Get Excited and Make Things: NJIT Hosts First TEDxTalk

NJIT hosted its first TEDxNJIT, a conference on invention and commercialization.

Be passionate. Create products. Solve problems. Don’t make crap. Don’t make a flatulent app and above all, get excited and make things.

These words of advice were uttered by Matt Bischoff, one of the speakers at TEDxNJIT, an on-campus conference whose theme was Invention to Venture. The conference had seven speakers, all of whom discussed the alchemy through which good ideas become new technologies.

Joel Bloom, interim president of NJIT, discussed the university’s role in advancing science and economic development. Donald Sebastian, NJIT’s senior vice president for research and development, detailed how universities act as incubators for innovation and economic growth.

The conference was moderated by Judith Sheft, associate vice president for Technology Development at NJIT.

Bischoff, who started the app development company Lickability, said what all inventors need is passion.  “If you are not excited about your idea,” he said, “it will never come to anything.”

Good inventors share certain characteristics, he added, such as an ability to create useful products, manage their time well, focus on details and overcome failure. “If you want a start-up company, your job is to create and have fun but you must get your product built and shipped to market,” said Bischoff, a NJIT junior who works as a mobile software engineer for The New York Times.

To reinforce his main point, at the end of his talk Bischoff unbuttoned his collared shirt to reveal an undershirt across which was printed the phrase, “Get Excited and Make Things.”

Heath Ahrens, the CEO of iSpeech, a start-up firm that develops speech recognition apps, discussed what it takes to run a start-up. Many people think an inventor needs funding, said Ahrens. But funding makes you accountable to investors and prevents you from making independent decisions quickly, he said.

To run a start-up well one must offer employees equity, added Ahrens.  If employees have stock in the company they’ll work to assure it succeeds.  A start-up must also be a fun place to work, replete with ping-pong tables.  “If you have a ping pong table your employees will stay after work and talk about ideas,” he said. 

iSpeech, located in the Enterprise Development Center, NJIT’s small business incubator, employs five NJIT student interns and one recent NJIT graduate, the firm’s web developer.

Some musts to avoid when running a start-up, Ahrens added, include time-wasters, unpaid advisers and vultures -- people who want to profit from your company. “I hired a PR guy who was expensive and ineffective and nearly sunk my start-up,” said Ahrens.    

Michael Ehrlich, an assistant professor of finance at NJIT, said a viable business concept derives from an idea about which a person is passionate.

“You need to be passionate about your idea and be able to convince investors to fund it,” said Ehrlich, who advises the NJIT Innovation Acceleration Club, the student group that, along with Dorman Honors College sophomore Kevin Ly, organized the TedxTalk.

“How does your idea solve a problem, what is its value and how will it fare against competition,” said Ehrlich. “If you can passionately explain all that to investors, you’ll hook them in.”

(By Robert Florida)