A Shark Among Hawks – An Afternoon with Kevin O’Leary

A Shark Among Hawks – An Afternoon with Kevin O’Leary

January 31, 2024
In a significant event for North Dakota, Kevin O’Leary, renowned entrepreneur and business magnate from O’Leary Ventures and Shark Tank, visited Grand Forks.

In a significant event for North Dakota, Kevin O’Leary, renowned entrepreneur and business magnate from O’Leary Ventures and Shark Tank, visited Grand Forks. His day began with a tour of Grand Skies, followed by a walk across the campus, and an early engagement at Nistler College’s Barry Auditorium, and a packed audience eagerly attended his 2:30 pm talk. The day concluded at the UAS tech accelerator, The Hive, where a room was dedicated in his honor, and at the UND hockey game, O’Leary performed the ceremonial puck drop. It was a winning day for North Dakota and those who gleaned wisdom from O’Leary’s extensive experience.

At the Memorial Union Ballroom, O’Leary spoke at 2:30 pm to a packed hall, sharing his experiences and lessons from a lifetime in business. There was an interactive session where O’Leary connected with the audience, sharing anecdotes and wisdom.

The talk commenced with Andy Armacost, President of the University of North Dakota, acknowledging past guest Greg Brockman from OpenAI and his ties to UND. This set the stage for O’Leary’s insights, particularly regarding the integration of AI in various business sectors.

O’Leary discussed the evolving role of AI, noting its increasing integration in platforms across financial services and database management. He highlighted the trend of AI becoming commoditized across various verticals, emphasizing the need for businesses to adapt to this technological evolution.

Focusing on North Dakota’s potential in the AI landscape, O’Leary identified the state as a key player in the data center market. He pointed out the state’s favorable energy environment, robust network infrastructure, and supportive leadership and policy framework as key factors in fostering a competitive business environment.

Shifting to a broader economic perspective, O’Leary shared his views on the American economy’s reliance on small businesses. He critiqued federal policies that he perceived as favoring international enterprises over domestic ones. Emphasizing the importance of investing in small businesses, O’Leary argued that 60 cents out of every dollar should go to small businesses, as they are crucial for economic stability and growth.

O’Leary expressed his concerns about policies he deemed detrimental to entrepreneurial success. He categorized states into ‘winners’ and ‘losers’ based on their business-friendly policies, with North Dakota being a winner in his eyes, arguing for the use of public criticism and shame to spur policy changes in states hindering business growth.

O’Leary’s visit to Grand Skies and the MNOC, part of the Northern Plains UAS Site and Vantis Project, led him to see the importance of integrating drones into the National Air Space. He emphasized the potential benefits and challenges in achieving this integration, highlighting the substantial investments required.
O’Leary dove deeper into his involvement in the UAS sector, particularly highlighting his investment in Thread, an unmanned aircraft firm with roots in UND. Recognizing Thread not just as a UAS company but as an energy security firm, O’Leary underscored the strategic importance of drones in national and global energy security. Thread, according to O’Leary, stands at the forefront of combining complex data algorithms with drone technology to identify and resolve critical issues in all-weather conditions. This approach, O’Leary pointed out, could revolutionize how companies address major challenges, potentially saving millions of dollars compared to traditional methods.

O’Leary offered insights into entrepreneurship, stressing the importance of social media in customer acquisition and advertising efficiency. He also shared personal anecdotes of missed investment opportunities, underscoring the importance of discernment in business.

The session opened for audience interaction, with President Armacost allowing audience members to ask questions. The questions range from common entrepreneurial mistakes to advice on navigating the financial world in the AI era. O’Leary’s responses were insightful, blending practical advice with his personal experiences.

In a lighter moment, President Armacost invited Mayor Brandon Bochenski to the stage, honoring his work in putting the event together, and where the UND Fighting Hawk mascot gifted a Fighting Hawk jersey honoring Wayne Gretzky with O’Leary’s name printed on the back and the iconic number 99.

Kevin O’Leary’s visit to Grand Forks was more than a series of engagements; it was a testament to the dynamic intersection of education, technology, and business.

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