Pasadena Summit Encourages New Ways of Thinking

Published : Thursday, October 10, 2013 | 5:08 PM

Thomas Belhacene believes a good entrepreneur must have an open mind.

“It’s a good start to think different,” said Belhacene, a student at the Art Center College of Design.

Belhacene wasn’t the only person Thursday who thought this way. He was one of about 600 people who celebrated daring concepts at the Innovation Summit Pasadena 2013 at Paseo Colorado. The event featured talent from fields such as engineering, design, business and technology.

Speakers such as Bill Gross of Idealab gave insight to entrepreneurs about problem solving. Participants got to speak with the likes of George Whitesides of Virgin Atlantic. They listened to panel discussions covering topics such as new frontiers or break-through ideas. Of course, in between activities, participants networked.

Staff at Pasadena Magazine organized the Innovation Summit in partnership with the Five Star Institute. Gross, the founder of the Pasadena-based Idealab, was the keynote speaker.

Since high school, Gross has started technology or software businesses. He founded Idealab in 1996 to be an incubator for pioneering companies.

But for all his successes, Gross experienced failures he calls painful lessons. Those lessons showed him how to achieve success.

Pasadena Mayor Bill Bogaard kicked off the day-long summit, which was held at NOOR in the Paseo Colorado. [Photo: Audrey Wong]

In the start up world, entrepreneurs who fail aren’t considered damaged goods but experienced people who know how to handle challenges, he said. Gross used major league baseball playoffs as an analogy to explain the struggle entrepreneurs endure. You can’t bat 1000 the first time and it might take a few tries to get it right, he said.

“Failure is like a stepping stone to win game 7,” Gross said.

Innovation unlocks human potential but new ideas may not be immediately be accepted by the general public, Gross said. The more “disruptive” an idea is the better, Gross said. A disruptive innovation will improve a product or service in ways the market didn’t expect. Small ideas will work just as well as bigger ideas, he said.

Entrepreneurs will go through three stages with a new product or service. First, the idea will be ridiculed then violently opposed. But if the entrepreneur can overcome those stages then the idea will be accepted as self-evident. So people in start up companies must expect failure at some point. Having a deep passion for the idea helps entrepreneurs face the tough times, Gross said.

Timing can also play a part in a start up’s success, Gross said. In 1999 Gross founded, a website that played videos like YouTube. The problem was not that many people had broadband. Users who tried to watch on their dial-up modems ended up with videos that kept stalling.

Another lesson Gross learned with is to find a way to keep a start up afloat until the market catches up with it.
George Whitesides spoke about new frontiers, which in his case, is space. Whitesides is CEO and President of Virgin Galactic, the spaceflight company founded by Sir Richard Branson. Whitesides’ office is in Pasadena.

Whitesides remembered talking to a member of the CIA who said he wouldn’t travel in space. About 25 years ago there wasn’t much innovation in space flight, Whitesides said. Now private companies are starting to design satellites and spacecraft. Many of those companies are located in Southern California, Whitesides said.

Virgin Galactic, with Scaled Composites, developed the WhiteKnight Two and SpaceShipTwo vehicles, which will offer commercially available flights outside of the earth’s atmosphere.

A spot on the flight would be $250,000 but Whitesides and his colleagues are working on bringing the price down so more people can experience space flight. Currently there are 640 people signed up to take a ride.

Whitesides said he wants more people to experience the “overview effect” which is what astronauts feel when they see the earth from orbit. The overview effect is a profound thing that gives them a different view of problems, he said. Whitesides would like to see more people bring that cognitive shift back to their communities.

“It’s a powerful feeling they should share with others,” Whitesides said.

Don Oparah got to indulge a lifelong fascination listening to Whitesides’ lecture.

“I look forward to space travel,” said Oparah, CEO of Venture Aviator, a software company. “It’s a childhood dream.”