CEO Q&A: Why is the business world the most efficient method to fuel innovation?
There’s no doubting the fact that Charles Deguire knows how to build a successful enterprise. Kinova’s recent funding announcement, a Series A with 25M, stands as proof. But, when you sit down to speak with Charles about the process of building a business, the conversation automatically turns to the company’s core values. While the products and the company have evolved over time, what's remained consistent is Deguire’s commitment to science that empowers mankind. What does that mean in practical terms? This Q&A uncovers the foundations of Charles’ inspirations, and explains why the business world is the most efficient method to fuel innovation.
By Charles Deguire
The speed of innovation
Q: We’ve been focusing a lot on what it means to be “innovative.” In your view, what’s the most important innovation right now?
A: Accessibility is a big priority for me and will continue to be for some time. Creating value for users — for individuals with disabilities or researchers — has been at the forefront of every decision we make. We know that we can create value. Now the next big task is how we can ensure our products reach people. Right now, accessibility is a huge hurdle for businesses; navigating legacy healthcare systems will continue to be a challenge until collaboration is the norm.
Q: How does your current focus relate to your initial inspiration for starting Kinova? Are they linked, or has it evolved?
A: My initial inspiration was selfish: I wanted to build something that would help my uncle who was suffering from [muscular dystrophy]. I had an expertise I was developing in robotics and technology in general. In addition to that, I took issue with the ways in which knowledge in engineering and robotics was being leveraged: the fact that there were robots in space and my uncle couldn’t grab a bottle of water, to put it plainly, insulted me. In my academic space, everyone had knowledge in robotics. But that wasn’t being applied to people who need it.
Q: It’s clear that you’ve disrupted the robotics space with a new narrative: one that focuses on robotics to empower people, rather than replace them. How do you tie this goal back to your products?
A: That’s simple: we set the right goals. If you can, in theory, “replace” people with robots, then empowering them with robots should be even easier. You just need to shift your thinking and have a constructive dialogue to ensure the goal is being met. As a team, we always tie back what we are doing to the core goals.
Q: What has been your biggest challenge bringing your product to market, and furthermore, achieving your goal?
A: The speed of innovation. In order to have innovation, you need collaboration between multiple groups: businesses, government, and universities. When we launched our robotic arm JACO, we were very proud and happy of our work. But it also proved that a product, regardless of how good it is, won’t make it to the user overnight.
Q: What are the practical methods you are employing to increase accessibility?
A: First and foremost: it’s vital to improve communications with the entire ecosystem: this is everything from the healthcare insurance provider to the clinical teams working with patients, to other players within the industry. We need to come together — rather than stand in opposition — to make things happen. This is crucial.
Second, it’s key to never stop evolving. Your product, your business model, the training. We need to evolve as fast as possible, and to do that, we must not limit ourselves to existing products or processes. Be open to change and be agile.
Q: How do the company’s core values play out in the day-to-day communications with Kinovians?
A: I always champion quality communication over quantity; know your purpose and your goal. I also always tell people to communicate their obstacles because more often than not, someone besides them knows how to overcome this obstacle. I was taught the “why, how, what” process by a mentor and I learned early on the value of the why. There has to be a purpose for what you’re doing.
Q: Company culture, especially for technology-focused companies is an increasingly popular topic. What sets Kinovians apart from the pack?
A: Our eagerness to learn and to answer the “why” on the day-to-day. Our purpose — to improve the quality of life for people — and our strategy for our products coalesce with our internal objective to empower people to attain excellence. Our best tool as a business is the speed at which we allow ourselves to evolve. We firmly believe in providing ample room for evolution and growth.
Q: In the process of building Kinova, what has been your biggest lesson so far?
A: It’s very difficult to pinpoint just one. For starters, I learned the importance of knowing your true purpose, and always tying your every move to that purpose. If you do that, you’ll never lose focus of what matters. And second, how much I enjoy using the business as a channel for innovation and change; when I was young and I knew I wanted to do something impactful, I could have chosen many different paths. But I found that businesses are the fastest mechanism for change;
If you want to change the world, build a business and set a mission on that.