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Inventing the Future

by | Oct 15, 2012 | Business Trends

thomas-frey-futurist-speaker inventing the future

When Charles Corry walked onto the stage of the Shark Tank-like Piranha Pit at Saturday’s DaVinci Inventor Showcase, his iExpander product was still $6,000 away from making the goal of $125,000 on Kickstarter. As of this morning, he has not only passed his goal, now exceeding $140,000, but still has 6 more days to go.

The iExpander is a brilliantly designed case for the iPhone that dramatically improves photo quality and battery life, and adds an expandable SD memory slot for virtually unlimited storage capability.

As the Piranha Pit investors listened to the pitch they started scratching their heads, asking the simple question, “Why do you need us?”

Charles was quick to respond, saying that his product fits into a very competitive marketplace and having a great product and money is simply not enough. He was looking for a smart-money partner.

The story of the iExpander was only one of hundreds of stories unfolding at this event. With influential people, mixed with powerful innovation, and extra large doses of passion, drive, creativity, and determination, it is one of those rare occurrences where people can literally see the future taking shape right in front of them.

As a futurist, it is the brilliance of these visionaries that breathes inspiration into the work that I do. But this is only scratching the surface. Here’s what you really missed.

Setting the Stage, Announcing the Winners

The DaVinci Inventor Showcase is an annual event produced by our amazing team at the DaVinci Institute. Even though I serve as the Executive Director of the Institute, the vast majority of the work is handled by Deb, Jan, Andrew, and Kyler.

Now in its 8th year, we attract inventors from all across the U.S. to be part of what has become one of the nation’s most prestigious inventor events.

thomas-frey-futurist-speaker-winner-of-the-2012-nventor-of-the-year-award-power-practical
Winner of the 2012 “Inventor of the Year Award” – Power Practical

Winning top prize at this year’s event was Power Practical for their ingenious device called the Power Pot. Using the magic of thermoelectric power generation, the PowerPot is a cooking pot generator that uses the heat from cooking to run a 5W generator that can power up to 2-3 USB devices at a time. With 5 watts of output and a USB interface, the product is designed to supply the power necessary to charge devices anywhere, including people living in poverty in far away countries.

There was no shortage of creativity at this event. The complete list of inventors receiving awards and honorable mentions included:

  • Inventor of the Year Award – Power Practical – Providing practical personal power solutions. The PowerPot is the first product, which takes fire & water and makes electricity.
  • Commercial Product of the Year AwardSafeAwake – A smoke alarm aid, designed specifically for the deaf and hard-of-hearing, that integrates tactile stimulation and low frequency sound to awaken a sleeping person in a fire emergency.
  • Consumer Product of the Year AwardCloud Dome – A revolutionary line of photography products, each one specifically designed to make you a better and faster product photographer.
  • Software Product of the Year Award – Megathread – Provides greater social affinity and integration through building authentic credentials across any online community platform.
  • Food & Drink Product of the Year Award – Bee Nut Free – Sensibly portioned gluten free, nut free, dairy free nutritious snack items.
  • Special Award – Education Innovation of the Year AwardRegis University – Universal Entrepreneur Education System.
  • Honorable MentionGate Glide – Gate support system that stops a wooden gate from sagging due to weather and gravity and makes it easy to open and close.
  • Honorable MentioniExpander – An expansion device for the iPhone that has microSD card memory, provides unbelievable low light images, and doubles the battery life.
  • Honorable MentionGrace Skis – Designs and builds solid, environmentally respectful and innovative, big mountain free ride and powder skis.
  • Honorable MentionMaggie’s Magnificent Cakes – Wisecakes are a patented “gourmet cake in a box” that the consumer just has to add water, stir and bake for a delicious, gourmet cake every time.

With nearly 100 “celebrity judges” weighing in, the selection process involves considerable effort, both on the part of the judges and the team who tallied all the scores.

