I must confess I enjoy very much facilitating our accelerator program boot-camp every time we have it. Stepping back even more I enjoy the fact that we have an accelerator program of which the whole team here at the Innovation Hub at Broward College is very proud, including the extended team of faculty from the college, external entrepreneurship ecosystem facilitators, and our star mentors and judges from the South Florida startup investment community. What we do is, in many ways, the modern version of teaching others how to fish – and the proverb obviously hints at the long term nature of the outcome – and that is also what we intend to promote here. And what we tell our program funders and the participants in the program is exactly that: even if the idea you came into the program with initially gets abandoned midway for a new one, or a new version of it, you are here to learn the process. Even more importantly, we are here to help getting you into a mindset that will hopefully raise your level of optimism and drive, knowing that you can do this. Only about one third of the people that come into the program finish it, and move on to start their business. I want to think that of those who do not finish, many will get inspired by some of the thinking processes we encourage, particularly during boot-camp, the early stage of the program. At some point in their lives I hope they realize that what Steve Jobs explains in the 1995 video interview while at NeXT Computer in Redwood City – archived by the Santa Clara Valley Historical Association – is absolutely true. There is a reason we show them a segment of this interview. Paraphrasing Jobs, life can be much broader than the limited view of life most people are told to live, within the confines of the world they get taught already exists around them, trying not to bash too much into the walls. He points out that life can be much broader once you discover the simple fact that everything around you that you call life was made up by people that were not smarter than you, and you can change it, influence it, and build your own things that other people can use – “…once you learn that, you will never be the same again.”
I want people to learn that. I want people that come through our accelerator program to learn that. I also want them to learn that they do not have to be Steve Wozniak or have his technical prowess to be able to build the amazing machines that Steve Jobs was coming up with in his head. Entrepreneurship is about solving a problem in a new way, which could be with new technology or new uses of old technology. Entrepreneurs use new combinations of resources, some of which already exist, to accomplish new goals. This includes people resources, human talent. The technology to put together Apple’s first computers already existed years before the “Lisa”, including the ability to control a computer with a mouse pointing device. Jobs was enough of a leader to be able to assemble the right group of people and put them to work on his vision.
To further encourage that mindset, I tell participants of my first few times flying from my very familiar hometown in a tiny Caribbean island into New York’s Kennedy airport to make the trip upstate to Ithaca, where I was an engineering student at a major university that was founded two weeks before the end of the American Civil War. I was on a budget, and this trip was a major daylong project which required a lot of planning and preparation, and would literally take a good 16 hours from the time I said my early morning goodbyes in San Juan to the time I entered my living quarters on campus late at night.
I was 17 when these yearly trips started, and I would like to say now that I was a fearless well-traveled combination of a man-of-action and child prodigy wielding a sword and shield ready to trail-blaze and have the world around me come to its knees as I went through (actually, a line from my high school anthem). I was really a determined, scraggly, work-in-process of a young man who was creative, full of illusion, smart, carrying a number of obvious bags with valuables and worried about how I was going to spend little money and get from the airport terminal at Kennedy into the Greyhound Bus station on 42nd Street (very seedy area at the time) in Manhattan – without getting killed or kidnapped to never be heard of again. As soon as you stepped out of the baggage handling area at the airport, trying to cut through hordes of passenger relatives (of which I had none) picking up travelers, to get to the line of yellow taxis, obscure characters would approach me. Many, like I was the object in an auction, would be yelling at my face “¡Taxi para la ciudad!, ¡Taxi para la ciudad!”. The moment of great danger, to which I had been carefully prepped by many, had arrived. If I made the mistake of picking one of these “fake taxis” I would end up dead inside of some abandoned building in an outer borough, and my belongings sold off in a flea market. This is the time in my life where I honed my skills to disconnect my hearing and not get in the slightest distracted – includes not making eye contact – even when hearing the familiar sounds of someone addressing you intently in your very ingrained, used with high preference, and still not too outside influenced native language – a hard thing to do back then while consciously travelling in what at the time was still to me a foreign environment, language and culture. This was a life or death situation.
Let’s get back to the mindset! Fast forward about three decades to 2009. Smartphones were “old technology”, with the first one claiming that moniker having come out in the nineties. The IPhone, a game changer, with its capacity to run Apps, was already two years old. Payment technologies were old. Elon Musk, Peter Thiel and a few other guys had started PayPal in 1998 – and the rest is “histoire”. GPS tracking technology was very old. Google used it to launch Google Maps in 2005. Then in 2009, Travis Kalanick and Garrett Camp take all these old technologies and combine them in a new way to launch Uber.
Uber combined resources to solve very specific problems that I as a college student trying to get to Ithaca safely in my trip faced. They are pretty obvious if you think about them. The technology did not exist at the time, but if I would have had the ability to catch an Uber from Kennedy Airport to 42nd Street, and then take another one at the Ithaca Greyhound Station in the outskirts to travel across town and then uphill to my dorm, life would have been a lot easier and the trip less costly. Getting into a pre-screened driver’s car, and seeing his or her face, model car and tag while waiting for it to arrive would have been a great risk and fear reducer. The risk of my loved ones not knowing the coordinates of my whereabouts at every second of the trip would have vanished. The important thing to notice here is that no new technology went into putting Uber together. The founding entrepreneurs combined old technologies in a new way to start what is today a multi-billion dollar company. This is the mind set I want our entrepreneurs going through our accelerator to acquire. What you see out there, someone else, not necessarily smarter than you, created. They just pursued their idea relentlessly and figured out the connections to the right people, and moved in the right circles to get their idea launched. We provide that too at the Innovation Hub, through our world class mentoring network.
Did I tell you the trip took 16 hours? Some of that time was spent just waiting – like when you arrived at Ithaca’s Greyhound Station at 11pm at night (having woken up at 5am that morning thousands of miles away, and hauling the equivalent of your weight in additional baggage) and you called the taxi company in town from a payphone (if the handle was still there), and waited for the dispatcher to send you one of the 3 taxicabs that existed in Ithaca, New York, in the early 80’s, according to legend – the reason they took forever to get to you. I remember riding one of them once back from Triphammer Mall in a back country road, and the driver bumped the car in front of us nearing one of the few stoplights in town! I think the next day, news of the accident were front page in the local paper. The two days it took to repair and repaint the bumper on the taxi, there were only two taxicabs in town.
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