SURVIVR awarded SBIR Phase III contract to provide Virtual Reality training to US Air Force

Among other recent wins, I’m excited to announce that SURVIVR has gained its next military contract. Our team has been working hard to secure this deal and I can’t be any prouder of them. We appreciate the Air Force’s dedication to innovative training solutions.

“The contract began on August 25, 2020, with an initial award amount of USD $229,500. The end date of the contract has the potential to continue on until August 2025, with a full potential award amount of just over USD $2 million.”

See the full article here.

2020 NTX Inno on Fire Virtual Awards Celebration

SURVIVR was recently named the #1 hottest virtual reality startup in North Texas. As part of the awards celebration, I appeared on a virtual panel with 3 other awardees to discuss our police training, experiences with startup accelerators, responses to COVID-19, and fundraising dynamics.

Check out the panel here:

SURVIVR’s Appearance in the Wall Street Journal

Today, the Wall Street Journal’s ‘The Future of Everything’ podcast released their latest episode called “Technology Helps Train Police Officers.” In this 25-minute episode, producer Janet Babin explores the latest developments in police training, especially in the context of recent police incidents and protests. 

You’ll hear expert voices from places such as LAPD, Axon, and Colleyville PD on how and why technologies such as VR are being implemented into police training. And, as this post’s title implies, you’ll also hear SURVIVR featured as one of the more advanced VR companies in this space – starting at the 6:38 mark.

Feel free to access the full episode here.

On the Passing of George Floyd – A Heavy Path to Tread

It has been a tragic week with the passing of George Floyd. I am saddened by the actions of the officers involved and the resulting chaos nationwide.

People are furious. We all want accountability, reasonable practices, and equal treatment from our law enforcement. No personal characteristics or intrinsic traits, including race, should sway the manner at which law enforcement responds to a call for service.

We all want justice for George Floyd and the victims before him. This rage has been made apparent by the recent protests and riots. Now, I’ve given the violent riots a lot of thought, and while I generally don’t condone them on a high level, I’ve decided to open my mind and refrain from condemning them in this context. It’s true that I’ve been a longtime supporter of law enforcement, and I still insist that honorable officers don’t have nearly the same level of exposure from the media as those who have done wrong. However, I also realize that these riots come after multiple peaceful attempts at advocating for justice and change. “A riot is the language of the unheard,” as Martin Luther King Jr. stated.

Furthermore, I see that this fight transcends individual officers. Evil and wrongdoing exist within every profession and demographic, including law enforcement. But even with our honorable officers working hard to protect and serve their communities, this will not be sufficient until we see change at an institutional scope. This is why communities are rallying against “systemic” policies, actions, and cultures that are fundamentally biased and broken.

All that said, I hope that these protests are a first step towards unity, not widened division. We need to increase transparent communication and collaboration between us, our police, and our government leaders. We need to push for better standards and consistency in law enforcement recruiting, training, performance evaluations, accountability, and leadership. This will require all sides to approach one another with an open mind. Law enforcement, governments, and even the justice system must be willing to embrace real progress instead of hanging onto a sunk cost fallacy. Only then can we begin to see change and slowly mend the everlasting broken trust in our communities.

Is this going to happen overnight? I doubt it, although the widespread protests have served as a highly effective wake-up call to law enforcement. I am also encouraged by the exemplary police officers and leaders whom I’ve met and worked with during my time at SURVIVR. These officers truly strive to make their communities safer and more prosperous from the day that they took their Law Enforcement Oath of Honor. These are the officers who set such a high standard of altruistic law enforcement and community policing that deserves to be followed by the industry. 

We have yet another long and emotional road ahead of us. I look forward to the day that our communities can stand with their police not as enemies, but as allies. There is much listening and action that must be done to get there, but I am grateful to be on the forefront of public safety solutions with SURVIVR.

Our Techstars Experience

Words cannot describe how much Techstars Austin has changed my life.

Since December 2, I’ve drank from the biggest firehose that I’ve ever experienced. The phenomenal staff and mentors took everything that I thought I knew going in, tore it apart (along with my soul), and reconstructed it into a completely new perspective of building a company.

On a super high level, the program consisted of 3 thematic months: KPIs (key performance indicators), execution, and pitching.

The first month taught me how to build a data-driven company. Techstars’ world-class workshops drilled into me advanced enterprise metrics, product-market fit, and financial modeling, especially how all of those topics are inherently interwoven. Then they threw me into a 2-week ‘Mentor Madness’ where I had about 20 back-to-back mentor meetings each day. I had never been more exhausted, yet enlightened and inspired, from speed mentoring.