As we designed this event, we put a tremendous emphasis on the judging process. We ask some very credible people to take valuable time out of their lives to participate in judging these inventions. And it is the combined weight of these individual decisions that gives such far-reaching credibility to these awards.

But that’s still only part of the story.

Positive Human Collisions 

We live in a human based world, and even though we now have a far easier time connecting with people all over the world, nothing replaces the one-on-one relationship-building that happens when you can shake someone’s hand and look them directly in the eye.

As a futurist, I don’t see this changing anytime soon. In fact, emotion-based relationships and the energy of human presence may be one of the few unchangeable tenants of human nature.

In the future, communities will be judged by their vibrancy, their interconnectedness, and their fluid structures for causing “positive human collisions.”

The success of this even has been predicated on our ability to create positive human collisions where people who otherwise never have a reason to meet, are sent on a collision course and amazing things begin to happen.

In this particular setting, we go out of our way to find judges who can offer great benefit to the inventors. And since the inventors need many different kinds of help, we find several categories of inventors. Here are a few examples:

  • Successful Entrepreneurs – Scott Tibbets, Pat Engstrom, and Steve Meyers are all serial entrepreneurs who have built multi-million dollar companies and are always looking for what’s next.
  • Past Winner of the DaVinci Inventor Showcase – People like Jim Turner, Dave McCloskey, and Michael Sitarsewski are all past winners at the Showcase who have all been in their shoes and gone through the struggles of building a successful company from scratch.
  • Product Scouts – Brian Abe works as a product scout for the dozens of brands associated with Clorox and Avery Business Products. Scott Cooley is the product scout for McGuckin Hardware.
  • Money People – As part of the Piranha Pit, Louis Foreman, Joel Comm, Scott Jordan, and Frank Hoffmeister have all been active as angel investors and deal brokers for people needing money.
  • Media People – Ken Clark, news anchor for Fox31, Lisa Hildago, part of the 7News Team, and Alexia Parks, writer for Huffington Post, all know how to draw attention to products, people, and stories.
  • Technical Experts – Tom Franklin is a patent attorney with Kilpatrick Townsend. Gene Branch is a patent attorney with Perkins Coie. Jeff Samson is a product design expert with Samson Design.
  • Corporate Executives – Andrew Aldrin (son of Buzz Aldrin) is the Development Director for the United Launch Alliance, Sam Rediess is a Director for Oracle, and Stirling Olsen is the CEO of Foraker Labs.
  • Other Exhibitors – As an example, Rennie Davis is in the process of launching iPowered Living, a 4,700 acre alternative energy ranch in New Mexico as a solution to one of humanity’s biggest problems.
  • Many more

Special Thanks

We especially want to thank the brilliant and dedicated staff and volunteers at the DaVinci Institute for pulling this event together. Special thanks go out to Deb Frey, Jan Wagner, Kyler Frey, Andrew Frey, Nancy Slattery, Cheri Hoffer, and our many volunteers. Also, thanks go out to our photographer Steve Sokolik, and our videographers Steve Maltz and Paula Zimmerman.

We also want to thank our Sponsors who become very closely involved in the planning, execution, judging, and operation of the event itself. Sponsors included Tom Franklin at Kilpatrick Townsend, Gene Branch at Perkins Coie, Peter Vandevanter at CGX Printing, and Karl Dakin at Regis University..

Without these amazingly talented individual, none of this could have ever happened.

Keynote Speakers

The event not only showcased the brilliance of inventors, but also three of the nation’s top speakers working in the field of cutting edge innovation.

Teresa Stanek Rea is Deputy Under Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property and Deputy Director of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. Ms. Rea oversees an office that encourages innovation and technological advancement, and helps businesses protect their investments, promote their goods and safeguard against deception in the marketplace. Before joining USPTO in 2011, Ms. Rea was a leading attorney in the field of intellectual property with more than 25 years of legal experience and a past president of the American Intellectual Property Law Association.

