Kay Koplovitz: Curiosity Powered My Career

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Kay Koplovitz urged the audience to be open to learning new things, and revealed which tech sectors excite her the most.  By Jessica Stillman (Editor, Women 2.0)

Just now on the Women 2.0 stage, USA Network and Syfy Channel founder Kay Koplovitz took the audience on a trip back in time to when there were no fax machines, no email and no cable networks. It may be hard to imagine for those of us who have grown up with technology, but that was the reality when Koplovitz had her first epiphany about technology in the mid-60s.

She was a college student at the time and had worked her way through school, so she didn't get a chance to travel much, except for one backpacking trip through Europe. Walking throughout the streets of London on that trip, she saw a sign for a lecture on satellites. She had been fascinated by Sputnik, so she decided to take a look and ended up listening to the talk on geosynchronous satellites. It only took three satellites to communicate all the way around the world, she found out. In those days, the Berlin Wall still stood and the Cold War was raging. Koplovitz thought: "Wow, these satellites are going to be so powerful -- they could open up communications around the world. This is really too powerful to let go."

That realization was the beginning of her impressive career in cable, and it taught her the value of being open to learning new things, to hearing what other people have to say. That curiosity powered her career, she told the audience.

"If I hadn't wandered into that lecture hall, I would have been a neurosurgeon," she said.

Koplovitz dreamed big and wanted to start her own network, but it wasn't until September 30, 1975 that cable TV became possible. What happened that night that changed the course of television history? That was the third matchup between Muhammad Ali and Joe Fraser. She brought that boxing match around the globe live and demonstrated the commercial use of satellites, convincing regulators to allow their use. Malcolm Gladwell's The Outliers talks about 10,000 hours of hard work. Koplovitz said she is sure she put in more than that.

This era when Koplovitz invented the cable TV business model, was an exciting time, she said, noting she had momentum on her side. It's a similar time now."You have the momentum at your back," she said.

But momentum isn't enough. Entrepreneurs also need capital. So in the later part of her career Koplovitz worked to address women's access to funding. She saw that women weren't getting venture capital, so she decided to find women who could be coached to present and raise capital. Koplovitz's initiative called for applications and ended up with 350 applications from entreprneurs, which was triple their goal. They selected 26 who went through a bootcamp with coaching. When they got to presentation day, what happened? Twenty-two got funded, Koplovitz reported to a huge applause from the audience.

"We've never looked back," she said.

Creating a community and ecosystem around women entrepreneurs that are looking to start and grow business and learn from one another is really, really important, she said. "That's what women didn't have," thirteen years ago when she started Springboard Enterprises.

So with momentum at our back and Springboard Enterprises working to get women's businesses the capital they need to scale huge, where is Koplovitz looking to find the next big thing? For a few decades technology was coming along, but today things are taking off, she said. Ever 60 seconds there are 100,000 tweets over 200 million emails and 1,500 blog posts. This is the landscape today and it's an amazing amount of data, she said, recommending a book, Abundance by Peter Diamandis. Keeping all these facts in mind, Koplovitz ran though some of the sectors she's most excited about:

  • 3D printing, especially of human body parts
  • Wearable technology
  • Education and technology, such as MOOCs

Where are you looking to find the next big thing?

Jessica Stillman (@entrylevelrebel) is an editor at Women 2.0 and a freelance writer with interests in unconventional career paths, generational differences, and the future of work. She writes a daily column for Inc.com, contributes regularly to Forbes and has blogged for CBS MoneyWatch, GigaOM and Brazen Careerist, among others.