Following a much-needed winter “break,” the second month consisted of more heads-down work. Each of the 10 companies focused on executing their goals using their newfound knowledge and mentors. Our top priority was rebuilding and accelerating our sales operations, so there was a fair amount of travel during this time.

Finally, the third month shifted to preparing for Demo Day, where the 10 companies deliver a 3-4 minute pitch to hundreds of supporters and investors. Everyone’s pitch changed dramatically several times each week, which the staff guaranteed would be incredibly frustrating (they were correct).

After weeks of agonizing stress, we finally emerged. On March 4, we concluded the Techstars program with our Demo Day pitch, which you can view here.

Throughout the program, there were some constant themes. Mentorship was always emphasized, and the staff blew it out of the park with their selection of mentors this year. 

Cohort bonding was also huge. Unlike with other major accelerators, there are only 10 companies per Techstars cohort. Each of our needs are understood intimately by the staff and one another. As we held weekly standups, workshops, working sessions, happy hours, city outings, and dinners, we became more than just a cohort. We became a family.

After Demo Day, we celebrated at a karaoke bar all night. It was probably the closest I’ve ever been to losing my voice! The following week, we engaged in Investor Week: a bunch of speed-pitching with curated investors from across the nation. Then, that was it.

It was a bittersweet ending to one of the most impactful periods of my entire life. I miss everyone and the daily banter, struggles, and ferocity that we shared in the trenches. Just reminiscing upon those times makes me yearn to relive the past.

Now, with that said, once you get into Techstars, you become a Techstars founder/alum for life. I still keep in touch with everyone weekly, even with remote happy hours (we’ll take any excuse to drink together).

To my Techstars friends, mentors, and colleagues, thank you for pushing me past my limits. I had the time of my life and improved my ability to run a company by orders of magnitude. I can’t wait until the day that we reunite in person, and reengage the Techstars ecosystem as the next wave of mentors.

Competing at GSEA U.S. National Finals

Earlier this week, I represented the City of Dallas at the U.S. National Finals of the Global Student Entrepreneur Awards (GSEA) competition. This year, the competition was held at Startup Grind in Redwood City, California.

This is the latest in my long series of competitions, and the competitors seriously made me fight for it. They are the 30 1st place student entrepreneurs from the regional GSEA competitions across the U.S. As the staff liked to note, “This is a room of winners.”

One of my favorite aspects of competitions is the diversity of leaders and businesses that they expose me to. Off the top of my head, I recall businesses involving a Vietnamese coffee brand, incentive awards for undistracted driving, animations for conflict mediation, tech-based company swag, and improved medical IV equipment.

Two entrepreneurs stuck out the most to me: Rachel Zietz of Gladiator Lacrosse (she started her company at 13 and appeared on Shark Tank at 15) and Mandeep Patel of ElecTrip (who went on to win 1st). I’d be lying if I said that I wasn’t intimidated at all during the competition.

This competition was unique in that it emphasizes the entrepreneur more than the business. Thus, I had to reflect on my personal journey, challenges, drivers, and goals. It’s not often that I think deeply about myself, so this was a personal learning experience, as well.

At the end of the day, I advanced to top 5 finals and pitched again, taking home 2nd in the U.S. Even better, Mandeep (1st) represented Houston and Austin, so Texas dominated this year. Don’t mess with Texas, y’all.

Act in Days; Think in Decades

This New Year’s post is dedicated to a quote by Bill Gates that has kept me going in even the toughest patches:

“Most people overestimate what they can do in one year and underestimate what they can do in ten years.”

I’m not usually big on quotes, but this one has a profound truth to it. One of which is: humans tend to be incredibly short-sighted.

Most of us think and act only in the now. We get so caught up in the issues of the present that we lose sight of the long-term vision. Therefore, while dealing with today is still important, we fail to optimize for future growth and possibilities.

Let’s break down the quote into its two core components:

“Most people overestimate what they can do in one year...

Many New Year’s resolutions turn into dust because people lack the commitment to fulfill them. I believe that this is often caused by:

  1. A fixation on living the dreamy end result now, rather than the journey and discipline required to accomplish it. Which leads to…
  2. A set of flawed assumptions and goals for that journey. Which leads to…
  3. A sharp drop in morale when that misalignment becomes apparent.
Easy example: going to the gym. I dread going to the gym at the start of a year (or semester back in college) because it’s always overpacked. However, I always find solace in knowing that the crowd will inevitably shrink within a few months.
 
Why? Because:
 
  1. Most new people only focus on the outcome of being ripped now, so…
  2. They expect such results in an unreasonable timeframe and misunderstand the necessary steps to get there, so…
  3. They ultimately become discouraged when the work outweighs the lack of instant gratification.

