I would inspire a clean drinking water movement across the globe. About eight years after that trip to Mexico that I mentioned previously, I met with a tribal king from Africa. I talked to him about how to transfer energy without cords, and he started to laugh. “Our people are dying from bad water, and you’re moving energy to charge phones,” he said. He was making a joke, but a serious joke. I took this to heart and went back to my team and said, let’s do something about this. We realized the issue is not only tech, it’s education. Most people don’t even realize that access to clean drinking water in third world countries is a problem. Ultimately, we were able to create a low-cost device that has an LED bulb powered by a hand crank that emits a UV wavelength. The device eliminates the need for chemicals, electricity, filters and other expensive inputs. The best part is that it can produce drinkable water within 10 seconds of deployment, thus providing households with a cheap, effective, long-term solution.
I had the pleasure of interviewing serial entrepreneur and inventor Ran Poliakine. Ran has founded several successful companies most notably, wireless charging company Powermat as well as Illumigyn, Wellsense, Nanox Technologies, and Tap. Ran is passionate about “using technology for good.”
Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
Idon’t think being an entrepreneur is something you necessarily control. It’s not as if you wake up one day, and say, ok, today I want to be an entrepreneur. Being an entrepreneur is more like a condition — a medical condition. It’s just something you have in you. For me, working for a large corporation is just not part of my DNA. It wouldn’t work for me. But starting company after company and being a serial entrepreneur — that does work for me. I do that simply because that’s what I need to do. That’s what gives me purpose. I’m most passionate about solving big problems and trying to change the way people live, work and play for the better.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
About 17 years ago I was traveling around Mexico City. I had never been there before and didn’t entirely know what to expect. One of the sights that moved me was people stretched out in the street in obvious distress. When I asked my traveling companion what the cause of this suffering was, she told me that it was “water sickness” and that it was common throughout the country. Later, when I learned the root cause of this disease, it shocked me almost as much as the sight of its victims: a simple lack of access to clean water.
That experience eventually led me on a mission to find a solution. I knew there was no shortage of reputable charities and organizations attempting to cleanly hydrate developing nations. But I also knew that I could help by finding a long-term, low-cost solution that would address the need for drinkable water at the household level. To do this, my business partner and I created the Water Elephant. It’s a device that uses the ultraviolet waves commonly found in fluorescent lighting to kill bacteria. It’s a hand-operated UV water-purification system that can easily be used in the home.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
Many years back when auto spelling was not yet integrated into our lives, I made the innocent mistake of talking about “bed news” instead of “bad news.” Someone was kind enough to correct me, reinforcing the understanding that strong communication skills are fundamental to success.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
Basically, I have a penchant for reinventing old technologies to address newer, more modern issues. When I spot a need and formulate a solution, either on paper or in my head, I’m not afraid to step outside the box or break the rules a bit to make it happen.
For instance, I founded a wireless charging company called Powermat. The technology that Powermat uses to wirelessly charge devices is based on the groundbreaking work that Nikola Tesla began so many years ago. Life is an evolutionary process and we all stand on the shoulders of those who paved the way for us to innovate and upgrade our lives.
The same is true in business. As the old saying goes, there is nothing new under the sun. That’s very true. In my experience though there is always a new twist on things that, if looked at from a different angle, outside the “box” of its origin or intention, can be useful in an entirely unexpected way.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
I was doing some in-flight reading on a trip from New York to London, and I learned that 60,000 Americans die from bedsores every year. To put that number in perspective, bedsores claim about 20,000 more lives annually than car accidents. I discovered that these deaths are totally preventable and decided I had to do something about the problem. I knew technology would provide the answer.So I went to work with my business partner and founded a company called Wellsense, which developed the first-ever technology that helps take the guesswork out of repositioning non-ambulatory hospital patients and nursing home residents by mapping out areas of pressure on the body and producing a color-coded, live image on a bedside monitor.There are 12.5 million new occurrences of pressure ulcers each year at an estimated cost of treatment of more than $125,000 per instance. I knew there was a better way than the current “guesstimation” protocol currently used by nurses to reposition patients. Now, Wellsense is used in major facilities nationwide and we’ve lowered the instance of pressure ulcers in those facilities to practically none.
What advice would you give to other CEOs or founders to help their employees to thrive?
When you’re an entrepreneur, creating companies that deliver financial returns is great. But far greater is creating companies that solve real problems, alleviate suffering and improve people’s lives. For me, that’s the highest goal of entrepreneurship.
How do you define “Leadership”?
I’m not a naïve idealist. I know profit is the lure that draws investment and drives innovation. I also know that companies can do well by doing good. I’ve done it multiple times. And I’ll continue to do it as long as I’m an entrepreneur, because I believe that true success is not measured by how much money you have in the bank. It’s measured by how many lives you’ve improved.
What advice would you give to other CEOs about the best way to manage a large team?
Realize what you are good at and have strong people around you to complete your set of skills. A good CEO is a leader of a great team.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
This person doesn’t know to what extent he influenced my life. He was my mentor before this word was even popular. He always inspired me to take a task and complete it from A-to-Z rather than trying to juggle too many balls. He had a rule: “touch paper once,” meaning don’t go back and forth with the task. Adopting this helps me to be efficient with my time and ideas.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
In 2015, a deadly earthquake struck central Nepal. The impact of the quake was far reaching and devastating, with thousands of victims. As with any major natural disaster, the need for aid was extensive. For our part, one of my companies, QinFlow, donated our devices to the Israeli humanitarian delegation that was on the ground in Nepal helping with the relief efforts. QinFlow is the only field operated, blood and IV fluid warming solution in the world that is capable of bringing fluids from any input quickly up to the body’s normal temperature of 37°C (98.6°F). The Israeli humanitarian mission to Nepal reported very favorable experience with the QinFlow device. Due to its simplicity, robustness and high performance, it gradually became the ‘solution-of-choice’ by the medical team for warming blood and IV fluids. I am very produd that QinFlow helped in treating many patients and saving lives.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Became CEO” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)
· Don’t be blinded from big fund money
· Chose an idea that you relate to
· Work with people whom you trust will be there for you in good times and in bad
· First focus on the things that are within your reach and not dependent on others- i.e., the technology/ product
· Enjoy the journey and your family
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
I would inspire a clean drinking water movement across the globe. About eight years after that trip to Mexico that I mentioned previously, I met with a tribal king from Africa. I talked to him about how to transfer energy without cords, and he started to laugh. “Our people are dying from bad water, and you’re moving energy to charge phones,” he said.
He was making a joke, but a serious joke. I took this to heart and went back to my team and said, let’s do something about this. We realized the issue is not only tech, it’s education. Most people don’t even realize that access to clean drinking water in third world countries is a problem. Ultimately, we were able to create a low-cost device that has an LED bulb powered by a hand crank that emits a UV wavelength. The device eliminates the need for chemicals, electricity, filters and other expensive inputs. The best part is that it can produce drinkable water within 10 seconds of deployment, thus providing households with a cheap, effective, long-term solution.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step” by the Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu, represents the balance between being a dreamer and making things happen. It inspires me to adopt the agility required to overcome the gap between fantasy and reality.
Read Ran's posts on innovation, society, and the world at large.