by Vivek Wadhwa, Fellow, Arthur & Toni Rembe Rock Center for Corporate Governance at Stanford University, Linked In:
During the mid-1990s, cardiologist and researcher David Albert
had the idea to develop a handheld device that displays an
He believed that this would save lives by providing
immediate information to patients wherever they were.
In those days,
even the most powerful handheld computers didn't have the needed
capabilities. So Albert dropped the idea because it was impossible.
then came the iPhone in 2007 - which has more processing power than
some of the supercomputers of yesteryear.
In 2010, at the age of 56,
Albert started Alivecor with $250,000 from his savings. His goal was to
build an iPhone case that performs an EKG. This device was approved by
the FDA last December and now retails for $200 - with a prescription.
abound about the young entrepreneurs who dreamed up crazy ideas while
in their dorm room, raised millions of dollars in venture capital, and
started billion-dollar businesses. But these are just the outliers.
typical entrepreneur is more like Albert - a middle-aged professional
who learns about a market need and starts a company with his own
Research that my team completed
in 2009 determined that the average age of a successful entrepreneur in
high-growth industries such as computers, health care, and aerospace is
40. Twice as many successful entrepreneurs are over 50 as under 25; and
twice as many, over 60 as under 20.
The vast majority - 75 percent -
have more than six years of industry experience and half have more than
10 years when they create their startup. Nearly 70 percent start their
companies to capitalize on business ideas that they have - which they
see as a way to build wealth.
It shouldn't come as a surprise that
the motivation for entrepreneurship and innovation comes from
experience and necessity. Even Mark Zuckerberg - the kid in the dorm
room who started Facebook - built this to meet a need for an online
directory of college students.
Paul Allen and Bill Gates started
Microsoft after realizing that their computers lacked software. Steve
Wozniak and Steve Jobs started Apple because they saw the need for a
As Albert's invention shows, there have been
dramatic advances in technology over the past two decades. It has become
possible for entrepreneurs anywhere to create world-changing products.
These advances are not only in computing. Such diverse fields as
synthetic biology, 3D printing, robotics, nanomaterials, and medicine
are advancing at exponential rates.
Take the sensors in the Alivecor
heart monitor: they would have cost thousands of dollars and weighed
several pounds, 15 years ago. Today, they cost as much as a cup of
coffee and weigh less than the cup.
When Albert demonstrated a
prototype of his heart monitor to major medical companies, they were
skeptical, he says, that there was any market for such a device. They
said that their market research had shown that it was a bad idea and
that no one wanted or needed it.
Undeterred, Albert continued to pitch
his product. He made a YouTube video that garnered so much interest
during the 2011 Consumer Electronics Show that Qualcomm and others came
to him and offered an investment.
Renowned cardiologist Eric J.
Topol, who is director at Scripps Translational Science Institute told
me by email that Alivecor has allowed him, on several occasions, to make
a definitive diagnosis for patients with serious heart problems.
Albert's impossible invention - born of need and his desire to help
others - is already making a difference. It may even become a
The lesson here is that ideas come from need;
understanding of need comes from experience; and experience comes with
age. The world may not yet be ready for your idea, but if you believe in
it, keep pursuing it until one day the world is ready. It is never too
late for you to innovate.
You can find more of my articles on my website: www.wadhwa.com and follow me on twitter: @wadhwa
Cartoon Credit: Shutterstock - The happy inventor is riding his own oldschool steam car with a propeller.