Five Top Innovators of 2013 Share Their “Aha” Moments

Published in UT San Diego, January 6, 2014

The “aha” moment — that moment of sudden realization, the defining moment where wisdom is revealed, the moment of inspiration. Many companies start with that insight, but from that moment to a product and then to an actual sale to a customer can take many years, cost a lot of money, and require the company to overcome numerous hurdles as we learned when we talked with five winners of Connect’s 2013 Most Innovative New Products Awards:

Werner Sievers, CEO, Nextivity, winner in the hardware and general technology category for the Cel-Fi Smart Signal Booster, which maximizes a user’s indoor wireless experience by eliminating in-building dead zones.

Sievers said that an aha moment was when the company realized that it had to develop a semiconductor processor from scratch — an expensive and daunting task. Then the company faced other challenges, including overcoming carrier prejudice (which was only accomplished through years of successful testing), convincing the Federal Communications Commission to create a set of rules and specifications that all manufacturers of boosting technology needed to comply with (accomplished with lots of lobbying) and raising significant capital.

Bruce Springer, CEO, OneHealth Solution, winner in the mobile apps category for One Health, a HIPAA-compliant mobile application combining social technology, game mechanics and clinical principles to support chronic condition and behavioral health patients.

“Our aha moment was the realization that our platform influences important health care decisions and interventions that save lives and not everyone can be in front of a desktop computer when they need support. Within the first year, we are already seeing that our mobile app is successfully engaging users well beyond the online experience,” Springer said, adding that one of the most significant challenges was presenting a coherent Android and iOS experience that captured as much of the Web experience as possible.

Kendra DeWitt, marketing communications manager, Achates Power, winner in the sustainability category, for Achates Power Opposed-Piston, Two-Stroke Engine, an internal combustion engine that increases fuel efficiency, reduces greenhouse gas emissions and lowers cost.

“Several aha moments throughout the company’s 10-year history include when our founder, Dr. Jim Lemke, learned of the opposed-piston, two-stroke engine and its record-setting combination of fuel efficiency and power density. Armed with this information, he set out to modernize the engine. To achieve its goals, the company had to develop more than 1,500 unique innovations — represented in nearly 100 issued and pending patents. The biggest challenge was having the endurance necessary to get to where we are today.”

Javier Movellan, co-founder and lead researcher, Emotient, winner in the software category for FACET, which translates facial expressions into actionable information, enabling companies to create new levels of customer engagement.

“An early aha moment occurred in the mid-1990s when two prominent figures in facial behavior and machine learning came together and started thinking about whether machine learning could be applied to coding facial expressions. Dr. Marian Bartlett, one of Emotient’s co-founders and lead scientists, wrote her doctoral thesis on the automatic coding of facial expressions and developed the neural network architecture that remains the backbone of Emotient’s facial expression recognition system today.

Peter Martini, chief operating officer, iboss Network Security, winner in the communications and IT category for iboss Cloud Web Security with Device Management.

“While we were developing a data security solution in 2003, I had just purchased my first smartphone that had a Web browser. We realized that our data security solution focused on securing laptops and desktops, but had no ability to control wireless devices. That was our aha moment. We knew it would soon be a real need to secure these mobile devices from threats and ensure compliance,” he said, adding that challenges included developing a product that could address different devices, operating systems, new versions and ever-expanding features.

Rule No. 340: Sometimes a shower just won’t get you there, and along the way, don’t slip on the soap.

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