO Robert Andosca in the past, and having been fortunate enough to moderate a panel discussion at DesignWest 2010 on wireless sensor networks in which Kris Pister took part, I feel sure that this board will provide excellent service and help propel MicroGen forward.
But I am still interested to hear whether readers' experiences have always been positive. If this is such a beneficial and obvious thing to do, why doesn't every startup do it? And where it is done are there hazards and pitfalls? What is in it, apart from the consultancy fee, for the advisors?
Other questions that spring to mind include: how often should an advisory board meet and what sort of information and problems should be put before it? Perhaps most importantly is what is an appropriate level or remuneration and how should that be organized; perhaps as a daily rate for time spent advising the company? What are we talking about here: $1,000 plus expenses, $10,000 plus expenses?Related links and articles:
EE Times' Silicon 60: the hot startups to watch
Startup aims to shake up energy harvesting
Linear Technology acquires Dust Networks
Wireless sensor networks set to take off
X-Fab to make energy harvest MEMS