Greg Olsen, founder of Sensors Unlimited and space traveler, brings the same message to schoolchildren, entrepreneurs, and CEOs. Olsen, who paid $20 million to Space Adventures for his October 1 trip, was the third private space explorer and the first space participant since the Columbia tragedy. Don’t give up, he says, telling of his successful flight. Persistence can win the day.
Olsen keynoted the "Einstein’s Alley: Best Practices" meeting convened by Representative Rush Holt on December 19 at the Educational Testing Service campus. Olsen will also speak at the Princeton Chamber luncheon on Thursday, January 5, at noon at the Doral Forrestal. Cost: $40. Call 609-924-1776.
Einstein’s Alley is Holt’s name for the hot bed of technology in universities and businesses in the Route 1 corridor. "Einstein’s Alley is starting to run on its own power," said Holt. "We have the location and the talent, but entrepreneurship and research depend on individual initiative."
The agenda included "best practice" advice from Kenneth Traub of American Bank Note Holographics, David Lenihan of CareGain, John Romanowich of Sight Logix, Marty Johnson of Isles, Gregory Kornhaber of ExSar, and Richard Goldberg of DRS Technologies. Other speakers included Michel Bitritto of the New Jersey Commission on Science and Technology, Katherine O’Neill of Jumpstart New Jersey Angel Network, Kathleen Coviello and Michael Wiley of the Economic Development Authority, Martin Bierbaum of the Municipal Land Use Center at TCNJ, Jeff Milanette of Innovative Partners Inc., and Maxine Ballen of the New Jersey Technology Council.
"The reason I got to space is a result of living and working in New Jersey and Einstein’s Alley," declared Olsen, telling how he grew up in north Jersey and collaborated with the major universities to found two companies, Epitaxx and Sensors Unlimited. "And it all started when I was having coffee in Starbucks on Nassau Street and read about Space Adventures."
"My message is ‘Don’t give up,’" says Olsen, who is leveraging his newfound celebrity by touring inner city schools with his inspirational message. "It was true of me in science – I failed trigonometry as a senior in high school. It was true of me in business." Olsen successfully sold his first company and then sold the second company, profitably, twice.
"I made it more on persistence than brilliance," says Olsen. "When I really learned the value of persistence was when the Russian doctors found a small spot on my lung in June, 2004." Olsen had already had surgery at Deborah Heart and Lung Hospital to ameliorate emphysema, according to published reports, and he was taking medication for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and arrhythmia.
The Russian medical team refused to let the 60-year-old Olsen continue with his flight training program because they feared that, even though Olsen had no visible symptoms, he might have contracted cancer. Olsen returned to the U.S. "It was a devastating experience, equivalent to being told you don’t have a job, or to flunking out. I wasn’t that much fun to be around," admitted Olsen.
"Eventually I was able to wear down the Russian medical community." The next scan showed his lungs were clear, and he returned to training, which he said was rougher than the actual mission, when he experienced 4.5 Gs on the return trip, "or the equivalent of four people on my lap."
Olsen pointed to the Russians’ safety record: over 100 manned flights, 100 overall, and no accidents since 1971. The Russians also knew how to cut costs. For instance, the shuttle used a borrowed locomotor engine, and a snowplow transported the shuttle to the launch pad. Olsen said that start-up entrepreneurs should adopt similar cost efficiencies.
Olsen showed video of the lift-off and of himself floating in space with a Sensors Unlimited camera. Unfortunately it was a demo model, stripped of its software, because, despite the best efforts of Congressman Holt, Olsen had failed to get permission to bring the militarily sensitive real product into Russia.
Olsen spent eight days on the space station: "Every day I woke up and said to myself, ‘How lucky I am.’"