At the Houston Technology Center’s Innovation Conference & Showcase yesterday, Oct. 7, more than 70 entrepreneurs and startups ranging from sports technology to oilfield technology exhibited their game-changing ideas to investors. Lunchtime speakers rounded out the program with insights from their own entrepreneurial experiences.

At the age of 13, keynote speaker Walter O’Brien, founder and CEO of ConciergeUp by Scorpion – Intelligence on Demand, started Scorpion Computer Services using his hacker name, Scorpion. At first, it was like the Best Buy Geek Squad, fixing printers and teaching customers how to use their computers.

By the time he came to the US on an EB-1 visa, O’Brien was working on high-stakes software implementations: supply chain issues, electric grids and command and control systems for the US Navy, for example. He developed artificial intelligence for the government, using it to pare down 4,000 hours of footage from the Boston Marathon bombing in 2013 to the footage worth reviewing in the first 24 hours after the incident.

Is renting a brain possible?

Because O’Brien’s brain doesn’t stop working, he starting thinking: a busy person’s life is full of tasks that take away from his or her core competencies and prevent that person from exploring new ideas. What if you could rent a brain and solve any problem, and instead of outsourcing downward, source upward? That’s how ConciergeUp was born.

“It’s the opposite of everything” entrepreneurs are told, according to O’Brien. There’s no niche; ConciergeUp handles any funded need. He’s had requests to research non-FDA approved treatments for cancer outside the US, help people retire, and even break up bad engagements.

Be willing to pivot

With his own trajectory straying from convention, O’Brien had these words for fellow entrepreneurs: “Never doubt yourself, but be willing to pivot,” he said. He also advised startups and entrepreneurs to listen to customers, stay focused, and choose carefully what you’ll not focus on because there will always be distractions. Additionally, the power of free data cannot be understated, including census bureau data and affiliate marketing data.

“Choosing smart money investors who can really help you is worth waiting for,” O’Brien advised. In other words, not all investors will be the right match, and it may take time to find the right funding.

Find passion, funding

Alie Ward, Correspondent for CBS series Henry Ford’s Innovation Nation, videoconferenced in from Los Angeles to deliver advice gleaned from interviewing entrepreneurs and innovators. “’Life’s too short to hate what you do’ is what most of them tell me,” she said.

Ward advised budding entrepreneurs to find a need, their passion, and where those two intersected. She cited the example of a company that created horse toys.

Crowdfunding was the topic of Brian Meece’s speck. The CEO of RocketHub, a crowdfunding platform, offered a use for crowdfunding that may not be obvious: it’s not just funding but also awareness and feedback for a startup.

“Awareness can be just as valuable as funding,” Meece said. It’s a community galvanized around the entrepreneur and the venture.

Community galvanizes at reception

After the speakers, attendees headed downstairs to view over 70 startups and entrepreneurs in the technology space, including information technology, life sciences, energy, nanotechnology and aerospace. Exhibitors included NSS Labs and NASA as well as new entrants looking for venture capital.