A routine, daily task can inspire big ideas. For Peter McAlindon (’89, DB), that activity was hours of typing and programming. The uncomfortable effect—numbness in his fingers. The solution—the orbiTouch, a patented computer keyboard and mouse that requires no finger or wrist motion to operate. It was developed for people who do not have the finger or hand dexterity to use a regular keyboard or mouse.
McAlindon is the founder and CEO of technology company Blue Orb and co-founder of venVelo, a business accelerator and seed capital fund. VenVelo was recently named a resident partner at Embry-Riddle’s Research Park in Daytona Beach, Fla. As such, it will play a key role in supporting start-up ventures and advancing new technologies toward commercialization and launch.
McAlindon is currently teaching as the entrepreneur-in-residence at the Rollins College Crummer Graduate School of Business in Winter Park, Fla. He earned a Master of Aeronautical Science at Embry-Riddle and holds a Ph.D. in Industrial Engineering from the University of Central Florida.
A social entrepreneur with a heart for improving quality of life for people with physical challenges, he recently shared some of his experiences and business advice.
Q: How long did it take to develop orbiTouch—from idea to market?
A: Almost eight years. The idea for the orbiTouch Keyless Keyboard was first investigated via my doctoral dissertation. After completing the initial dissertation research, the company was born, and we had multiple National Science Foundation Small Business Innovation Research grants that helped us further prove out the technology and to develop our first prototypes. It took another few years to raise capital to complete the tooling and to manufacture the product.
Q: What made you realize that your keyboard/mouse was a real, marketable idea?
A: When a participant in one of my initial studies wanted to place an order for an orbiTouch. She offered me cash to buy the first one. She was a retired typing instructor and had carpal tunnel in both hands. After her first few sessions with the orbiTouch, she began to cry; when I asked what was wrong, she said she hadn’t been able to type for years due to the pain. The orbiTouch allowed her to type again.
Q: How has orbiTouch opened up new personal and professional interests for you?
With regard to personal interests, I realized that much more can and should be done to help people with disabilities. Technology helps level the playing field for jobs, education and social well-being. What’s interesting is that everything I do now professionally aligns well with my personal goals to help other entrepreneurs and, in particular, those who serve people with disabilities.
Q: How can entrepreneurs stand out in today’s crowded marketplace—to both consumers and investors?
A: To stand out today, an entrepreneur needs to have feedback and buy-in from as many people as possible during their entire development process. An entrepreneur first and foremost needs to know and understand that there is a market for their product(s) or service(s). The best way to do this is to talk to people early and often about what you are doing, discover how well your idea addresses their true need, and develop a business model to launch and build your business.
Similarly, the best way to impress investors is to develop a business model that works, with real customers driving it—that means being in touch with people who have a need and are willing to pay to have that need fulfilled. When you can demonstrate that you have a market for your product, with real customer data and interest, investors will take note.
Q: What characteristics/attributes do entrepreneurs need to succeed?
A: You really have to believe in what you are doing and you have to stay with it long enough to make it work. You can’t be afraid to tell the world, one person at a time, about your idea. Without a deep interest and passion for an idea, it’s difficult to work the long hours required to make it a reality. There are several others we can discuss as well—coach-ability, openness to new ideas from other people, not being afraid to fail, being thick-skinned for all of the doubters and naysayers.
Q: Any additional advice, insight for budding entrepreneurs?
A: Don’t be afraid. Stay with it. Reach out to other entrepreneurs. Find a market first, develop a product. Learn from others. Identify and build on a real need.
Editor’s Note: McAlindon is the chairman of the Industry Advisory Board for Embry-Riddle’s Center for Entrepreneurship. He recently participated as a judge in the 2nd annual Entrepreneurship Expo at Embry-Riddle, held in April at the Daytona Beach Campus.