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Disrupted by technology? Don't be — it's opportunity calling

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Carlos Dominguez stretched out his arm during a seminar at Montclair State last week to reveal a Nike Fuel band on his wrist that records his daily physical activity.

"I have a contest going on with my brothers," the senior vice president at Cisco said, "so I look at this at 11:30 at night, and if I haven't hit my goal, I get out of bed and run.

"My wife says, 'Are you crazy?' And I say, 'No, I've got to win!'"

Nike Fuel is an example of how technology changes behavior, Dominguez said at the seminar, which centered on "disruption" — how the exponential rate of technological change is transforming markets, industries and careers.

The technology race creates winners (Amazon, Netflix) and losers (Borders, Blockbuster), while inspiring future-focused folks like Dominguez to jump out of bed and get into the game.

So how does one avoid getting left behind? The seminar's message: Embrace technology, keep learning, and be prepared to adapt to a changing world.

A quantum leap in connectivity — Internet-enabled devices that gather and transmit information and rewrite the rules of commerce, from health care to retail — is the driving force behind this accelerated change, according to Dominguez.

Dominguez spoke on a panel at the seminar, sponsored by the Feliciano Center for Entrepreneurship, with Mario Casabona, founder of TechLaunch, a new-venture accelerator that kickstarts new, early-stage companies, and Donald Sebastian, senior vice president for research and development at New Jersey Institute of Technology.

They had plenty to say.

"We are connected as never before," said Dominguez, whose employer, Cisco, makes equipment that powers the Internet. "In the last 25 years, we had the birth of the Internet, social media and mobile phones. If you work in Web programming, online marketing or the mobile phone industry, your job did not exist 25 years ago."

The implications are daunting for companies and their employees.

"If you look at how people are making money, it is no longer in the same way," Dominguez said. "There is still a lot of money being made, but the economics have totally changed."

Digital music downloads disrupted the CD business and skyrocketed iTunes to success; Kodak filed for bankruptcy while Instagram, an app that allows users to snap digital pictures with smartphones and post them online, sold itself to Facebook for $1 billion.

The future, he said, will bring "personalized medicine" tailored to each patient's genetic profile.

"When you show up with a prescription at CVS, the pharmacist will run your genomics on the spot and give you the medicine that is perfect for you," Dominguez said.

That change will help reduce dangerous side effects but will cause serious disruption for pharmaceutical companies that now mass-market the same drug to all patients.

Colleges are also being disrupted by the advent of online courses, Dominguez said.

"I have spent time with the presidents of the most premier schools in the world who say to me, 'Oh, this online course thing isn't going to happen.' And I say, 'Are you kidding me?'" he said.

But with change comes both challenge and opportunity.

"What is happening by default is a lot of companies are dying," Dominguez said. "The average life span of companies listed in the S&P 500 has decreased from 67 years in the 1920s to 15 years today."

The silver lining behind disruption? It's a great time to be an entrepreneur.

"By 2020, more than three-quarters of the S&P 500 are going to be companies we haven't heard of yet," Dominguez said. "Big companies lose out to the upstarts who aren't encumbered by the past."

Sensors, embedded in myriad products, will yield insights that either save you money through optimization or make you money through knowledge, he said. For example, before you head to the store, Web-enabled sensors will tell you if the product is in stock, if there's a line at the cashier and if there's an available parking spot.

Casabona started TechLaunch in 2011 to help spawn new ventures for this hyper-connected world. The accelerator has launched 19 so far, and next year, he's aiming for another 10 or 20.

"Disruptive technology is my life," Casabona said. "I get a glimpse of what is going to happen three to five years from now."

"We are all comfortable in our place, and the biggest barrier entrepreneurs have is not that someone else has something better than you — the biggest barrier is business as usual," he added.

Sebastian, of NJIT, said the "Internet of Everything" means "you combine high-speed processing capability with network connectivity that allow you to access information anywhere, faster than before. This redefines the way in which we can do almost anything and is both an end in itself and an enabler of technology in other fields."

Technological change creates new areas for engineers to learn, but they don't need to become obsolete if they can apply fundamental principals to new situations.

"I have trained lot of engineers, and the good ones move up into the managerial ranks and become marketing managers or CEOs, or they move laterally into non-technology businesses," Sebastian said.

What they learned in engineering school is "how to size up a real-world, complex problem and develop a strategy for solving it." His advice to students: "Educate yourself on how to connect fundamental principals to how they shape the profession you are going to practice."

E-mail to: beth@njbiz.com
On Twitter: @bethfitzgerald8

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