40 Under 40 Class of 2008

Stanley Kowalski III

Age 39: President and CEO, FloDesign Inc.

It’s called ‘disruptive technology,’ or ‘disruptive innovation.’

That’s a marketing term, first coined by Harvard Business professor and author Clayton Christensen, and now widely used to describe a product or service that essentially disrupts, or overturns, the status quo in a given market.

Examples include the telephone, which displaced telegraphy; minicomputers, which did the same for mainframes; and digital photography, which has supplanted chemical photography.

Stanley Kowalski III used to read about disruptive technology, and he witnessed the incredible rise of digital photography first-hand as an engineer with a local film-processing company. He was at a trade show back in 1995 and saw a booth for a small company, SanDisk, displaying digital photo technology. “I remember looking at this stuff and saying, ‘that will never work,’” he said, recalling that the equipment was expensive and the quality wasn’t very good.

History, quite obviously, has proven him — and many others — dead wrong.

Today, Kowalski is creating new examples of disruption at Wilbraham-based FloDesign Inc., a company that he purchased just over a year ago, and that certainly bears watching over the coming years. Indeed, FloDesign has garnered 19 patents over the past year and has licensed 16 of them to various organizations. Kowalski, who prefers ‘inventor’ over ‘business owner,’ is hiring top talent to continue and accelerate this pattern, and has plans to take a spinoff company, FloDesign Wind Turbine Corp., public. “We’re going to make this a billion-dollar company.”

The list of inventions, or innovations, credited to FloDesign engineers is impressive, and includes technology involving everything from silicone breast implants to non-lethal weapons. The company is working at solving problems, or making game-changing developments, across four sectors — aerospace, defense, ‘green technology,’ and biomedical — and has ongoing projects in each realm.

Each initiative employs what Kowalski calls “aerospace methodology” — one of the company’s slogans is ‘Aerospace Technologies Everywhere’ — which centers around creating radical improvements in both performance and cost, which is at the heart of disruptive innovation. The wind turbine is an example, he said, noting that new design features enable the product to essentially extract more energy from the wind.

Though he didn’t actually use the phrase, Kowalski said his current career ambition is plain and simple: to be a disruptive force. In many ways, he already is one.

George O’Brien