Multimillion start-up returns to their Sauder roots

Recon Instruments was hatched out of UBC MBA class project and was acquired by Intel in 2015.

Multimillion start-up returns to their Sauder roots
In September, the four founding members of wearable technology company Recon Instruments gathered on UBC campus—where it all began—to say farewell to the company they founded, which was recently bought by tech giant Intel.

Founded in 2008, the Vancouver-based company created the first wearable heads-up display technology, initially used in ski and cycling eyewear, which shows its wearer measurements like temperature, speed and altitude.

But before there were buyout deals, there were four students with an idea—MBAs Dan Eisenhardt, Darcy Hughes, Fraser Hall and engineering student Hamid Abdollahi—and the Sauder School of Business helped bring it to life.

In 2006, they were students enrolled in the course Technology Entrepreneurship class and they came prepared with a class project idea Dan Eisenhardt had thought of as a competitive swimmer—goggles that display speed, distance and time.

“We came together and really built upon an initial idea that was in Dan’s head,” explains Recon Instruments co-founder and former head of marketing, Darcy Hughes.

There were problems with the original idea from the start and a patent pending on a similar technology killed the plan. But the classroom is a place for comfortable failure, so the team rethought their design and redeveloped it to suit skiers and snowboarders.

From the beginning, the Recon team drew on what they learned at Sauder. “Don’t fall in love with the solutions, fall in love with the problem,” is something Prof. Paul Cubbon often tells his students.

“In the beginning, you’re almost certainly wrong,” says Cubbon, adding that discovering these truths in a course is much less painful lesson then in the business world. “You might be inspired, which is great because it gives you passion, but you’re going to be wrong, so find your pivot point early.”

In 2010, the Recon group moved off UBC’s campus into its current office space in downtown Vancouver. “We’d survived through the downturn,” says Hughes. “We thought ‘we’re still raising money, we’ve got a physical space, and we’ve got a culture that is just insane full of people that want to build really cool stuff.’”

The interest had been built up for the wearable technology and in fall 2012 Oakley Airwave Goggles employed Recon’s heads-up display technology. Earlier this year, Recon’s Jet sunglasses for cyclists and outdoor recreation arrived on the market.

It’s been a vibrant journey for the four co-founders of Recon Instruments and now the company will have the financial and technological resources of Intel to develop even further.

Click here to watch a video about Dan Eisenhardt and more UBC MBA alumni success stories.