Big ideas are excitedly nurtured on the MBA Innovation and Entrepreneurship track at UBC, Vancouver. Comfort zones are replaced with brave new worlds. Breath is held. And all hopes are pinned on a breakthrough.
Which is exactly how multiple award-winning technology company, Recon Instruments and their GPS-enabled Micro Optics Displays for ski goggles were born.
When competitive swimmer Dan Eisenhardt dreamed up high-tech aqua goggles with his team for the Technology Entrepreneurship course offered by Sauder’s Robert H. Lee Graduate School, the response was to "keep thinking."
"One problem was that there was an existing patent for swimming goggles with a head-mounted display," Professor Thomas Hellmann recently told the Financial Times for a profile written about how the team’s product originated at Sauder. "I told them: ‘If you’re entrepreneurs, you’ve got to rethink it."
Undeterred, Eisenhardt, a Denmark native who came to Sauder on an international MBA exchange, regrouped with his business and engineering colleagues. Their "aha" moment finally came with the decision to transform their idea for the ski slopes.
"We are the market leader in a space that we have carved out."
- Darcy Hughes
Carving a new line
Naming themselves Recon Instruments, the team continued to work together after graduation to develop the world’s first GPS and motion sensor head mounted display for ski and snowboard goggles, with a micro-LCD display giving real-time statistics on speed, jump analytics, distance, vertical, temperature and altitude and more.
Ultimately, this system encourages skiers and boarders to go bigger, faster, safer and for longer.
"It’s like a dashboard on your car," Eisenhardt explains. "It totally changes the user’s experience and allows you to really test yourself and your performance. It’s completely addictive!"
Along with his co-founders chief marketing officer Darcy Hughes, chairman Fraser Hall, and chief technology officer Hamid Abdollahi, Eisenhardt, now CEO of Recon, spent the next three years securing investors, negotiating business partnerships and refining the product.
"With all the technology that’s come with skiing and snowboarding over the past few decades there’s still been something missing this entire time but nobody’s been bold enough to see it, even though it’s right there in front of their eyes."
- Dan Eisenhardt
When quizzing skiers and boarders to find out what information they wanted to see in their goggles, Recon discovered to their surprise that their product was so revolutionary people couldn’t visualize its potential.
"We quickly found that people’s responses were limited by what they thought was possible," says Eisenhardt. "With all the technology that’s come with skiing and snowboarding over the past few decades there’s still been something missing this entire time but nobody’s been bold enough to see it, even though it’s right there in front of their eyes."
A sellout success
Recon’s innovative move paid off. By November 2010 their Transcend goggles hit the market, selling out its initial 10,000-piece production run. They were also the most awarded product at the 2011 International Consumer Electronics Show (CES).
In January 2012, Recon successfully raised $10 million in funding from Vanedege Capital and Kopin Inc to further commercialize their existing products and develop software for smartphones and other peripherals.
So what’s next for the four UBC MBA grads? The next generation innovations of course. Partnering with top goggle makers Uvex, Alpina, Briko and Zeal Optics, Recon Instruments have produced products MOD and MOD Live. This time around, the head-mounted display can be retrofit into various "Recon-Ready" goggles for more choice of brands, frame styles and price-points.
Running off the Android operating system, MOD Live also connects with smart phones to bring buddy tracking, MP3 playlists, SMS and caller ID direct to eye as well as Bluetooth connectivity to select wireless video cameras.
"We are the market leader in a space that we have carved out," says Darcy Hughes. "Recon Instruments intends to carry on through other sports and leisure markets, from kite-boarding to scuba diving. Our ethos is to aid individuals with real-time information in fast-paced environments, bringing hardware and software innovations that enhance performance and experience through proprietary technology."
Expanding even further on their breakthrough idea, the team is now shooting for the moon, so to speak. Eisenhardt recently released the following statement: "Recon Instruments is extremely proud to have its technology considered by NASA to aid their astronauts in space exploration."