John Wensveen Podcast Transcript

Headshot of Executive Director John Wensveen

John Wensveen Podcast Transcript

John Wensveen joins host Brian Thomas on The Digital Executive Podcast.

[00:00:00] Brian Thomas: Welcome to Coruzant Technologies, home of the Digital Executive Podcast.

Welcome to The Digital Executive. Today’s guest is Dr. John Wensveen. Dr. John Wensveen is the Chief Innovation Officer, Nova Southeastern University and Executive Director of the Allen B. Levan, NSU Broward Center of Innovation at Nova Southeastern University. He’s responsible for overseeing a multi-million dollar public private partnership to support the growing entrepreneurial ecosystem by attracting and retaining industry leading entrepreneurs, technology, sources of investment capital, and supporting resources to create a premier innovation center and technology hub.

Prior to this role, John served as the vice provost of academic schools at Miami Dade College, providing direct leadership and direction for the college’s professional education programs. He was responsible for creating corporate relationships with local, regional, national, and international boards and organizations, and with the leaders of foreign governments, businesses, and non-governmental organizations.

Well, good afternoon, John. Welcome to the show.

[00:01:08] John Wensveen: Thank you, Brian. It is great to be here. I look forward to our discussion.

[00:01:12] Brian Thomas: Absolutely. This is so cool. We get to get into some really cool things around innovation and science and the things that you’re doing out in South Florida.

So let’s just jump right into it, John. You’ve got quite the career in academia, aviation and airlines, entrepreneur, a senior executive. Now you’re the Chief Innovation Officer of Nova Southeastern University and the Executive Director of the Alan B. Levan NSU Broward Center of Innovation. That’s a mouthful there but got that out.

Could you share with our audience the secret to your career growth and what inspires you?

[00:01:47] John Wensveen: That’s a great question. So, I promise it won’t be a long story, but let’s go back to the age of three. I was born and raised in Vancouver, Canada.

And when I was about three and a half years of age, my parents decided to take our family on our very first airplane ride, and they dressed me up in a U. S. Air Force flight suit. I have pictures of this tan uniform with all the lapels and the wings and whatnot on. And as we were taxiing, it was a big, bright orange 747.

We were taxiing to the runway and one of the engines caught on fire and the airplane came to a stop and they had to deploy the slides, and everybody had to evacuate the aircraft. And that was the day that I. Truly bought the aviation bug, and I knew that the rest of my life was going to somehow be focused around that industry without actually knowing what it was, but I wanted to fly airplanes, and it was that experience that really dictated the rest of my life and really followed my professional career pathway and then my own personal pathway around the subject of aviation, and what I learned from that is that it was an experience that you learn from and throughout the rest of my life as I had more experiences, it actually made me who I am.

So I think it was quite young and I had a lot of dreams and I was always known in the family as the one that had pie in the sky dreams. And I was taught to bring it back down to earth, but I never really learned to do that, and I learned that if you set your goals on something and you’re going to figure a way to get there and there’s a.

You’ll ride the highway of life, but knowing there are a lot of off ramps that eventually get you back onto that highway, and it was that experience that truly inspired everything I’ve done with the rest of my life, and I always refer back to that and get into more detail so that other people understand how an experience can be influential and determine how you go.

About accomplishing your goals. So that’s what excited me. And I still learn from that every day of my life. And that really allowed me to chart a path around entrepreneurship and industry and academia. And in some ways, I’m rather unique in the sense that I’ve had three career pathways most of my life, and they all have all converged to put me in a role that I’m now in.

And I don’t think I would be as successful as I am in my role right now if I didn’t have it. All of those trials and errors and successes, failures throughout those three journeys that brought me to where we are here today.

[00:03:57] Brian Thomas: That’s an awesome story in such a young age to experience something like that.

 I’m just glad everybody was safe, but that certainly something that would. In a way, leave that indelible mark on your brain, and I can totally see where you took your career from there. So thank you, John, for sharing.

So, John, the next question here, we’re talking about the Levan Center of Innovation. It houses a cybersecurity training range. Could you explain how this range addresses the cybersecurity skills gap in South Florida and what types of training, certifications, research opportunities does it provide for students, industry professionals, and government partners?

