There has never been a better time than now for a business to succeed. Inexpensive technologies, virtual markets and easier funding through bank loans, venture capital, crowd-sourcing and seed funding are changing entrepreneurship on a global scale. We are fortunate to live in an era when state-of-the-art innovations have a better chance to flourish, thanks to ground-breaking technologies.
A leading example is what, in 2002, started as a grandiose plan to colonize Mars, envisioned by a young man named Elon Musk. Today, the company he founded, SpaceX, is a multi-billion-dollar enterprise. Musk’s vision extended far beyond the notion of seeking a new home on the Red Planet: In fact, he saw the immense potential in launching privately funded satellites and rockets into space, and from there evolved his startup into a tremendously successful business.
By December 2017, Musk’s company, SpaceX, was valued at over $20 billion dollars.
As SpaceX shows, technologies originally intended to further space exploration can be repurposed for commercial uses, with massively profitable results: Sony, for example, developed one-of-a-kind sound bars to produce clear high-quality sound. The Sony HT-ST7 uses a NASA innovation called ferrofluid. Ferrofluid works by allowing the free flow of movement to improve sound delivery. Using this technology, Sony was able to bring space-age technology into our homes.
Medtronic similarly used forward-thinking technology: A medical device company focused on using electrical stimulation to treat irregular heartbeats, Medtronic became aware of something called LaRC-SI.
LaRC-SI is a durable thermoplastic originally developed by the NASA Langley Research Center for high-speed civil transport and light-weight rocket engines. Thermoplastic is highly flexible, resistant to chemicals and able to withstand extreme temperatures, making it suitable for medical use, including implantable cardiac devices. By adapting NASA’s LaRC-SI material, Medtronic was able to make thinner, more flexible wires and help physicians optimize lead placement in difficult-to-reach areas of the heart
This advance, in turn, helped patients with cardiovascular disease and cardiac arrhythmias lead longer lives.
The Space Technology Hall of Fame introduces us to still more companies of this ilk. The Hall of Fame is a Space Foundation program that aims to increase public awareness of the benefits of space exploration and encourages the continued innovation of NASA-adapted technologies to improve the quality of life for humanity.
Past inductees have pioneered energy-saving technologies, satellite and telecommunication innovations, practical commercial devices and health improvement technologies — including LASIK eye surgery, implantable pacemakers and hearing aids and other devices that have improved the quality of life for millions.
So, considering the examples of SpaceX, Sony and Medtronic and the many other companies that have incorporated space-age technology with great success, what can we learn? Two lessons, actually.
Don’t be afraid to be an early adopter.
This strategy may seem a little counter-intuitive, especially considering that many business owners prefer to start a business that is familiar. In fact, they’re often advised to go into businesses where there is sizable competition; they’re told that a lack of competition means that there’s a problem with their underlying business idea. Competition, they’re told, proves an existing market for their business.
However, that very lack of competition gives you an instant monopoly in your chosen market. Having a monopoly in your “space” gives you the significant first-mover advantage, which can not only be profitable but dissuade others from competing — and establish a powerful moat around your business.
As an early innovator, you may be viewed as a creative thought leader and a visionary, while others are just copycats.
Many successful entrepreneurs choose to start from a place where the road is less traveled, or, as Elon Musk did, by boldly going “where no man has gone before.” Several years ago, nobody thought a space transportation service could be a lucrative business. But innovators have the tenacity to press on against a tide of fault-finders and criticism; and that’s where the key to this “early adopter” strategy lies. These are the people who view failures as a learning opportunity and a motivation for future success.
2. Find genuine solutions to your target-market’s problems.
Many business owners start off a business with an idea without considering the product or service involved solves their target market’s problem. Before these owners realize their mistake, they’ve spent hundreds of thousands of dollars or more in the business, only to react with surprise and disbelief when their products sit unsold in the warehouse, resulting in their business’s failure. This should not be your story.
In contrast, consider the case of Dallas-based Aerus (formerly Electrolux USA). Aerus recognized that indoor air quality was adversely impacting the lives of millions of individuals with compromised immune systems and those suffering from allergies, asthma, COPD and other respiratory illnesses.
Accordingly, Aerus adopted a technology called Radiant Catalytic Ionization (RCI), which was initially developed by NASA scientists to eliminate ethylene gas on board the International Space Station. Aerus adapted RCI for its ActivePure line of products,engineered to eliminate air and surface contaminants. The technology is effective at destroying airborne and surface viruses, fungus, volatile organic compounds and bacteria such as MRSA, e-coli and staph.
Another example — and forward-thinking company — stems from the problem of glasses whose plastic lenses tpday last about 10 times longer than earlier glasses did. The technology responsible for this longevity targeted people who tend to frequently break their glasses. To solve this problem, Foster Grant Corp. acquired the license for an extremely hard and scratch-resistant coating originally created by Ames Research Centre, using NASA technology.
Foster Grant then succeeded in using the coating for its plastic sunglasses, thereby solving a problem for its target market — and proving once again that NASA technology has a huge potential for those doing business here on Earth rather than just those looking to colonize other planets.