Kehlin Swain graduated from Prairie View A&M University in 2017 with a degree in Computer Engineering. He is the co-founder of Xplosion Sports Technology, located in Houston, Texas. Xplosion develops motion tracking software for the sports industry.
Historical Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) have produced and continue to graduate thousands of STEM graduates every year, how did Prairie View A&M University (PVAMU) prepare you to be an innovator and entrepreneur?
I was fortunate enough to receive my first $10,000 of funding from PVAMU. My co-founder, Isis, and I were selected to participate in an undergraduate research program. While in the course, we had an opportunity to pitch the head of engineering department, a research dean, and two professors on “why they should fund our innovation.” To our surprise, we were the first team of undergraduates, in the 100-year history of PVAMU, to get the project approved and funded. The University provides the academic resources, guidance, and encouragement for undergraduates to be innovators and entrepreneurs.
What class or professor influenced your decision to become an entrepreneur?
Dr. Cui—a computer engineering teacher, research professor, and mentor—influenced my decision. She was the first person to believe in my idea—and take it seriously. Dr. Cui encouraged me to explore computer science and machine learning (and I had a paid internship). I also had special permission to use class time to build “bad ass” computer vision projects, and during class, Dr. Cui would stop teaching for fifteen minutes to let me present my research! This boosted my confidence, enhanced my public speaking skills, and gave me the mentality to always stay on the cutting edge of science.
If three top Silicon Valley venture capitalist visited Prairie View A&M University, what would you want them to learn/see? What sites on campus would you show them and why?
A venture capitalist would walk away with a vivid picture of how the University has integrated the arts and technology into its core curriculum. PVAMU has a vibrant and dynamic culture that embraces the past, present, and future.
PVAMU was the first black college built in Texas; it was originally a plantation. In walking the campus with VCs, I would take them to Roy G. Perry College of Engineering (my mentor), the Architecture Building, and the Biology and Nursing building. Within these buildings, PVAMU students and faculty member are creating interconnected academic communities that are educating the next generation of thinkers and doers. These buildings are the cornerstone of Prairie View A&M, and it is how we have built our brand as one of the top HBCUs in the land.
How has a failure or disappointment in college motivated your entrepreneurial journey?
My most significant failure is why I’m so successful today. I have a different view on pain. I was raised to believe that pain is good, pain is how muscles grow, and the pain of failing to accomplish my dreams is what motivates me today. I played for PVAMU baseball team for three years straight, and unfortunately, during my junior year, I was released from the team. After 15 years of playing, accounting for 2500 hours of “working my butt off,” my career ended in a flash—and my dreams were out of my reach.
The first lesson I learned is that it’s tough to depend on one person for your dream. That is why I knew I didn’t want to work for anyone in the future because you can always get fired and lose the opportunity to become a leader in the company. The second lesson learned is that I had to improve my game quickly if I was going to play next year.
So I began hacking away: I participated in a year-long co-op program with Intel to develop sensor technology—and boom the big idea came. I leveraged my work on sensors, data analytics, and mobile tech to enhance the precision of swing tracking technologies. My swing improved by a 5X!
How is your company, Xplosion, changing sports?
The future of sports is in the connected world. Where the glove, bat, cleats, and helmet all have sensors, radios, and cloud engine to compute all of its data. Where the next level of stats and sports entertainment will derive from physical movements, heart rate, speed, and force. Xplosion is part of this revolution, as we are developing the next generation of motion tracking technologies. The NFL and NBA are using these technologies; it is a matter of time before ideas and products flow to other sports.
You have met with angels, pitched at competitions, and won accolades, what lessons would you share with your fellow entrepreneurs?
It is not always about the product; everyone on the team needs to know how to sell. Two sales principles I follow are:
Law of averages: If you go out and talk to ten people how many people do you get to convert. One out of 10 is a good start when you begin. Then the game is how many times can you talk to ten people to get your quota of angel investors or biz competitions.
Sales Cycle: Understand the cost and time involved to nail an angel investor. It may take two months to land a big angel, or it a year to land a deal. Be prepared to be patient because it doesn’t happen overnight unless you have done it before.
Young entrepreneurs continue to flock to the Bay Area, why have you and your team set up shop in Houston?
It’s cheaper (lol)! There is a robust community of technologists, angel investors, and innovators in Texas. So we have it all in our backyard. And, Texas is a year-round sports hotbed, allowing entrepreneurs to play and network with the broader start-up community.
You interned at NASA, what was the “coolest” thing you saw or did?
I saw a rocket launch!!!!! From 3 miles away you can feel the ground shake. One day I was working, and I thought that an earthquake hit, but I noticed all of my coworkers were leaving there seats to go outside. I am from Texas, and the internship was in Florida, so I had never experienced an earthquake before. I assumed it was protocol to go outside during an earthquake. When I head out, I saw a rocket launching into outer space. These rockets are massive! It was the most exciting thing I have witnessed on planet earth—I actually cried that day. If a man could put another man on the moon in the 1960s, then in 2016, I should be able to build a company while I’m here on earth.
How do you relax (if you do)?
I don’t relax! No, I definitely relax—I like to work on open source coding projects, create cool videos, or watch Silicon Valley on HBO. On the weekends, I mentor my younger cousins (sports) and students at PVAMU.
We asked Scott Lilly, President of Opportunity Funding Corporation & Chief Programs Officer at Thurgood Marshall College Fund, to discuss the value of an HBCU (Historical Black Colleges and Universities) education.
The value is in the experience. HBCUs are diverse and differentiated by their unique culture. They are experts in educating and creating an opportunity for black people. They also serve as a place of learning for students of all races open to understanding the “black experience;” in 2013, non-black students made up 20% of HBCU enrollment.
More than just academic environments, HBCUs are communities. These institutions are pillars of the higher education landscape, and a recent study showed the economic benefits of HBCUs extend beyond the students they educate. They’re equally important to the regions and communities that HBCUs have served for more than 100 years.
The nation’s HBCUs generate $14.8 billion in economic impact annually; that’s equivalent to a ranking in the top 200 on the Fortune 500 list of America’s largest corporations, so it is imperative we continue to invest, support and celebrate these colleges and universities.