[00:04:34] John Wensveen: Sure. In order to answer that question, In a really good way with some meat behind it. I’ll give you a little context. The role that I’m in right now. I’ve also been in this role for about three and a half years now, and I was recruited for the position and the original concept. Let’s build an innovation center, but I don’t think anybody knew what an innovation center was. And I walked into this 54,000 square foot cement box that literally was a shell.

And looked at it and said, Oh, my goodness, this is an opportunity to create the world’s first theme park for entrepreneurs. And if we were able to do so, there’ll be rides throughout this facility that had a return for all of the different stakeholders in what I will call a giant collision station. And my goal was to create the world’s first model that figured out how to reverse engineer the success of an entrepreneur from the.

Birth of an idea through the successful exit of a company, or maybe it was a global expansion opportunity that they were looking at. And in order to do that, we need to make sure that we would bring in all of the tools and resources and networks under one roof. So that in theory, you could go to one place, create an idea, build the idea.

Get your business off and running, scale it and then eventually exit what you’re doing. And within that, we realized that there were a lot of emerging technologies that were in play. Those that we know of now and a whole bunch of emerging tech that we don’t even know of for the future. And then we said, well, if we say the future is here now.

What are we going to do about it? Let’s start doing something about that. And one of those areas is cyber security. And there are a lot of entrepreneurs that are finding that the barriers of entry into the world of cyber security are being reduced significantly compared to where they were. And it’s a relatively new subject area in terms of how fast it’s emerging.

So it’s still the Wild West in the world of cyber. And there are a lot of opportunities in the public and private sector. So, the idea was to build a community resource for the South Florida market, really, Miami, Fort Lauderdale, Palm Beach, but really, as it’s matured, it’s the southeast region of the United States.

And in some cases, working with Latin America even that we’re a geographic gateway or portal to North America with Latin American partners and the cyber range is military grade. It’s about 1500 square feet, and it’s the only range of its kind in this part of the country, and it’s built in what I’ll call a black box environment.

It’s built off of the grid from a network. It has its own independent network. And should anything happen in terms of something going wrong, it’s contained within the black box environment, and it’s been built. To a level that it could be called a skiff, which is a secure facility for government organizations, your typical three letter agencies over time, if you will, where you could do different types of research and applications.

But the goal here on the training front was to provide new skills, upskilling and reskilling for the workforce and accelerate people in And grow them in the workforce, because it’s a desperate need. And there’s more and more job opportunities growing every year. And the talent doesn’t keep up with the volume of opportunities that exist.

And then on the non-training side, it was more. How do you use this for R and D grant making purposes or for simulation exercises? So we have the ability to do applied simulation exercises around emergency management scenarios. Pen testing of simulations of your own infrastructure of your own organization.

We can do personnel assessment at all the different levels to make sure your cyber people resume and skills and credentials actually match what they’re doing, or they may be non cyber people, and you’re looking to assess their ability to be successful in the world of cyber when they need to. We also have created an interesting model where we look at the federal government definition of the 16.

Critical pieces of infrastructure like water grids, power grids, electric goods, shipping ports, et cetera. And we create simulated environments so that you can come in and assume that you’re in a cyber-attack and learn to be proactive and reactive in those scenarios so that when it happens, not if it happens, but when it happens, you are fully prepared to be able to combat that threat and manage to keep your business or your organization alive.

Based upon the experiences that you’ve had here at the Levan Center. So it’s relatively new and it’s truly built to serve the public and private sectors, industry and government. And our first job is to create awareness and educate our community about what it is because it is very futuristic and its application and then get people in it to start using it, which we have now started to do, and it’s quite amazing in one of a handful of such ranges in the country.

[00:08:47] Brian Thomas: That’s awesome. And thanks for breaking that down. We’re a tech platform. And so we talk a lot about cybersecurity and these sorts of things. So, I appreciate the share. It sounds like a pretty interesting facility for sure.

So John, let’s talk about the level five space dock, it’s something that you guys trademarked there. It’s a research area for space exploration and collaboration. How does the Levan center. Of innovations partnership with the Space Foundation contribute to the advancement of the South Florida economy and can maybe you provide details about the ideate and incubate cohort programs offered through this partnership.

