Entrepreneurs become entrepreneurs for a lot of different reasons. Some get tired of the corporate rat race. Others want to parlay their skills and expertise into profit.
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But can you become an entrepreneur because of something that happened in your family – before you were even born? That's what happened to John Ruocco.
About eight decades ago, a 16-year old boy was killed by a drunk driver in the Bronx. That teen was Ruocco's uncle, even though Ruocco was born years after the accident. But Ruocco grew up hearing his relatives talk about what a tragedy the incident was and how it took a toll on their family.
Knowing that, you may not be surprised to learn that Ruocco owns a company today which produces high-tech ignition interlock devices. These devices are installed on the vehicles of individuals who have been convicted of drunk driving.
Ignition interlock devices have been around since the 1970s. They are designed so that a driver must blow into a nozzle to test the alcohol content in their breath. If the device detects the presence of alcohol over a certain level, it disables the ignition system of the vehicle so the driver cannot operate it. Offenders are also required to repeat the test periodically while they are driving to ensure that they don't begin drinking after they start the vehicle.
Ruocco owned his own telephone switching company in the New York City area when he began thinking about how to build a better ignition interlock device. In 2000, Ruocco began talking with law enforcement personnel, judges, prosecutors, probation officers, and other people in the judicial system. What he discovered was that the technology behind ignition interlock devices hadn't really changed since they were invented – and that drunk drivers were finding ways to get around them.
So Ruocco took some of his own money in 2004 and hired an engineer to develop a more advanced device. He then took the prototype and founded Interceptor Ignition Interlock Systems in Shirley, New York.
The Interceptor device is a cut above its archaic competition. This ignition interlock device is equipped with GPS technology which sends driver and location information to a court website, where it can be monitored in real time by probation officers. If a driver tests positive for alcohol content while driving, that result is also posted to the site – and the device immediately dials 911 to dispatch an officer to stop the drunk driver. Also, each Interceptor is connected to a small digital camera which snaps a photo of the person blowing into the device – thus preventing the device's circumvention by a drinker's sober cohort.
The Interceptor is currently licensed in seven states, and Ruocco hopes to add to that total in the coming years. Hundreds of Interceptor devices are already on the road, and the best part about them is that much or all of the costs are paid by the drunk driving offenders – making the new units palatable to city, state, and other municipal governments.
Ruocco is also considering expanding the Interceptor into the voluntary market. He sees a demand for long-haul trucking companies who want to make sure their drivers stay sober. And he also envisions parents installing Interceptors on their teenagers' cars as a further deterrent to driving under the influence.
While we're growing up, we're all influenced to some degree by our family. But John Ruocco was profoundly swayed by a relative that he never even met; and today, he is a successful entrepreneur as a result.