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Medal recipient speaks to preparing for the next 10x innovation

Austin Ambrose
March 1, 2017

Jake SigalJake Sigal, CEO of Tome Software and recipient of the 2016 Konneker Medal for Commercialization and Entrepreneurship, encouraged a crowd of Ohio University students and entrepreneurs to learn through failures during their time in college at a recent session sponsored by Ohio University’s Center for Entrepreneurship.

The Ohio University Foundation created the Konneker Medal to recognize current and former Ohio University faculty and students who excel in the realms of innovation, invention, commercialization and entrepreneurship.

Sigal, who earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in industrial and systems engineering from Ohio University, acknowledged the honor of receiving “hardware” for his accomplishments is gratifying. But what he enjoys most is having the opportunity to talk with students. Sharing his experiences and helping cultivate future entrepreneurs makes receiving an honor that much better, he said.

Sigal’s first entrepreneurial ventures came at Ohio University, when he purchased glow sticks in bulk and sold them to the people standing in line at a local bar. Having a passion for music, he then started to DJ parties on campus. This experience taught him the art of marketing by listening to what the customer wants.

“My buddies and I weren’t selling the services of a DJ or the lights,” Sigal said. “We were selling the experience and the best party on campus.”

Sigal’s interest in music and knack for seeing a market paid off when he founded Myine Electronics to build internet radios aimed at baby boomers. Myine quickly landed deals with NPR and Pandora and hit over $1 million in sales. Pursuing internet media helped morph Myine into Livio, which Sigal sold to Ford Motor Company in 2013.

Six months after the sale, Sigal and his partner, Massimo Baldini, launched Tome. The new company creates programs to retrofit existing consumer products to work in the “Internet of Things” — computers embedded in objects such as cars, appliances and buildings. According to the company website, its customers and partners include NASA, Quicken Loans, DishTV, and Humanscale.

Listening, Sigal said, is one of the most crucial skills to starting a business. Listening to customers and recognizing the experience the user wants, Sigal said, helps to develop a strong business strategy. Then entrepreneurs can look for capital, he added. Everyone loves a great story, so it’s the business owner’s job to sell that story.

“I was once told that if you want an investment, ask for advice, and if you want advice, ask for an investment,” Sigal said.

He challenged the audience to learn about both business and technology, which are required to succeed in the entrepreneurial world.

“If you have a really cool tech, but don’t have a plan to start a company, then that’s all you have — really cool tech,” Sigal said.

He warned of the importance of creating a strong team for your business, using his own experience as an example. Sigal said that he started Livio in 2008 with a team that was not the right combination. Now in his second business, Tome, he understands the significance of a cohesive team. Sigal loves going to work every day. He specifically enjoys working with those who are younger, he said, developing their skills and eventually seeing them succeed on their own ventures.

Sigal said he is always looking for the next innovation that will revolutionize a user experience, and does so by looking for 10x innovations. These are innovations on that make products 10 times better than they were, which leads to enhanced user experiences. He gave the example of self-driving cars as a 10x innovation. He hypothesized that most people will experience one in the next 16 months.

In his final words, Sigal encouraged the students in the room to gain some kind of experience before leaving college, just as he had.

“Think of a little venture you can go after. The key is not about the money, but listen to customers and fix their pain points,” Sigal said. “Take it out of the classroom and go do it.”

The Center for Entrepreneurship is a partnership between the Voinovich School of Leadership and Public Affairs and the College of Business.