By Jim Mackinnon
Beacon Journal business writer
Steve Wozniak, co-founder of Apple Inc., was greeted like a rock star.
Minutes after giving the annual John S. Knight Lecture at a sold-out E.J. Thomas Hall Monday night at the University of Akron, about 60 people, including university students, gathered in an invitation-only reception backstage for more intimate time with the iconic, 63-year-old tech giant.
Wozniak amiably chatted one-on-one, posed for pictures, cracked jokes and even signed old Apple computers and computer parts that people brought in for the occasion. Guests sipped soft drinks and munched on snacks as they gathered around and listened to Wozniak.
One guest asked him to autograph a new Apple iPhone 5S.
“People ask me if I have an iPhone and I always say no,” Wozniak said with a straight face as he wrote on the phone.
“I have two,” he said, reaching into his pocket to show them off as his audience laughed.
Marc Pelletier, 43, and his 10-year-old son, Dimitri, brought in an old Apple II computer motherboard.
“This is his work. This is what changed the world, his work,” Pelletier said. “There are very few game changers like Steve.”
He likened Wozniak to the Thomas Edison of the current day. “Once a century there’s an inventor like Steve.”
The father and son were hoping Wozniak would sign the board. They weren’t disappointed — Wozniak signed the board and talked about its design with them.
Besides getting Wozniak’s signature, Pelletier came away with something more valuable. Pelletier, founder of Cleveland biotech startup firm Aeromics, LLC, had another reason to speak with Wozniak. His firm is developing a drug to reduce brain swelling in stroke victims and he wants Wozniak as a board member.
“I do biotech but it’s the same inspiration,” he said.
If the Aeromics drug works out, “we could save millions of lives a year,” he said.
Pelletier briefly described to Wozniak what his company is working on and Wozniak handed over one of his business cards — a high-tech card made out of metal. “You could slice a steak with it,” Pelletier said.
University of Akron student Morgan Willis, 20, from Cuyahoga Falls, spoke a couple of minutes with Wozniak and got her picture taken with him.
“I asked him where he thought he would be if he didn’t grow up in Silicon Valley,” said Willis, a computer science major who graduates next spring. She said Wozniak was reassuring.
“It’s really cool. It’s really inspirational,” she said.
She said the lesson she is taking from Wozniak’s talk is “you have to have fun with things. And he’s all about humor. You have to be creative. He’s more about innovation, being creative, funny.”
Wozniak talked about humor and innovation during his hourlong talk, billed as a “Vision for the Future of Technology.”
He spoke largely about his insights and his life, starting with his childhood in California. He told the audience that in the fifth grade he began learning physics. That helped set him on a path to become an engineer, he said.
“I was very much a nerd, an outsider,” Wozniak said.
He read books about computing and that led him to wonder if he could design a computer by himself, he said. His father helped his interest, giving him computer manuals, he said.
Wozniak also described himself as a practical joker.
“I think humor and creativity go together,” he said. “Think differently.”
Wozniak talked about meeting Steve Jobs, with their friendship developing into a business relationship.
Jobs wasn’t an engineer like he was, Wozniak said. They both were influenced by the counterculture of the time, with Jobs more of a “hippie” type, he said. “We became best friends. We enjoyed talking about technology.”
That led the two to co-found Apple in 1976 and build the Wozniak-designed Apple I personal computer; they followed that with the popular Apple II, which featured a color monitor, keyboard and more.
Wozniak touched on Jobs being forced out of Apple when the company ran into hard times and recalled how a more mature Jobs returned years later to head the company once again.
UA student Brandon King, 20, attended with cutting edge technology, Google Glass. King is one of 8,000 people nationwide testing the wearable, eyeglass-like computer. “Without the work of someone like that, we wouldn’t have something like [Google Glass],” King said of Wozniak.
Jim Mackinnon can be reached at 330-996-3544 or firstname.lastname@example.org.