Silicon Valley entrepreneur prefers Wyo.
Centennial resident Gene Watson has formed seven companies - three of which are now publicly traded - during his time as a high-tech entrepreneur. He was raised in San Francisco and graduated from the University of San Francisco with a degree in economics. During a brief stint in the U.S. military at the end of World War II, Watson attended the guided-missile school in Texas. He said this was his first attraction to that field.
He said Silicon Valley in northern California has generated trillions of dollars of wealth over the years despite its small size.
"Thousands of millionaires and billionaires have been made in Silicon Valley," Watson said. Even so, Watson came to dislike living in the state. "The whole state has changed and in 1981 the inmates started running the asylum."
As he explained his own rise to success, he detailed many examples of his and other successful people's principles and guidelines.
"Wealth is created out of human entrepreneurism, integrity and access to capital," he said. Watson described an entrepreneur as "one who envisions, organizes and assumes the risk of a business enterprise" adding, "we need people in business who have some skin in the game" who will actually invest in the enterprises. Other entrepreneurial characteristics include a wanting to make things happen; being prepared for opportunities; and being a risk taker who has constancy of purpose, is self-assured and confident.
Watson started at a young age as an entrepreneur selling Liberty Magazines for a nickel during the Great Depression. His work eventually took him to companies such as Spectra-Physics, where he helped develop the first commercial lasers. He was an organizing founder of Coherent Inc., a high-tech firm now employing 2,000 people.
Watson fits his own description of being an entrepreneur, particularly when it comes to making things happen. He had an agreement with Dupont to sell them a particular type of laser. In the end, Dupont said they didn't have the cash needed. Watson then looked in the Manhattan telephone directory and called the Rockefeller organization and asked to talk to the decision maker. He was connected with an executive who invited him to New York City and they struck a deal to invest in Watson's laser system.
Watson also worked with Nobel Prize winners such as former U.S. Energy Department Secretary Stephen Chu who was involved with Watson's laser business. In 1994 Watson moved to Laramie and founded a couple of companies in partnership with a University of Wyoming professor.
One of his closing bits of wisdom was that success is at the intersection of preparation and opportunity. He said he used opportunity to form Coherent Inc., which is now capitalized at $1.2 billion and has annual sales exceeding $700 million.
Watson spoke during the second Casper installment of e2e, the University of Wyoming's effort to expose Casper area entrepreneurs to successful businesspeople. Several dozen businessmen and women attended to hear the semi-retired Watson speak. He is now program manager for the Wyoming SBIR/STTR initiative.
Jon Benson, chief executive officer of the Wyoming Technology Business Center prefaced Watson's remarks by noting that the Casper e2e chapter is the state's fourth with others located in Gillette, Sheridan and Laramie. The title e2e stands for "entrepreneur to entrepreneur" because it is a communication link bringing to one forum the successes and failures people need to know in order to become entrepreneurs.
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