The Venture Center community is full of innovators, business leaders and influencers from various industries. Today we're highlighting one of our mentors, Walter Burgess.
Walter is the VP of Engineering and Sales at Power Technology Inc., a company his family founded in 1969 that is a driving force in the laser industry. Power Technology designs, develops and manufactures a comprehensive range of laser products for scientific, biomedical, industrial, semiconductor inspection, machine vision, defense and security applications.
Read on to learn about the legacy of innovation in Arkansas that shaped Walter into who he is today as an entrepreneur, why he thinks Elon Musk might be a "master hype builder," and an important industry that is generating $100 million in the state!
- What inspired you to go down the path that has led you to where you are today?
There’s no doubt that without Thomas H. Burgess, my father, I would be in a very different place than I am now. Looking back, he modeled the best aspects of entrepreneurship every day.
For example, he was always tinkering. Always creating. Always making useful things. He made his own ultra-bright pocket size flashlight for personal use from scratch before Maglight and SureFire were even on the scene. As an entrepreneur he made red laser pointers before they became ubiquitous and cheap. (As a side note, Power Technology stopped selling them when the price fell below $300).
They went on to design and build 8-track duplicators (before cassette tapes!) and even built a point-to-point laser communication system that could transmit video over long distances! This was in the 70s! At this point in time there wasn’t a tech community in Arkansas and very little manufacturing. The Arkansas tech scene consisted of Klipsch making speakers, Blount & George (Now AGL/GeoMax) making construction lasers and LaCroix Optical making optics. Power Technology was founded in 1969 to build power supplies for HeNe lasers.
That’s the type of ingenuity, work ethic, and entrepreneurship that shaped me into who I am today.
What trophy or award do you want on your mantel?
As far as recognition goes, I believe your peers are best suited to judge value and innovation. I would love to earn a Prism Award. This award is the "Oscar of Innovation" and is awarded by our peers in the Photonics industry to innovative companies for an innovative product. I have the perfect spot picked out for it!
If you could have a Skype call with any living person, who would it be and why?
I would have a call with Elon Musk. I want to see if he is really as bright of a guy as he seems or just a master hype builder. On the technical end, I have doubts about Hyperloop. I'm not sure it's practical to have a vacuum inside a tube that is hundreds or thousands of miles long. Industrial applications have always struggled to maintain a vacuum in large vessels. I would love to hear from him how he plans to keep that vacuum in his tubes.
What are two skills that entrepreneurs should have or acquire?
One: Unfailing confidence that you will be successful someday.
Two: The ability to discard (or fail at!) 999 good ideas and recognize the 1 great opportunity that you or your team are uniquely positioned to succeed at.
What’s new and exciting at Power Technology?
We’ve recently developed a technology platform that replaces xenon lamps in projectors with laser light! It is brighter, more efficient, and lasts 20 times longer than lamps. This technology is so useful and valuable that we are spinning it off into its own company. I’d love for investors and technophiles like me to see this technology so anyone interested should get in touch!
What is something you’d like to promote?
I think the public would be surprised to know how many photonics companies are in Arkansas. This industry employs more than 500 people statewide and produces over $100 million in contribution to the state's economy.
Photonics describes any technology that combines both photons and electronics. Hence the name, photonics. This includes LEDs, lasers, optics, cameras, fiber optics, projection, CDs and DVDs, optical sensors, etc. I would love for people to understand the contributions photonics makes to their everyday lives!