TBY talks to Dean Kamen, President of DEKA, on the company’s achievements, the FIRST campaign, and innovation in Mexico.
THE BUSINESS YEAR DEKA’s mission is “to foster innovation.” What is the history of the company in that regard?
DEAN KAMEN I founded DEKA 30 years ago after I sold my first business, AutoSyringe. I wanted to create a company that was focused completely on the research and development of new technologies, and I’m proud to say that in the decades since, my engineers and I have dedicated ourselves to redefining “state-of-the-art” in a number of different areas. There are always challenges and frustrations, but DEKA only takes on projects that will directly benefit our end-users. Knowing that our technologies will improve lives is an excellent motivator.
What have been some your proudest achievements in technological innovation?
Asking me what invention I’m most proud of is like asking a parent which of their children is their favorite. I’m very proud of all of DEKA’s inventions because each has brought its own set of challenges and rewards. However, I am particularly encouraged by the growth of our FIRST robotics program, which inspires kids to become excited about pursuing careers in science and technology. Each young innovator we inspire will go on to create incredible inventions, so in that sense FIRST is the gift that keeps on giving.
Where are you currently focusing your design disciplines, and where does the future lie for DEKA?
We are currently working on a range of projects, from medical devices and prosthetic limbs to water purifiers and Stirling engines. I don’t know what the future holds, but given the great challenges of the 21st century, there is no shortage of new technologies we’ll have the opportunity to work on.
You have been quoted as saying: "You have teenagers thinking they're going to make millions as NBA stars when that's not realistic for even 1% of them. Becoming a scientist or engineer is." What would you like young entrepreneurs to understand about the opportunities that contribute to real economic growth?
The benefits of choosing a career in the STEM fields of science, technology, engineering, and math exist on both the personal level and the large scale. For a young man or woman, a career in technology will not only provide challenges and intellectual stimulation but also contribute to a productive and successful lifestyle. For a nation, having a population that is developing the next generation of breakthrough technologies will ensure economic growth and global competitiveness. In short, there is no better source of wealth for an individual or for a nation than technology.
What is the ethos of the FIRST campaign and how could it be implemented in Mexico to help foster an entrepreneurial spirit?
FIRST is not only dedicated to inspiring kids to get excited about science and technology but also aims to teach them the importance of cooperation and collaboration. In Mexico, we already have FIRST teams that are impacting many students and giving them the opportunity to pursue careers in the vital STEM fields. A combination of big ideas and a collaborative mindset is at the heart of entrepreneurship, and FIRST promotes both of these key ingredients.
What opportunities of particular interest exist in Mexico for technological development and innovation, and how can these contribute to the growth of the country?
The opportunities in Mexico, and in any country for that matter, depend entirely on fostering the spirit of innovation in young people. Kids today are the leaders of tomorrow, and if young people are excited about becoming engineers and technologists, they will be able to provide a strong economy for the future. The key is to inspire them at a young age, and that’s exactly what FIRST does.
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© The Business Year - September 2012