Oliver Kuttner is Founder & Chief Executive Officer for the Edison2 Team. One hundred and eleven teams from around the world entered the 100 Mile per Gallon Progressive Insurance Automotive X Prize in 2008, and in September 2010 Edison2 was awarded the top prize, winning the Mainstream class and with it $5 million. Oliver is also a commercial real estate developer who was pivotal in revitalizing Charlottesville, Virginia’s downtown. Today, his enlightened and environmentally responsible methods are helping revitalize Lynchburg, Virginia. Practicing what he preaches, Oliver placed Edison2’s offices and assembly facility in a formerly abandoned 360,000 square foot textile factory that now houses over 24 businesses and numerous residences. This important work demonstrates Oliver’s ability to lead complex projects, build business relationships, and deliver results. His broad experience also includes award-winning building design, sports car racing prototype construction.

Louis Foreman currently manages a $25 Million Dollar Innovation Fund dedicated to bringing individuals’ innovations to the marketplace. Louis is a prolific inventor, product developer, innovation enthusiast created nine successful startups and has been directly responsible for the creation of more than 20 others. He is the CEO of EdisonNation, publisher of Inventor’s Digest, and producer of the Emmy Award winning PBS series “Everyday Edison”.

Final Thoughts

If you missed Saturday’s event, you missed an opportunity to watch the universe reshape itself as the future itself is being formed.

Well, maybe not. As you might imagine, I’m a little biased.

Each year I leave this event totally energized, cheering on the sidelines as each of our inventors continues their struggle to build a viable enterprise. It’s never easy.

For those of you who are disenchanted with the way the world is headed, it’s not too late. You personally can invent a better future. I see people doing it every single day, so don’t think it can’t be done.

But always remember, “We shape our future, and then our future shapes us.”

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Inventing the Future

by | Oct 15, 2012 | Business Trends

I was thoroughly intrigued when I found out the Colorado School of Mines in Golden, Colorado was offering a degree in asteroid mining.

Yes, the idea of extracting water, oxygen, minerals, and metals from an asteroid sounds like science fiction to most people, but it’s not that far away.  In fact, Colorado School of Mines’ newly launched “Space Resources” program will help people get in on the ground floor.

After thinking about the proactive nature of this approach, it became abundantly clear how backward thinking most colleges have become.

When colleges decide on a new degree program, they must first recruit instructors, create a new curriculum, and attract students. As a result, the talent churned out of these newly minted programs is the product of a 6-7 year pipeline.

For this reason, anticipatory-thinking institutions really need to be setting their sights on what business and industries will need 7-10 years from now.

The Risk-Averse Nature of Education

When Harvard professor Clayton M. Christensen released his best-selling book, The Innovator’s Dilemma, his core message that disruptive change is the path to success, was only partially embraced by higher education.

While many were experimenting with MOOCs and smart whiteboards, changes in the subject matter of their courses still evolved at the traditional pace of discovery.

This is not to say colleges are not innovative. Rather, the demands of today’s emerging tech environment are forcing business and industries to shift into an entirely new gear. And that most definitely includes our academic institutions.

From a management perspective, it’s far easier to oversee a contained system where all variables are constrained. But during times of change, we tend to give far more power to the “unleashers,” who are determined to test the status quo and release ideas and trial balloons to see what works.

For this reason, managers and creatives often find themselves on opposing sides, and the winners of these warring factions often determine what we as consumers see as the resulting ripples of change.

Offering Pilot Programs

When Facebook bought Oculus Rift in March 2014 for $2 billion, the job boards went crazy, as there was an instant uptick in the demand for VR designers, engineers, and experience creators. But no one was teaching VR, and certainly not the Oculus Rift version of it.

Colleges have a long history of being blindsided by new technologies:

  • When eBay launched, no one was teaching ecommerce strategies
  • When Myspace launched, no one was teaching social networking
  • When Google launched, no one was teaching online search engine strategies
  • When Uber launched, no one was teaching sharing economy business models
  • When Apple first opened their App Store, no one was teaching smart phone app design
  • When Amazon first allowed online storefronts, no one was teaching the Amazon business model
  • When YouTube first offered ways to monetize videos, no one was teaching it

Since most academic institutions are only willing to put their name on programs with long-term viability, the endorsement of half-baked agendas does not come easy. However, that is exactly what needs to be done.

