Kevin Surace, Founder & CEO, Appvance

Date: Friday, February 03, 2017
Location: Santa Clara

A veteran disruptive innovator, Kevin Surace, wowed Alliance CEOs during our February 3rd Alliance Regional meeting in Santa Clara by reviewing a short history of innovation and then making bold projections into the future. Kevin’s favorite book is Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead, an inspiring work written by Dr. Brené Brown that explores the power that comes with vulnerability. This book formed much of Kevin’s approach to innovation, a process that necessarily comes with risk and liability. Yet, it is those leaders who dare greatly with disruptive innovation that end up building lasting businesses and changing the world.

Kevin highlighted this point by describing the moment when Steve Jobs came back to Apple. The Board of Directors had lost its way and was willing to do almost anything. Jobs felt no shame and took great risks with the iPod, iPhone and iPad. The result was a torrent of disruptive innovation that stretched across the telecommunications, music, computer and transportation industries – and beyond. Kodak, on the other hand, was an example of the opposite approach. They developed many technologies including digital photography, but saw themselves linked to film and paper photography. The result? They lost the company and went into bankruptcy.

So how does one dare greatly with disruptive innovation? Kevin described his own experience when he looked at the raw carbon dioxide emissions data from NASA and discovered that significant energy loss came from windows that offered little protection and insulation from the outside environment – what is known as the “R factor.” Over the past decades, walls had increased their R values, but windows had not. Sensing a market ripe for disruptive innovation, Kevin developed a process to reuse and manufacture window glass to obtain R values 5-7 times more than previously possible. He manufactured all the windows for the Empire State Building, which resulted in savings of $450,000 per year in energy, a 3-year break-even point and has saved $30,000,000 over the life of the windows.

Next, Kevin identified the pervasive issue of sound going through walls and developed the first soundproof drywall. This development was especially difficult because the sheets needed to be split to insert non-paper material into the center. Yet, he eventually developed a manufacturing process and automated it to great success. The risk and vulnerability he took on by re-engineering something as pervasive as drywall was real, but then so was the reward.

Kevin concluded his talk by forecasting mass automation as the next major innovation. By 2050, he estimates that tasks performed today will be automated, and that companies must either embrace this change or die. He further predicted that future successful companies will develop software that underlies robotics process automation. With Kevin’s proven track record of innovation, these predictions are certainly not to be taken with a grain of salt.

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