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Entrepreneurship in Action: MBA grads revolutionize winter sports

It’s a big idea that started in a swimming pool and came to fruition on the alpine slopes.

But it found its legs in an MBA entrepreneurship course in the Robert H. Lee Graduate School at the Sauder School of Business, in which teams of MBA and Engineering students create concepts and business plans for new technology ventures.

“Our professor, Thomas Hellmann, said we have to think of this as something real to take out to the market, not as a school project,” says Dan Eisenhardt, a Denmark native who came to Sauder from Melbourne on an international MBA exchange.

Hellmann, director of the W. Maurice Young Entrepreneurship and Venture Capital Research Centre at Sauder, asked the class to focus on something they were passionate about. As a competitive swimmer, Eisenhardt envisioned a simple display within his swim goggles that could offer real-time information such as lap times, stroke count and heart rate while training in water. His project team would eventually adapt the concept to winter sports.

“We’re talking about stuff that nobody has ever done,” Eisenhardt says. “You need to be visionary, you need to picture something together, and you need synergy not compromise. When you can get a group of managers all seeing the same thing, it’s extremely powerful.”

Recon Instruments was born — with Eisenhardt as president and CEO, Darcy Hughes (MBA ’06) as chief marketing officer, Fraser Hall (MBA ’06) as the company’s chairman, and Hamid Abdollahi (Master of Engineering ‘08) as chief technology officer. The Vancouver-based company spent three years developing and adapting the product, securing investors, and negotiating business partnerships with the likes of Zeal Optics.

The Transcend Goggles — the world’s first goggles with integrated GPS and near-eye display — hit the slopes in November 2010, providing users with real-time feedback including speed, latitude/longitude, altitude, distance traveled, a run counter, chronos, time and temperature, and an application to upload recorded information to social media.

“It’s like a dashboard on your car,” Eisenhardt explains. “It completely changes the user’s experience and allows you to really test yourself and your performance. It’s completely addictive!”

Transcend sold out its initial 10,000-piece production run in eight weeks, and was the most awarded product at the 2011 International CES technology tradeshow.

With 32 employees and already the market leader in a space they carved out through true innovation, Recon Instruments intends to apply its display and content solutions for additional real-time environments including the military and other action sports.

I think most people are entrepreneurs at heart but have just not been unleashed yet,” says Eisenhardt.

To that end, UBC has launched entrepreneurship@ubc, a campus-wide initiative providing a rich array of pre-incorporation support, capital and mentorship to the next generation of entrepreneurs who aspire to create and run their own ventures.

The BC Innovation Council (BCIC), which has supported Sauder entrepreneurship activities including course delivery and the BCIC Business Case Library, is a founding partner of entrepreneurship@ubc. BCIC develops programs and initiatives that promote entrepreneurial development and the commercialization of technology.