Smart Fabric Summit Experience in DC on April 11th, 2016 “A StartUp Entrepreneur’s perspective”
Odd coincidence… So when I first started this FIT Scrubs adventure I needed a template, or a how-to guide on how to start and I needed to be inspired. Of course there was Kevin Plank, the CEO of UnderArmour who started his company in 1997 selling shirts that were made out of the same material as his mom's pantyhose that was moisture wicking and breathable – of course he’s an inspiration but I needed to know how to approach the innovation strategy of making a unique fabric blend, a sleek athletic design and the product development process, and the only company I could think of was Nike.
So a year and a half ago I went to the Nike Jobs website and typed in Innovation, it just so happened that there was an opening for the Innovations Director position. It was fascinating – the whole process that goes into creating a product from concept to creation to market all written down on a sheet of paper in the form of a job description on what it takes to do it. So I printed it and thumb-tacked it up on my office wall and imagined myself as Nike’s Innovation Director quarterbacking the FIT Scrubs Initiative. It was pure fantasy but a man can dream, right?
Now fast forward a year and a half… ok, so I got the proprietary fabric made, got the cool design, kinda making some headway on branding and I’m hitting my target demographic on social media land proving that this whole project just might work. Then I get invited to speak at the world’s first Smart Fabric Summit in DC to talk about my project from a startup entrepreneur’s perspective, and because the innovation being presented applied to military, first responders, athletes and health care workers - I happened to be all the above. However, lIttle did I know that practically every “who’s who” in the fabric world would be there presenting the most incredible advancements in wearable/tech driven fabric made to monitor heart rhythms, GPS tracking with 3D imagery, washable sensors integrated into normal everyday clothing that can accurately analyze brain waves, stuff so innovative that, for a second, I thought Tony Stark was a real person and this was his expo.
I was scheduled to present at 3pm, post lunch and pretty much at the tail end of the whole summit so my “cool, innovative” scrubs, to me, seemed to be pretty lackluster considering the quality of products that Intel, 3M and DuPont were showcasing… My FIT Scrubs® seemed depressingly plain, in comparison. Nonetheless, I came here to do something, to show that an ordinary dude with some passion to provide a solution to a problem can accomplish something from a 5x5 office space in his laundry room on a shoestring budget. I came to inspire and be inspired at the same time.
So I got up on the podium, shaking, nervous, but electrifyingly excited, and let go of the reigns then spoke from the heart… First, I thanked my audience for their efforts to advance medical technology for us first responders and military folks, then I went into the story behind why I wanted to recreate our medical scrubs based from personal experience. Then the real nerves came in as I prepared them for our four-minute video I made for my University's Entrepreneur competition ( you can watch it on our FB page) Aaannnd it played….. The thought of being judged by such a talented audience was a bit much to handle and I didn’t make eye contact with anyone while it was playing. I was looking down at the floor at the whole time until minute 2:02, when the slide of me holding my son on my lap in my 5x5 office with the hashtag #startuplife came on the screen – I got a bit choked up and this feeling of acceptance came over me and I realized whatever happened after the video is just out of my control and all I can do is react. Then it stopped, there was silence….. a clap, a couple more, then the whole auditorium joined in on the applause…. You bet I got teared up, just for a second but yep, that was my reaction. I expressed my gratitude and shared, for a second, how hard it’s been as my wife and I have taken every penny out from our home to fund this project, even with a toddler and a newborn, but we believe in the technology of smart fabrics and the problems their applications can solve so it’s all worth it, then I gently eased back into speaker mode.
The post feedback was so unexpectedly positive, so amazing. For the first time in my entrepreneurial adventure I had vendors, designers and representatives coming up to me requesting collaborations and partnership opportunities, wow it felt good. Just when I thought it couldn’t get any better, as I was leaving, I held the elevator door open for a nice, well put-together lady who complimented my speech and project as we shared the elevator ride down. We started talking fabric talk and I asked her what company she was with. She looked at me, boldly, and said “Nike”. I was like “No way! Nike was a huge inspiration for this project!” She asked “How so?” Then I told her all about the Innovations Director story and how I used the job description as a template on my product development approach, and she chuckled. Then I asked, “What do you do for Nike?” She paused for a moment, still smiling/chuckling, and says, “I’m the person who got that job.”
I got her card:)