How one founder partnered with NASA to make tires puncture-proof and more sustainable

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This week’s episode of Found features The SMART Tire Company co-founder and CEO Earl Cole, a one-time Survivor champion whose startup is working with NASA to commercialize some of its space-age tech. Cole won a NASA startup competition seeking entrepreneurs to work with its scientists and researchers on applications of innovations it created for space exploration that could work right here on Earth, helping people while also forming the basis for a commercially-viable business.

For Cole, that resulted in The SMART Tire Company, a venture that’s using tech NASA developed to create more durable, puncture-proof tires to equip future rovers. NASA turned to shape memory alloys (SMAs), which is a type of metal that can be flexed or bent, but that also has elastic properties to return to its original shape, to handle the unique task of building a tire that wouldn’t require inflation, but that would be able to handle rocky Martian terrain with aplomb. Cole’s startup is using the same technology to tackle the more than $100 billion tire industry — starting with bike tires, but eventually moving on to address other kinds of vehicles as well.

We talked to Cole about the process of working with NASA, including its challenges and what the agency has to offer in terms of unique access to cutting-edge technology. He also shared his perspective on entrepreneurship from decades of experience, including difficulties with traditional VC and access to funding, and why he chose to initially raise money for his own startup through newly-available equity crowdsourcing. Cole also told us about why being a Survivor champ (and the first unanimous winner) provides crucial lessons for not only being a founder, but also running a company and being an effective leader, too.

We had a great time chatting with Cole, and we hope you have just as much fun listening. And of course, we’d love if you can subscribe to Found in Apple Podcasts, on Spotify, on Google Podcasts or in your podcast app of choice. Please leave us a review and let us know what you think, or send us directed feedback either on Twitter or via email. Come back next week for yet another great conversation with a founder all about their own unique experience of startup life.

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