[00:09:21] John Wensveen: So, this is a really interesting subject to me personally and professionally. And I would say about seven years ago, I tried to plant the space flag in South Florida. And candidly, I could not get an engaged audience. I was actually in quote thrown out of a lot of meetings because there’s this belief that space is all about extraterrestrials and spaceships.

And it’s so much more than that. And what I recognize that was going on in South Florida and still is, is that So Florida as a region is becoming more of a tech hub or an innovation ecosystem, and it’s the new hot spot in the country. We’re getting a lot of movement from different places of the country that are from California to the northeast to Texas, et cetera, relocating or establishing operations.

And I let that go for a little bit. And then a couple of years ago, I said, let’s try this again and let’s plant the space flag in the greater Fort Lauderdale area, which is Broward County, and I got a lot of positive reception and the reason being is that we recognize that a lot of industries that are very mature or new industries that are emerging or companies that are in different sectors with a slight pivot could support the space economy and space is really about Earth, inner and outer space applications, and there’s some low hanging fruit out there, particularly around software, data collection and analytics. So how do we Make that more of a home here in South Florida, which is now morphed into something much bigger. So we established a partnership with the Space Foundation.

And if anybody’s in the world of space or familiar with it, we’ll recognize that the Space Foundation is in quote, the foundation in the world of space. And together we’ve come. Collaborately taken an existing model that the Levan Center has created for non-space entrepreneurs. So, we have what we call a founder’s journey program that supports the four cycles of the entrepreneur, the idea, the incubate, accelerate and then the post accelerate stage.

And we took that model and then customized it around space so that we actually have a space partnership program. And it’s the first of its kind in this region of the United States. And we’re now supporting the ideate and incubate. Portions of entrepreneurs, and we’re now actually recruiting for the accelerate program, which are businesses that are already in existence that can now turn around and actually support space needs.

That’s the, the skinny of it. There’s a lot more behind it. But the space flag has officially been planted and when we say we plant the flag with all these initiatives like cyber and space, we actually create real flags, and our flag is actually going to space in the next couple of months with an astronaut.

She’ll be the sixth black female to ever go to space. Her name is Aisha Bowe, and she’ll be carrying our South Florida space flag, up to the heavens.

[00:11:52] Brian Thomas: I love that story. And by the way, Aisha Bowe was on my podcast as well. So that’s so cool.

[00:11:57] John Wensveen: Oh, so you know her. That’s great.

[00:11:59] Brian Thomas: It’s very cool.

So, it’s a small world, as they say. So, thank you again for sharing. I think that’s so awesome. John, last question of the day, the Levan center of innovation offers access to advanced technical resources, such as AI machine learning, spatial computing, data analytics, all that, how do these resources enhance the entrepreneurial experience within the center? And maybe can you provide examples of how entrepreneurs benefit from these technologies?

[00:12:25] John Wensveen: So entrepreneurs are interesting breed and they have different stages. And frankly, those that set out to be entrepreneurs, most of them are not successful, and the failure rate is extremely high. So, what we wanted to do is set a mission where we could create an environment where we could reduce the risk for entrepreneurs and accelerate their chances of being successful.

So we actually look at the analogy of a baseball diamond, and we define what you want to be when you grow up as home plate. And then, as most incubator and accelerator models around the world try to get you to first base, yeah. We do something a little bit differently. And we figure out how are we going to get you from home to third base, then second, and then first, so that again, we reverse engineer the recipe.

And in order to do that, we want to put as many tools in the toolbox that we possibly can. And we’re pretty much focused on technology. We do have entrepreneurs that are outside of technology, but we also believe that every single industry and every single company is a tech. Business, even if you don’t recognize that.

So that’s one of our missions is to show you what that means. And in order to do that, we’re bringing in emerging technologies into the Levan Center of innovation. And some of those applications include, of course, the cyber ranges we’ve already discussed. But we also Believe that artificial intelligence is very impactful for the future.

