And luck, it turns out, has a good deal to do with start-ups procuring funding and becoming successful. So says the keynote speaker F. Scott Moody, who co-founded the AuthenTec fingerprint sensor technology acquired by Apple in 2012 and whose newest venture K4Connect will soon unveil a system that allows homeowners to manage all of their smart devices in one place.
To the two dozen or so students who've just spent two months preparing for the annual competition, Moody shares the three major lessons he's learned in his years building companies.
Lesson #1: You can't be afraid.
Moody explains that the majority of businesses fail, and there is a lot of chance involved for those that survive. He even calls his job running a $200 million semi-conductor sector for Harris a "fluke." But successful entrepreneurs are more than lucky, he points out. Because the odds are stacked against them, they have to be persistent.
Finding funding for a venture is like "standing on the side of the road with a 'Will Work for Food' sign," says Moody. "You are going to hear 'no' a heck of a lot more than 'yes'." He asserts that the concept of failure has to be thrown out all together when trying to get a business off the ground. Founders cannot be intimidated by the "fallacy of failure," as Moody puts it. They have to experience set-backs, get up, and move forward.
One of the finalist teams who learned from failure was Track2Quit, a smoking cessation venture. The team now has a cigarette case which tracks the time and location of each cigarette drawn from it—the goal is to help people quit smoking by making them aware of their behavioral patterns.
A mobile app displays the data and gives the user access to on-the-spot counseling. But it took trial and error to decide on a case; they initially developed an app that required smokers track their behavior by logging smoking sessions.
Track2Quit team member Suraaj Doshi says the initial idea just wasn't effective. "We conducted a study with smokers to try our app," he says. The study consisted of users pressing a button to log when they smoked, and measuring the success of their cessation efforts. "But all 30 smokers forgot to [log the time] when they smoked." Instead of giving up, the team created the cigarette case, which requires no active tracking.
Lesson #2: Build a solid and experienced team.
Moody tells the students about the high level of trust he had with his AuthenTec co-founder, Dale Setak. He calls Setak the "tech geek" of their operation—he balanced Moody's marketing and leadership skills. Moody tells the students they have to be comfortable with their partners, since they will spend "more time with them than their spouse." All the team members need to contribute something valuable as well.
This lesson is evident in the success of Undercover Colors, which won first place in two of the eGames categories: the New Venture Challenge and Design & Prototype Challenge.
All four team members are NC State seniors majoring in materials science. They developed a clear nail polish, which turns a color in the presence of date-rape drugs. The woman wearing the polish only needs to stir a painted finger in her drink to detect if it has been spiked. Team member Tyler Confrey says it is a "discrete" option compared to the test strips and drink coasters currently on the market.
With their prize money (totaling $12,250), the team plans to continue improving the reaction time of the polish, and then sell Undercover Colors online and on university campuses. According to Confrey, UNC Chapel Hill has already showed interest in making it available at freshman retreats.
Lesson #3: Get your "whys" straight.
"Your purpose needs to be clear," says Moody. He explains how entrepreneurs need to know what their foundation is, as well as their reason for working the long hours start-ups require. When his first prototype for AuthenTec didn't work, his wife served as his support system and champion to keep going. When AuthenTec went public, his children rang the Opening bell at the New York Stock Exchange. For Moody, family is a very big "why."
But Moody is quick to add that there is also the motivation to make a difference in peoples' lives. Many of the services and products at the eGames attempt to do just that. The Ilithyia Birthing Bed gives mothers additional options for positions during labor and aims to reduce Cesarean section rates. The start-up ephRemedies uses an established drug to combat heart muscle damage after a heart attack.
Moody remembers a particular time when his impact on others became clear. "The day the iPhone 5s came out," he recalls, my daughter sent me a text which said, 'Every 5s sold in the world has your product. You may have changed cellular devices forever'." Moody tells the students, "That's what it's all about."