Tad Davis helps promote innovation and entrepreneurialism throughout campus and across the country.
It took awhile and a very circuitous route for Tad Davis to find his passion.
A couple of stints in college mixed with some business ventures outside of the scholastic atmosphere hadn't really done much in helping him figure out what he wanted to do in life. But one of those business opportunities ultimately showed him just what his passion was.
As part of a business with his father, the native of the Zephyr, Texas, just east of Brownwood, was involved with internet technology solutions. But part of their business was executing a contract with the State of Texas to help train the blind in new technologies and job skills.
More and more, he found himself working more on the state contract than he did on IT solutions, and it was there he discovered the path to his life he's sought all along.
"At first the state contract aspect was just a side project for me," said Davis, a senior mechanical engineering major. "I was trying to focus on the IT, but it became what I really loved doing, and eventually my father stepped aside and moved on to other things. I continued the work, but I decided I needed to go back to school because I wasn't having as big an impact as I felt I could, and that's what I really wanted to do."
So Davis enrolled at South Plains College, and from there his career path really took off. With a desire to develop the technology that helps the blind instead of just training them to use it, Davis discovered the University Innovation Fellows from a professor. He "pestered" the professor long enough that his name was selected to go through the application process, and he eventually was selected as a University Innovation Fellow.
That opened numerous doors for Davis, who in 2016 attended a gathering in California of UIFs and industry leaders, such as Google and Microsoft, called the Silicon Valley Meetup. Upon his return, and motivated by the culture of innovation and entrepreneurship, Davis helped found an organization to foster those elements at South Plains College. Upon transferring to Texas Tech University last fall, he continued that work with organizations with the same goals.
Davis just returned from his second Silicon Valley Meetup at Stanford University, but this time he was more than just an attendee. He helped organize the event and gave presentations to those in attendance to help promote innovation, entrepreneurship and how to build an effective team that can execute ideas and turn them into entrepreneurial opportunities.
"Really, it's all about a culture change," Davis said of the meetup. "We're trying to create a culture of innovation that can have a positive effect on the surrounding community. We're in a lot of different schools all over the country and all over the world, so the idea is to create innovators and give them the skill set needed to have a positive impact on their community and the population at large."
Finding his passion
Like many after high school, Davis still wondered what he wanted to do with his life.
Two stints in college in the Fort Worth area hadn't given him any more clarification than before. Neither had a previous venture into the business world.
Davis' father in the late 1990s had a company called PC Accessibility that helped train the blind in the latest technologies and job skills to help them cope in the world. Eventually, the two decided to restart the business, with Davis focusing on IT.
But in working with the blind, Davis began to discover that having that interaction with them and training them to become productive members of society was something he loved, and that took precedence over his IT work. Davis ultimately took over the company from his father, but still felt something was missing.
One of the technologies that was part of the training was a new teaching method that would help the blind learn Braille easier and make it more engaging. Research shows the blind literacy rate is only about 10 percent, and Davis said a main reason behind that is there are not enough Braille teachers who know how to work with the blind.
Suddenly, everything started falling into place.
"Anytime we would actually see a customer go from just getting a disability check every month and that's it, to suddenly having a job and income, and seeing them light up once they realized they were making their own way, that inspired me," Davis said. "I figured the best thing I could do is get into engineering and actually develop the technology that makes these things more accessible to people with disabilities."
That led Davis back to school, first at South Plains where he became a UIF and eventually to Texas Tech. After participating in the Red Raider Startup event through the Innovation Hub and Research Park, he launched a startup company with seven other people called Turing Tech that is focused on promoting innovation and entrepreneurship around those technologies. They are working on a prototype and seeking a patent and further funding.
Now, Davis wants to help others find their passion as well.
After returning from his first trip to the Silicon Valley Meetup, Davis helped found an organization that helps students with their innovative and entrepreneurial aspirations. SEARCH – Student Entrepreneurs After Real Change – was developed to help impart ideas learned by University Innovation Fellows and apply them to problems that have been identified on campus.
"It's a way to essentially help students be able to look at things a little differently and identify those issues that, maybe, most people didn't realize were there initially," Davis said, "and find innovative ways to solve those problems. I think that's a good way to get students started and hopefully identify what their passion is, if they don't already know it."
For example, SEARCH is aiding in the development of an app that can help new students get around campus better. It is also helping tackle the issue of water waste at SPC by monitoring the amount spent each month on utilities.
Little did Davis know, however, there is a similar consortium of entrepreneurial students which exists at Texas Tech as well. The Texas Tech Innovation Mentorship and Entrepreneurship (TTIME) program does many of the same things as SEARCH, and when he transferred to Texas Tech in the fall, Davis immediately became involved in the program. His involvement with the Silicon Valley Meetup and another gathering last summer called the Global Entrepreneurship Summit, also at Stanford, led Davis to be elected president of TTIME in his first semester on campus.
Davis and other TTIME officers spent last semester trying to figure out how to have the biggest impact on student innovation and entrepreneurialism, and even invited SEARCH members to meetings in order to strengthen their initiative.
"One of the more recent UIFs here at Texas Tech from this current cohort interviewed a lot of students during her training to become part of the UIF program," Davis said. "Every student she talked to, she asked them what their passion was, what are the most passionate about. She got answers ranging from music to art to theatre, whatever. But when she asked what their majors are, it was always engineering or law school, or whatever, completely opposite.
"So I think this kind of program helps show students they can take their passion and turn it into something more than just a hobby, and they can make a difference with it and actually make a living at it. That is what has kind of led me to all this."
The success of Davis and his team over the past year also led those involved with the Silicon Valley Meetup to invite him back for a second year, but this time as one of the event organizers and presenters. He also worked with other teams at the meetup to help them get started with their entrepreneurial ideas.
One of his presentations encouraged those in attendance to take advantage of forming and working with a team as opposed to going solo, and also the best way to build a team that can effectively execute the group's vision and goals.
"Doing things solo is OK for a little while," Davis said. "But I think a huge barrier to success is that you're going to get some pushback on an idea and you're not going to want to change it because it's your baby. Once you get into a room, however, with people who are all focused on moving forward with this one goal in mind, you're going to come up with some innovative solutions. That is the biggest advantage to working on a team of people who have different background and experiences. Having a team is the most beneficial thing you can do if you hope to be innovative and have any kind of impact."
The first step toward building that successful team, Davis said, is having a clearly defined vision for the company or collaborative effort. Then, that vision needs to be communicated early enough that it reaches as many people as possible who have the same idea or interest.
One thing Davis said he would like to see would be a bigger sense of cooperation between all the entrepreneurial groups at Texas Tech. While TTIME consists of primarily engineering students, there are other groups such as Texas Tech CEO, which is made up mostly of students from the Rawls College of Business, and others who are promoting innovation and entrepreneurialism in their respective colleges or areas.
He was in the College of Media & Communication building just recently for a supplemental instruction session when he saw an advertisement for a startup competition within the college, which he had not heard of up to that point. Getting all these groups together that have the same shared goal would make entrepreneurialism on campus even that much stronger.
"Once we do that, we'll start seeing this culture of collaboration similar, hopefully, to what you see at Stanford," Davis said. "Hopefully more startups will come out of all that. That really is the goal, to help students find their passion and get connected with the right people to help them launch a business that has a positive impact on the community."
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