“Imagine: I see a fully paralyzed man with colossal will and incredible charisma. This man, Christopher Reeves, Superman and an idol for millions of Americans, sits in an unsophisticated wheelchair and can’t even talk normally,” shared Dr. Alex Kosik, a former orthopedic surgeon specializing in spinal surgery. Kosik is also a serial entrepreneur in life science and medical technologies who has co-founded and mentored a dozen startups.
“I thought as I looked at Reeves, ‘What if I could build something to help hundreds of thousands of paralyzed people in the world live life fully?'” He points out that in the U.S. alone, there are over 200,000 people with this type of trauma.
That was a Eureka moment for Alex, who came to the U.S. as an exchange student and happened to attend Reeves’ lecture.
“His magnetism, his Superman spirit prevailed,” he said. “That moment has inspired all of my work since then.”
Alex started to think of the ways technology could help people with these types of disabilities. How could they continue to realize their potential, if nothing in their bodies except for their minds work?
“At some point I realized that spinal trauma represents more than physical trauma — it leaves a disabled person no chance to remain socially active.” I thought, what can I do with my skills and abilities to help these people? recalls Alex.
There was only one solution – connect the person to a computer. That’s exactly what Alex and his team did: they invented a device with a computer chip that can be moved by a person’s tongue. Thanks to the Alternative Handsfree Computer Management System, a disabled person can fully control a PC, most consumer electronics, and a wheelchair, and can make and return phone calls. Unlike other similar technologies on the U.S. market, it didn’t need to be connected to the teeth.
Alex called the device Gravitonus, with the first prototype in 2005. Unfortunately, though, Superman did not live long enough to use it – Reeves passed away in 2004.
After the prototype came out, events started unfolding quickly. In 2005 Alex’s company won the START Fund business competition and first place at a Stanford competition. Thanks to the Intel Capital Fund, Alex’s team took part in IBTEC at the University of California. Alex confesses, “Everyone was incredibly excited about this project! We received the highest awards.”
Yet the moment when Bill Gates shook his hand and awarded him the “Humanitarian Award” at UC Berkeley for his invention, he felt he was “in seventh heaven.”
Photo: Alex Kosik and Bill Gates, 2006
Sounds like a Cinderella story? Well, not quite.
Despite various attempts to crack the market and get the necessary venture capital, the project had to be frozen. “We were very close to creation of our own software for this device, but there is nothing you can do when there’s no funding.”
The company survived a number of turbulent years. Alex used his personal, family and friends’ funds to support his business. Little by little, he received some angel investments and then finally venture capital, until the company stood on its own two feet.
As any entrepreneur knows, perseverance and the capacity to step above the failures defines a real entrepreneur. Despite experiencing such enormous emotional and financial setbacks with the Gravitonus, Alex and his team decided to go further and use their creative energy to develop new products.
After much thought, brainstorming and countless sleepless nights, Alex’s team (his brother, his father, and him) came up with a new market-friendly product – a super ergonomic workstation. «My father is an experienced orthopedist, traumatologist and expert surgeon. We created this product without any external support!»
Today, Alex’s company is the only company in the world which produces fully customized workstations. He has numerous clients from Europe, the Middle East and Asia.
Currently, Alex resides in Fairfax, VA, and manages and mentors over 20 startup projects, including 8 projects in the IT sector. However, as he points out, Gravitonus is a special project for him. He’s also actively involved in supporting science and commercialization in Eurasia, the Middle East and Africa through CRDF Global, an independent nonprofit organization that promotes international scientific and technical collaboration through grants, technical resources, training and services.
Top 5 Tips to Succeed in Your First Startup Venture
What can help a young entrepreneur? How should one prepare to become successful in the startup world? What if someone doesn’t have an invention? What skills do you need to succeed? Alex shared these following five important tips for young entrepreneurs:
1. Generate the best idea you can. This should not be an idea for the sake of having an idea. You should know that there is a market for your idea. There are many inventions collecting dust on library shelves. You need to be able to monetize your project, instead of receiving dozens of patents and going nowhere.
2. Find an experienced mentor. Every new startuper needs this. Without a good mentor, nothing will happen. And this shouldn’t be an MBA professor with no field experience. Theory is a great thing, but if a teacher hasn’t had failures, blood and sweat, you can’t learn anything from him. Look for someone with 10-15 businesses under their belt.
3. Be ready for risk-taking. Financing and great brains are not enough. “If you are not a risk-taker, forget about the startup world, and go to a business school to get your MBA. If you can’t step over your failures, there is no entrepreneur in you,” Alex says bluntly.
4. Be flexible. You can’t insist on keeping everything static in your startup if you are seeking venture capital. For example, when Alex introduced an interesting foreign company to Silicon Valley to shop for venture capital, it didn’t work out, because the company’s leadership wasn’t flexible enough. This was a promising company which produced ultra-long term batteries for smartphones. However, when a venture capital firm offered to support them, on the condition that they replace the CEO because the startup owner was not experienced enough in managing a business, they flatly refused, and the deal didn’t go through.
5. Believe in yourself. Nothing will work without that internal confidence. Period.
Alex Kosik co-founded and has been Chief Executive Officer of Quantum Cure Inc. at Quantum Potential Corp. since January 2012. Mr. Kosik is Founder of Gravitonus and has been its President since September 2012. He cofounded SBS Public Company in January 2007 and serves as its Chief Strategy Officer. He has been a Mentor of Quantum Potential Privately since January 2012.
Andrey Gidaspov is a published author, international business expert, and a passionate “dot connector.” He is passionate about connecting people and ideas, creating new social ventures and helping non-profits find new funding streams. Follow him on Twitter (@AndreyGidaspov) and check out his blog (www.gidaspov.com) for more useful tips on creativity, fundraising and marketing.