This leads us to the final part of the quote:

...and underestimate what they can do in ten years.”

It’s so much more tempting to quit when we don’t adopt a long-term growth mindset. Those who do adopt one can appreciate that the early stages are full of rough patches and uncertainty.

But they also grasp the concept of compounding returns unlike the quitters, who either think that progress will forever be dismal or are too impatient for the trench of disillusionment. 

Moral of the story: while we act in the now, we must think in the distant future. Imagine where you want to be in the next 10+ years, and THEN trace back to methodically deduce appropriate goals for the next day, week, month, year, and so-on.

You may not look like the Hulk by the end of this year, and that’s not the end of the world. Your actions will continue to build on one another.

In the meantime, what did you learn? How did you grow? Keep taking it one step at a time, and over time you can look back to see your results compound. Now those are rewards that are worth reaping.

SURVIVR Accepted Into Techstars Austin 2020

There are certain days that will forever change your life, and today is one of mine. I’ve had to keep this confidential for a while, but I’m incredibly proud to announce that SURVIVR has been accepted into Techstars in Austin!

For those who aren’t familiar, Techstars is widely recognized as one of the world’s top startup accelerators. Think of it as an insanely intense business bootcamp with an investment fund attached.

Another analogy is—it’s like getting into Harvard or Stanford for college. In fact, the acceptance rate for Techstars is even lower! Typically <1% compared to 4–5% for those colleges.

After a multi-month interview process, we finally advanced to the top 10 of over 1000 companies that applied (across 40 countries!). The support that we’ve received has been overwhelming, and I can’t thank the Techstars Austin team enough for backing us.

And of course, a shoutout to the other 9 companies in the 2020 cohort: 8base, Aquifer Motion, Binaize, Boutiq, Crave Retail, EarBuds, Homebuyer, Jolly, and Propertymate.

This also means that I’ve moved to Austin for the time being (hopefully staying after too, but we’ll see). This magical city has impacted my life in so many ways and I’m beyond grateful to be a part of the community. Here’s to a new chapter.

SURVIVR Awarded U.S. Air Force SBIR Phase I Grant

It is my pleasure to announce that SURVIVR has been awarded a Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Phase I grant by the United States Air Force! This Phase I grant will be used to adapt our VR police scenarios to train Air Force security forces.

Phase I comes with several important goals. First, we are tasked with performing customer discovery by demoing to and interviewing relevant Air Force and Department of Defense stakeholders. Second, we will use our findings to 1) validate the need, 2) identify success metrics, and 3) create a comprehensive action plan for our Phase II application.

The SBIR solicitation that we applied to is titled: “Open Call for Innovative Defense-Related Dual-Purpose Technologies/Solutions with a Clear Air Force Stakeholder Need.” The purpose of this solicitation is “to explore [Innovative Defense-Related Dual-Purpose Technologies] that may fall outside the Air Force’s current fields of focus but that may be useful to the US Air Force.”

The Air Force has also commented regarding this solicitation: “AFRL and AFWERX have partnered to streamline the Small Business Innovation Research process in an attempt to speed up the experience, broaden the pool of potential applicants and decrease bureaucratic overhead. Beginning in SBIR 18.2, and now in 19.2, the Air Force has begun offering ‘Special’ SBIR topics that are faster, leaner and open to a broader range of innovations.”

The best part is: we already know that our product is useful to the Air Force. Not only has the Air Force chosen “Immersive Training Solutions” to be one of their Open Topic Technology Focus Areas, but also they have a stakeholder who declared a need specifically for “VR/AR Emergency Response Training.”

All-in-all, the SBIR program is highly selective and we are grateful for the Air Force to be putting us on a path to train military first responders. We look forward to collaborating with the Air Force and Department of Defense to improve public safety training at the federal level.

SURVIVR Accepted Into MassChallenge Texas 2019

Now that graduation’s over, what’s next? Well, I’m excited to announce that SURVIVR has been accepted into our first accelerator: MassChallenge Texas at Austin!

We are proud to be in the top 10.7% of nearly 700 applicants this year, across 5 countries and 14 U.S. states. This is a great way for our company to get additional mentorship and exposure.

MassChallenge is a global organization with accelerators in Boston, Israel, Mexico, Rhode Island, Switzerland, and Texas. Their mission is to strengthen the global innovation ecosystem by accelerating high-potential startups across all industries, from anywhere in the world for zero-equity taken. So far, they have accelerated 1975 startups, which have raised over $4.3B in funding, generated over $2.5B in revenue, and created over 121K jobs.

With MC’s resources and world-class mentor, investor, and corporate network, we look forward to taking our company to new heights. Stay tuned!