Colleges can no longer afford to remain comfortably behind the curve.

52 Future College Degrees

As a way of priming your thinking on this matter, here are 52 future degrees that forward-thinking colleges could start offering today:

  1. Space Exploration – space tourism planning and management
  2. Space Exploration – planetary colony design and operation
  3.  Space Exploration – next generation space infrastructure
  4. Space Exploration – advanced cosmology and non-earth human habitats
  5. Bioengineering with CRISPR – policy and procedural strategies
  6. Bioengineering with CRISPR – advanced genetic engineering systems
  7. Bioengineering with CRISPR – operational implementations and system engineering
  8. Bioengineering with CRISPR – ethical regulation and oversight
  9. Smart City – autonomous traffic integration
  10. Smart City – mixed reality modeling
  11. Smart City – autonomous construction integration
  12. Smart City – next generation municipal planning and strategy
  13. Autonomous Agriculture – robotic systems
  14. Autonomous Agriculture – drone systems
  15. Autonomous Agriculture – supply chain management
  16. Autonomous Agriculture – systems theory and integration
  17. Swarmbot – design, theory, and management
  18. Swarmbot – system engineering and oversight
  19. Swarmbot – municipal system design
  20. Swarmbot – law enforcement and advanced criminology systems
  21. Cryptocurrency – digital coin economics
  22. Cryptocurrency – crypto-banking system design
  23. Cryptocurrency – regulatory systems and oversight
  24. Cryptocurrency – forensic accounting strategies
  25. Blockchain – design, systems, and applications
  26. Blockchain – blockchain for biological systems
  27. Blockchain – large-scale integration structures
  28. Blockchain – municipal system design strategies
  29. Global Systems – system planning, architecture, and design
  30. Global Systems – large-scale integration strategies
  31. Global Systems – operational systems checks and balance
  32. Global Systems – governmental systems in a borderless digital world
  33. Unmanned Aerial Vehicle - drone film making
  34. Unmanned Aerial Vehicle – command center operations
  35. Unmanned Aerial Vehicle – municipal modeling and planning systems
  36. Unmanned Aerial Vehicle – emergency response systems
  37. Mixed Reality - experiential retail
  38. Mixed Reality – three-dimensional storytelling
  39. Mixed Reality – game design
  40. Mixed Reality – therapeutic systems and design
  41. Advanced Reproductive Systems – designer baby strategies, planning, and ethics
  42. Advanced Reproductive Systems – surrogate parenting policy and approaches
  43. Advanced Reproductive Systems – organic nano structures
  44. Advanced Reproductive Systems – clone engineering and advanced processes
  45. Artificial Intelligence – data management in an AI environment
  46. Artificial Intelligence – advanced human-AI integration
  47. Artificial Intelligence – streaming AI data services
  48. Artificial Intelligence – advanced marketing with AI
  49. Quantum Computing – data strategies in a quantum-connected world
  50. Quantum Computing – quantum-level encryption and security
  51. Quantum Computing – quantum computing implementation strategies
  52. Quantum Computing – AI-quantum system integration

Final Thought

More so than any time in history, we have a clear view of next generation technologies. Naturally, we’re still a long way from 100% clarity, but for most of the technologies listed above, the shifting tectonic plates of change can be felt around the world.

Without taking decisive action, colleges run the risk of being circumvented by new types of training systems that can meet market demands in a fraction of the time it takes traditional academia to react.

The ideas I’ve listed are a tiny fraction of what’s possible when it comes to emerging tech degrees. Should colleges stick their neck out like Colorado School of Mines and offer degrees that may not be immediately useful? Adding to that question, how many college degrees are immediately useful today?

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this topic.

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