Joe Grand: Turning Science into Startups: Lessons from Television and the Real World

As we head into the last few months before the Bay Area Hackfest in November, this blog will feature a series of abstracts of the talk that our speakers, each of them a thoughtful and engaging expert in their field, will be sharing in November.

a photograph of Joe Grand
Joe Grand
Principal Engineer, Grand Idea Studio, Inc.

My life has been shaped by engineering and hacking.

Growing up behind the keyboard of an Atari 400, spending countless hours on bulletin board systems, and building electronic projects from magazine how-to columns, I was lucky to discover my passion early on. When other kids would talk about what they’d be when they grew up, it was firefighter, police officer, or astronaut. I wanted to be an engineer. How many seven year olds say that?

Some time along the way, I joined forces with extremely talented folks to create Prototype This, a science entertainment program on the Discovery Channel. The show followed the process of four engineers building crazy one-of-a-kind prototypes, like giant boxing robots, a self-parking truck that could also elevate itself and move in any direction over traffic, and an autonomous lifejacket-delivering drone. It was real engineering crammed into 13 one-hour episodes. I never had any intention of being on television, but the opportunity to share what I loved with others was too good to pass up.

What I’ve come to realize is there are many similarities between making a television show and building a startup, such as finding the right people, understanding your market, overcoming technical problems, learning from failure, and creating a product that your customers will appreciate.

In this session, I’ll share some behind-the-scenes experiences of bringing engineering to the masses with Prototype This, as well as stories about being part of, working for, and advising startups. Hopefully, I’ll inspire you to forge your own path and take full advantage of what the DARPA Bay Area SDR Hackfest has to offer, but also remind you of the realities and challenges you might face along the way.