Back in 2013, Andreas Forsland was working as a senior brand manager at Citrix and helping run Santa Barbara’s annual Startup Weekend, a three-day blitz of 60-second pitches, prototype building, and prizes for the best ideas. With a background in tech development and design, he’d helped promote the event and mentor its contenders, but that year, he decided to step out on his own limb.
Forsland’s mother had recently gotten very sick and was intubated, so she couldn’t speak. Forsland wanted to create a product that would allow people muted by injury or disease to communicate. The concept he presented, a handheld device that translated motion to speech, was a huge hit and quickly gathered steam. To pursue it, however, Forsland needed to quit his steady, well-paying job at Citrix. “I decided to just go for it,” he said.
Soon after, Smartstones was born. The company, now called Cognixion, has since evolved into a highly acclaimed mobile app that selects letters and words by tracking a user’s eye movement. It’s also developing brain-software technology that will one day let people control a computer with just their brainwaves. “It’s just like I would tell the Startup [Weekend] participants,” Forsland said: “Continue to grind until you think you really got something.”
Startup mentor Matthew Stotts is an impact investor focused on open-source software aimed at social and environmental change. “What I’m excited about for this particular event is it’s focused on blockchain,” he explained. “When people hear ‘blockchain,’ they often think bitcoin or cryptocurrency, but really, it just means open-source technology. And by definition, open-source means community and contribution.”
Every year, Stotts watches dreams blossom into reality. “I’ve seen real estate agents become enterprise software salespeople, home cooks build a culinary business, people who’ve never seen the back end of software actually develop prototypes.” Every year holds something different, but the goal is always the same. “When I’m mentoring there, and what I’m looking for, is a real drive to help fellow citizens and fellow inhabitants of the planet,” Stotts said.
Startup Weekend S.B. kicks off Friday, November 8, at 5:30 p.m. at Workzones at 351 Paseo Nuevo. For tickets and information, visit communities.techstars.com.