“Be passionate but realistic. Learn to adapt, and don't give up. It’ll take longer than you think, but you'll change the world.”


Those were some of the words of wisdom passed on from the stories of entrepreneurs and innovators at IBM’s SmartCamp Global Finals here in San Francisco on February 2nd, 2012.


IBM SmartCamp is a year-long worldwide entrepreneurship competition sponsored by IBM, hosting regional competitions in cities around the globe before convening the finalists in San Francisco to compete for prizes of mentoring and support—not to mention the publicity and attention of the venture capitalists that were all gathered at the Bentley Reserve to hear the business pitches.


My intention was to meet some of the entrepreneurs who are doing sustainable, SMART innovation and interview them for their own personal narratives. 


Among the finalists were companies that enable skin cancer detection with a mobile device, help commuters avoid traffic, and deliver better shopping experiences.


The finalist team that I spoke with is dedicated to sustaining our clean water supply. Ray Slatton, CEO, and Robert Clark, CFO represented SecureWaters, a Tennessee-based company that has developed and commercialized technology that monitors and detects toxins in surface water using indigenous algae to do the testing.


With plenty of good humor, Ray and Robert delivered lessons for aspiring entrepreneurs and innovators that mostly focused on the importance of being patient. Ray had a successful 35-year career in engineering and construction management before one day, “sitting on [his] porch,” he decided he wanted to work on the issue of threats to the water supply. He acquired the patented technology for water testing through a licensing arrangement with Oak Ridge National Laboratories. Along the way, Ray was introduced to Robert, an engineer, former Navy officer, and MBA in the financial services industry. Robert eventually left his job in the financial services industry to became SecureWaters’ CFO, but not before they had advanced the company far enough along for him to make a full transition.


When asked about the decision to join a start-up, Robert said, “I wanted to combine the different elements of my background.”


As for the timing of entrepreneurial ventures in one’s life, Robert said, “If you can’t sleep at night because you can’t make ends meet,” then it’s probably not the right time.


Their advice to aspiring entrepreneurs and innovators: Know the risks, be realistic, and take steps to get to where you want to be—today there are far fewer barriers to learning and testing the market. And test your market you must—test for proven demand.


The biggest challenges that they’ve overcome? “Not killing each other!” Ray laughed.


Overall their story is a testament to patience in life, and patience with the innovation process.  “It takes a lot longer than you think,” Robert advised.

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Sue Lebeck 

  Cool Block Platform Director

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