Steve Montgomery, CEO of Digital 6 Laboratories, started “messing around with electronics” in the third grade when transistors were common, highly integrated circuits were not and people were still using tubes in radios.
Bill Gates and Steve Jobs were his technical heroes. In high school, a friend’s father, who worked with some of the earliest computers, further whetted Montgomery’s love of technology. As a teen intern, he did some work on bar code applications for ZIP+4.
After five years in the Navy at nuclear power school — one of the toughest regimes of its kind in the U.S. — all Montgomery could think about was how much he wanted to start his own business.
He and his wife bought a little house and hung out a virtual shingle, and he became a technical writer, which led to contract development projects. As battery life and range improved and wireless networks exploded with voice and data applications, Montgomery kept having ideas.
“When the Internet of Things (IoT) began kicking in,” Montgomery explains, “we discovered a new radio technology that is like having ears so good it can pick out whispers when everyone else is yelling. From that, we have created wireless battery-powered sensors with years of battery life that you can peel and stick wherever something needs to be monitored.”
The technology seemed a natural fit for unsolved applications in oil fields, but in 2015, the oil and gas industry tanked. “We had a great cash cow market,” Montgomery said, “that didn’t exist.”
Then Digital 6 got a phone call. What about embedding the device in soap dispensers? Soap pumps are an important part of hygiene in the hospitality industry. They can’t be allowed to sit empty, plus by monitoring soap usage in kitchens and employee rest rooms and the like, management can assess if employees are washing their hands.
Today Digital 6 is shipping smart hand soap dispensers with five years of battery life all over the world. The company is scaling up to provide an IoT platform to strategic partners who make all kinds of “things” that need to receive and transmit information.
“Biotech is successful in Oklahoma,” Montgomery said. “We want to be that story in the tech space. We are a brick-and-mortar company building product in Oklahoma, putting it in boxes and shipping it all over the world.”
From the Big Pasture Elementary School in Randlett to the computer lab at the Oklahoma School of Science and Math and scattered over the rest of Oklahoma’s nearly 70,000 square miles, there are hundreds of boys and girls who, like Steve Montgomery, have the curiosity and aptitude to go into technical fields, with the flair and drive to start their own companies.
We don’t know who they all are yet, but, just like Steve Montgomery, they are out there. We’d be well served as a state to find better ways to encourage and invest in all of them.
Scott Meacham is president and CEO of i2E Inc. i2E receives appropriations from the Oklahoma Center for the Advancement of Science and Technology. Reach him at i2E_Comments@ i2E.org.