While great innovators need to marry great ideas with capital to bring them to market, Walter O’Brien, the Scorpion founder whose life inspired the eponymous TV show, says there’s a third leg to that stool: adult supervision.
“It’s sort of a lecture on what not to do; it’s how not to get burned by technology,” says O’Brien, who claims to have hacked NASA as a teenager and shortly thereafter founded his company, Scorpion Computer Services.
O’Brien, who was the keynote speaker at Houston Technology Center’s annual Innovation Showcase & Conference this week, says it’s the seemingly mundane matters—from documents like manuals and terms of conditions, to determining how much data you can afford to lose in a disaster recovery situation—that often trip up entrepreneurs on their way to the market.
“It’s all the boring stuff, but it’s easier to change your mind at the” beginning, he says. “It’s a hundred times cheaper than at the prototype stage.”
The Ireland native says that’s his approach with entrepreneurs he mentors at the Founder Institute in his home base of Los Angeles. He says he knows his limits: “I can make it work but not make it pretty; we know we’re not good on the right brain stuff.”
In many ways, his remarks echo the efforts of mentors on the ground in Houston, from the HTC’s own programs—70 of its portfolio companies were on display Wednesday—to the more recent efforts of TMCx, the Texas Medical Center’s accelerator, and the Red Labs and OwlSpark programs for student entrepreneurs at the University of Houston and Rice University, respectively. Increasingly, there is a more formalized effort to recruit and leverage the experience of seasoned entrepreneurs and investors to help younger executives tackle building new companies.
A record 600 people attended HTC’s event, which included a few speakers like O’Brien and an exhibition of startups in medtech, cleantech, and general IT. Among them was Medical Adhesive Revolution, a Rice Business Plan Competition winner and recent graduate of TMCx.
In some ways, the benefit of HTC’s event was the ability to get a preview of “what might be.” Many of the startups were more early stage than those that typically get media coverage. Intellectual property rights still need to be secured; prototypes and software still need to be built.
Still, though, the ideas are interesting. One entrepreneur I spoke with, Giugi Carminati, is the CEO of Data MedEx, an aerospace medicine startup that is developing technology to remotely monitor patient vital signs. The technology comes from work done by co-founder Alex Garbino, a Baylor College of Medicine alum who was a member of the field medical group and led physiological monitoring for Felix Baumgartner’s Red Bull Stratos project in 2012.
Data MedEx is still developing its app, but the plan is to enable real-time monitoring of metrics such as heart rate and calories expended, as well as g-force and acceleration, Carminati says.
Think of a wearable on steroids. “Especially for extreme sports, people want to know their data and people want to share their experience,” she explains. “Ten years ago, it might have seemed a weird thing to say, but now it’s what people do. It’s the ultimate selfie, both inside and out.”