By Kathy Day
As a man who helps new entrepreneurs with good ideas get a kickstart in business, Doug Giese passes on some sage advice that someone once gave him.
Starting a business, he said, is like being a Mississippi riverboat gambler: It’s a closed community. They don’t bet everything on one roll of the dice and if they don’t play fair, no one will play with them.
The same is true when starting a company, he said.
“Conserve cash, don’t be crazy and get a real good board of directors,” said the Rancho Santa Fe resident who is on the board of Tech Coast Angels (www.techcoastangels.com) and is a founder and vice president of its seed track program. The organization, the largest investor network of its kind in the country, assists early-stage companies with capital and guidance, while its seed program focuses on those with proven technology that generally don’t qualify for traditional angel or venture capital funding.
Giese is also involved with a start-up company, Agile Nanotech Inc., that’s applying technology from UCLA’s nanotechnology lab to use infrared light to look into muscles to determine oxygen levels. He said the concept is something that could be of great value to “higher-end athletes who want more specific performance data.”
The company is working the Human Performance Laboratory at San Diego State University and a consultant from UC Davis to advance the idea and expects to file for a provisional patent in three to six months, he added.
An engineer who says his parents embody the American story, Giese married Debbie, his high school sweetheart from Palos Verdes High School. His family moved there after his dad, who grew on a wheat farm and dropped out of school in eighth grade, married his mom, who was raised on a cattle ranch.
“After they married, he got a Ph.D. in electrical engineering,” he recalled, noting they first settled in Gardena before moving to Rolling Hills.
His own educational track took him to Vanderbilt University in Nashville, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in biomedical and electrical engineering, along with a master’s and Ph.D. in electrical engineering.
Debbie, an acclaimed artist who is active in the Rancho Santa Fe Art Guild, followed him and attended college there as well. She’s an active member of the Church of the Nativity; he concedes he’s “the wayward husband” and not as involved as she is. Their daughter Adriene recently became the first Nativity School graduate to be married at the church. His first job out of college was with TRW in Redondo Beach where he was involved with the early stages of artificial intelligence and the LANDSAT imaging systems.
But the couple “didn’t like L.A.,” Geise said, so when the company opened its San Diego division he came here to manage the software group.
But he “got the bug to start his own company,” and with three friends launched AP Labs, which developed complex signaling processes and rugged computers and consulted mostly with the military on such projects as submarines B2 bomber.
After selling his share of the company in 2002, he joined Tech Coast Angels.
While Giese says as “an engineer I’m not too crazy,” he enjoys ocean sailing and once sailed single-handed in a storm from Los Angeles to San Diego on a 22-foot boat. He also likes driving his Jeep off road – slowly — in the Southern California deserts.
Debbie, who camped and did the off-road trips with Doug when Adriene and Michael – now college grads – were younger, is not too keen about sailing, he noted, especially because of her memories of that trip to San Diego.
Facing rough conditions near Catalina, he said, he recalled being told that “if you can’t do anything else, just go below and rest.” So he battened down the hatches, dropped anchor and tried to sleep.
The next morning, sails shredded and his radio direction finder broken, he set out again even though he couldn’t see land or sky to aid his navigation. At one point, he “got a brief glimpse of Oceanside.”
Meanwhile, he said, Debbie called the Coast Guard and asked if she should be concerned. They answered, “Yes, be very concerned.” Although they didn’t launch a search that night because of the conditions, the next day they sent out a helicopter.
“They held out a sign that said ‘Are you Doug Giese,’” he recalled. “I said, ‘Yes and my house is right over there.” He finished the trip.
Giese also enjoys photography, a hobby he took up when their children were involved in sports. Daughter Adriene attended Rice University on a soccer scholarship and was named Defensive Player of the Year in Conference USA play while there.
“I couldn’t stand to watch the games,” he said, so he went and bought a full complement of lenses and cameras. He’s even entered photos in the San Diego County Fair and on occasion has taken photos for friends.
He also enjoys taking a walk in the park – the San Diego Safari Park.
“I can’t exercise on a treadmill,” he said, so every morning he makes the 20-minute drive from their Rancho Santa Fe home to the park that they’ve been members of for 30 years.
“It’s a place to get away and clear your head,” he said, adding that he also talks to the keepers and gets the “inside stories” that come with getting to know people he sees daily.
During their 17 years in the Ranch, Giese has made some good friends, several of whom are members of a small book club that meets regularly either at Mille Fleurs or The Inn. They read mostly history and some books about finance, but they recently took up a book about storm sailing that mentions Giese’s trip, “Kawabunga’s South Sea Adventure” by Charles Dewell.
In a chapter about a “Storm at Sea,” Dewell wrote, “In my misery I thought of my friend Doug Giese and thought that he would probably love this situation. He and I used to go storm sailing off Point Loma in San Diego. What a madman …”
During his own night at sea, Giese said, he kept thinking “that’s the stupidest thing you’ve ever done. It’s cold and raining …”
Today, he said, if he did it again, he’d be sure that he had a working radio and a cell phone. But repeating that trip isn’t on the horizon because he’s not sailing much these days.
Right now, he’s in the middle of a whirlwind of activities that started with Michael’s graduation from Emerson University, where he earned a degree in screenwriting that he hopes to combine with a strong background in computers to find a job. Then came Adriene’s wedding and then his and Debbie’s 36th anniversary. Next, they’re off to Boise for a nephew’s wedding before heading to Galveston for the “white coat ceremony” marking Adriene’s entry into medical school at the University of Texas Medical Branch.
“It’s been pretty intense,” he said while enjoying a quiet moment at Thyme in the Ranch.
“We enjoy living here. People are very nice … It’s a good place for kids to grow up.”