So we’re creating an AI digital cities lab where you’ll be able to come in and mastermind or master plan an entire city right down to the sewer pipe installation and do economies of scale, acts of God, emergency simulation responses and a whole lot more. And this is a partnership that we have in place with Dell, and then we’ll have a generic AI lab with all of the hardware and software and a smart entrepreneur will figure out how to use those tools. And then we also are creating something called a volumetric capture studio. And most people don’t know what Vol Cap is, but it’s founded on spatial computing.

And that’s the other flag that we’re planting. And this is a partnership that we have with Sony. And the idea here is that everybody believes that the future is holograms or avatars. And the reality of it, there’s something more beyond that. And it’s your digital twin. So we’re building. A lab, if you will, around volumetric capture.

Well, you’ll be able to walk into this black dome that has 72 cameras with sensors and the brightest white lights you’ve ever seen in a green floor. And as you go into the dome and you do all of your physical movements, we capture that. And you can be in costume or not, but we capture you and then we superimpose you into any environment that you could ever think of it’s not something that you could ever think of. There’s nothing that’s impossible It just takes time and money to do so, and then the talent to be able to do so. But this is going to change the future in terms of the film and entertainment business or how an entrepreneur demonstrates a product or a service where I can actually bring you into that immersive experience in the form of a digital twin.

And it’s pretty incredible. So again, we have to create education and awareness programs to show you that the future is here now. Here’s one version of that technology, and then there are a lot of. Data analytical type models that come out of these types of technologies that we’ve gotten. There’s a whole lot more coming.

We’re also building a mobile innovation unit, which is going to be a double decker bus that’s been customized, and it will be full of emerging technologies that will have the ability to bring out to our communities and those that can’t. Get to an innovation center. We’re gonna bring the innovation center to you, particularly underserved communities where there are budding entrepreneurs that don’t have access or knowledge or awareness of the resources that they may need.

And we’ll figure out where you are. We’ll bring them to you where possible. So, to give you a couple of different examples. We have a number of entrepreneurs that are focused on the future as it relates to the metaverse. So we have an entrepreneur that literally has a desk and a chair. Her legally incorporated company is the desk and the chair at the Levan Center, but then she uses our technology maker space to access.

All of the technology that’s in there from 3D printers and scanners to the AR, VR, MR technologies. And then eventually the AI technologies that we’re building out. And she’s truly creating what the future of the metaverse is. And which is interesting because if you try to define it, we don’t actually have a definition of what it is.

So she’s trying to be at the forefront of it. Using applied technologies. And as a result, she’s getting investors and customers which is really great. We have another entrepreneur that entered the world of nail design, and she’s created a software platform that measures females’ nails using an application right to them.

0. 1 of a millimeter with accuracy. It’s one of the most advanced technologies in the entire world. It’s a 4 billion dollar a year business where she’s created a software platform utilizing the Levan Center platform and accessing our technologies to the point that she’s gone from Essentially working in a basement to having your own dedicated office to now landing a deal with Unilever and Target to manufacture and distribute her products.

And she just got her first revenue check and she’s taking off and she’s now on the national stage and raising money and attracting new customers. And that’s the goal of what we try to do here. And we just actually had our very first successful exit of a company. There’s more news coming on that in the next month or so, but it’s a significant multimillion dollar deal.

Where it was brewed within the Levan center incubator accelerator, environment and successfully was acquired by a significant investment company. And our goal is to do more and more of that.

[00:17:18] Brian Thomas: That’s awesome. And I appreciate you creating that environment so you can incubate and accelerate some of these amazing ideas and entrepreneurs and launch them into something that’s going to help society become a better place. So thanks again, John.

[00:17:31] John Wensveen: We thank you for the opportunity and as always, we open our doors to anybody that like to come see it. So, Brian, we’d love to have you visit whenever you’re in this part of the the world.

[00:17:39] Brian Thomas: Oh, I absolutely will. I do appreciate that. And John, again, it was a pleasure having you on today and I look forward to speaking with you real soon.

[00:17:47] John Wensveen: Great. Thank you again.

[00:17:49] Brian Thomas: Bye for now.

John Wensveen Podcast Transcript. Listen to the audio on the guest’s podcast page.


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