Former ATI staff member, Tabrez “Tab” Ebrahim, and NuMat Technologies, Inc. entrepreneur, shares his lessons learned (in the second of two installments) while at ATI and how his involvement with the clean energy incubator contributed to his startup success.
On March 1, 2012, NuMat Technologies, Inc. (NuMat), a clean technology Northwestern University spin-out, was awarded the $100,000 top student prize at the Clean Energy Trust (CET) and the Department of Energy’s National Clean Energy Business Plan Competition (NCEBPC). In partnership with the Department of Energy, CET supports the commercialization of innovative cleantech companies. NuMat was also awarded $10,000 as the top team for the state of Illinois and will be representing the Midwest region for the National Grand Prize competition to be held in Washington, D.C., in the summer of 2012. http://numat-tech.com/
Tab Ebrahim pictured above.
4) Investor Perspective:
a. The ATI startup teams always have great technologists. One benefit that ATI provides is an avenue to investors, which not only are a source of capital but even more important, they are available to provide advice, critique, and introductions.
b. While at ATI, I had a unique opportunity to interact with angel investors and VCs, and this interaction helped me to understand the investor perspective. I learned the main questions investors ask, such as what the differences are in angels and VCs, and how corporate VC groups work with startups—these lessons learned have impacted how I and our NuMat team thinks as entrepreneurs and how we prepare for business plan competitions.
5) Entrepreneurial Ecosystem / Targeted Networking:
a. While at ATI, I learned that you need Professional Service Providers to help grow your startup. That is, having good relationships with law firms, accounting firms, marketing/PR firms, etc. help advance one’s startup.
b. ATI provides access to Professional Service Providers that have worked with startups—past ATI entrepreneurs know which are the best professional service providers to work with—and this rich network of trusted provides is a great resource for startups.
6) Process & Challenges in going from Lab-to-Market:
a. While at ATI, I learned more about intellectual property—specifically patents. More so than the nuances of patents, I learned how a startup should develop and advance its patent position. I learned how a tech startup team should attain freedom-to-operate, respond to design-around patent strategies by competitors, and evaluate patent licensing value.
b. My ATI experience helped to understand the challenges and issues involved in technology transfer—working with research faculty, understanding academic tech transfer budgets, and recognizing how industry can work with a university in harvesting technologies from university labs. I have utilized these lab-to-market lessons at NuMat, which is a cleantech university spin-out based on breakthrough materials science and computational research at Northwestern.
7) Twists & Turns of the Startup Journey:
a. While at ATI, I learned that the startup path is not linear and is not predictable. While people only hear about the major successes of the big winner startups, ATI helped me to understand how a startup goes through ups and downs.
b. While at ATI, I better understood how issues related to people, cash flow management, and customer interactions create twists and turns for startups—how a startup management team responds is critical.
8 Targeted Networking:
a. As a technical person, I came to ATI without really understanding the power of a network. While at ATI, I learned that targeted networking can be really helpful to a startup. ATI has an amazing network built on years of incubating startups, and this network continues to give back to ATI startups and the ATI family.
b. While at ATI, I learned that targeted networking can produce unexpected beneficial results for a startup. I have learned this lesson while at NuMat, where I have consciously taken part in targeted networking, and our team has benefited greatly from access to unexpected potential customers and unexpected potential investors. The ATI experience helped me to understand such targeted network—what types of events to attend, what types of people to reach out to, and the process in general. I also learned that targeted networking only works when one also gives back—it’s sort of like karma.
9) Pattern Recognition:
a. When I first heard the phrase “pattern recognition” at ATI, I had thought it referred to image processing theory from one my electrical engineering classes. Later I learned that “pattern recognition” was a business concept that referred to the skill of identifying certain qualities of successful startups.
b. Through learning about “pattern recognition” while at ATI, I have a better sense of what an investor might be looking for in a startup and its business plan.
10) Austin Tech Environment:
a. ATI embodies the spirit of Austin—which is grounded in a progressive, forward-thinking, and risk-taking attitude.
b. ATI is the core of innovation in Austin, which itself is one of the most innovative cities in the world.
c. While at ATI, I learned that for a city like Austin to continue to be innovative, it needs an innovation engine like ATI that brings together multiple stakeholders—academia, local and state government, industry, investors, startups, etc. This “consortium approach” is the hallmark of Austin innovation, and it is clear ATI is a major driving force.