Predictions

The Inventor Behind the Segway Scooter and Insulin Pump Predicts Who Will Get to Mars First -- and It's Not Elon Musk or Richard Branson

Plus, Dean Kamen discusses which industries he thinks won't exist in 10 years and why he collects old technology.
VIP Contributor
5 min read
Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Who says you can't become an entrepreneur at 5 years old?

That's when Dean Kamen, legendary inventor of the Segway scooter, insulin pump and the portable dialysis machine, built his first gadget.

"I decided that inventing, especially solving a really important problem like making your bed automatically would be a great thing to do. And from that day forward I spent my life trying to looking at the same problems everyone else looks at, see them differently and try to figure out what technology that's now available, can be applied in some new way to this old problem to solve it," Kamen explained.

Related: A Look at the Demanding Schedule of Elon Musk, Who Works in 5-Minute Slots, Skips Breakfast and Avoids Emails

Today, he holds over 440 patents, and although he doesn't make automatic bed makers anymore, as the president of DEKA Research & Development Corporation he's found extraordinary ways to use science and technology to innovate and improve the quality of life for millions of people across the globe.

Kamen's big ideas range from the iBot, a wheelchair that raises people up to eye level and even climbs stairs to help paralyzed people, like veterans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, get their dignity back, to the Slingshot, a water purification device that tackles the developing world's clean drinking water health crisis.

Another big issue DEKA is trying to solve involves growing organs from stem cells to hopefully help 300,000 people on the organ donation waiting list.

But, Kamen is not just inventing things; he has created a platform for young engineers to follow in his footsteps. Through the not-for-profit organization FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology), he is inventing inventors.

Related: 8 Hugely Successful People Who Didn't Graduate College

FIRST was founded nearly three decades ago to inspire young people's interest and participation in science and technology. Today, it's known as the "Olympics of robotics" and has impacted millions of students around the world. This year over 460,000 students, kindergarten through high school, and 230,000 mentors, from 86 countries will take part in the competition.His mission: to make STEM cool for kids.

I wanted to get to know the genius behind these incredible accomplishments, so I met up with him at the FIRST Inspire Gala in New York City. Each year the FIRST Inspire Gala honors outstanding individuals who have positively impacted STEM education. Supporters have included President Barack Obama; Irwin Jacobs, the founding chairman and CEO of Qualcomm; and Jackie Bezos, president and co-founder of Bezos Family Foundation.

Here are 11 things you likely don't know about Kamen.

What key trait do you think defines the most successful innovators in the world?

Kamen: They never ever give up. The philosophy of a cockroach, you can step on me over and over again but I will not die.

Biggest reason entrepreneurs fail?

They lose their vision or their courage and then it's over.

Does Dean Kamen have fear?

The only thing I fear is running out of time. We can deal with any problem out there except time. Eventually it will take us all, so I want to use every second, every hour, every minute as efficiently as I can.

Related: That Time Bill Gates Answered a Tech Support Call ... and Crushed It

Favorite thing to collect?

Knowledge. New ideas. 

I also collect all sorts of old technology, but it's not the technology that amazes me, it's understanding why did they build that, what problem were they trying to solve?

Favorite junk food?

Ice cream and coffee.

Book your reading right now?

Math For The Frightened. I am trying to understand why some people don't see mathematics as beautiful and elegant like they see art or poetry. So, I like to read books by people who think they have understood that problem so I can help translate their ideas into opportunities to get more kids to love math and science.

Related: How 5 Entrepreneurs With Household Names Turned Failing Businesses Into Successes

Who gets to Mars first, Elon Musk or Richard Branson?

I think that field will have so many exciting new entrances, it's probably a dark horse that you haven't seen yet, and I think the whole transformation of space is going to surprise everybody at every new turn.

If you could be any animal what would you be?

The one that lives the longest

One super power you'd like to have?

Go back in time.

Ten years from now one industry that will no longer exist?

I think you will see industries that are dangerous and dirty and boring go away and be replaced by industries where people can be creative.

Dangerous manual labor will be replaced by robotics or eliminated. If we need coal, will we find other ways to mine it instead of putting people's lives at risk.

One person you got excited about when he/she followed you on Twitter?

Every time I hear from any kid that's involved in FIRST who starts a conversation by saying something like, "I got involved in FIRST and because of it X." At that instant, that kid is my favorite kid.

Related: This 350-Year-Old Company Shows It's Possible to Innovate in Any Industry

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