At Tuesday night’s Tech Cocktail Champaign Mixer event, we had the unique opportunity to showcase 5 startups that are so early stage they are still in either conceptual or research mode. Thanks to the University of Illinois’s focus on engineering and science at their Urbana-Champaign campus, 4 of these startups are very hard science-focused.
Here is a snapshot of what each team is working on, along with what they have learned so far about the startup life:
OceanComm, which is so new it does not have website yet, was founded by 3 Electrical and Computer Engineering PhD candidates, Thomas Riedl, Navid Aghasadeghi and Andrew Beam. Their wireless underwater communications technology makes it easier to maneuver underwater robots that are exploring mineral and natural resource repositories.
Riedl’s suggestion to other early stage startup founders: “Pitch your idea early and to everyone you know to get a feel for how exciting your product is and also to potentially get some good feedback. “
StudyCloud’s founding team of Andrew Lee, Ravi Pilla and Tom Zheng worked on a cloud music startup before shifting their attention to education. Their goal is to build a truly disruptive learning management platform that makes communication and collaboration as seamless as social networks.
“The biggest piece of advice I would give to other early stage startup founders is that the team is the most important aspect of a startup – even more important than the idea itself, “Palli shared. “The group of people that you work with can make all the difference. A talented group of people who are extremely passionate about what they are working on and are willing to dedicate their time willingly without direct monetary incentives can definitely execute and create a successful startup, even if the first or second or even third time doesn’t work out. “
Luon Energy, which sort of has a website, produces nano absorbents to increase the storage capacity of conventional seamless natural gas tanks. It might not sound like an environmental company, but it is: Co-founder Professor Nie Luo believes that natural gas is the key to solving both environmental and economic problems.
Between Dr. Luo and his co-founders Dr. Michael Yang and Dr. Ji Cui (all hold PhDs in a hard science) they have 40+ years R&D experience. Echoing Michael Riedl from OceanComm, Dr. Luo said: “To succeed, startup founders should talk with customers and stakeholders on the market by any means necessary.”
GlucoSentient was founded by Professor Yi Lu, PhD candidates Tian Lan and Brian Wong, and startup advisor Neil Kane. Their technology transforms the personal blood glucose meter into a versatile on-site testing platform for monitoring drug dosage, health biomarkers, or contaminants.
“The two most important things to focus on [as a startup] is developing the prototype and identifying the market,” Wong said. “Everything else will fall in place if you do a good job with these.”
Worldview is the one non-science startup of the bunch. This social platform is like Google Earth meets Live Stream – it joins together high quality, continuous live video content with geo-location services. Before a single line of code was written, the team spent a year studying and analyzing where the future of social media was headed to create a next-generation platform
Co-founders Elias Lopez and David Simmons shared a lot of great advice for other startup founders:
“It is easier to get a million in funding than it is to acquire a great web developer. However, don’t underestimate the worth of a less experienced developer. What they lack in skill, they make up for in enthusiasm, drive and loyalty.
“There is money, and then there is smart money. Choose your partners wisely and your investors prudently. Once someone puts money behind your idea consider yourself hitched. Get to know them, their interest, their temperament and most importantly, their management style.
“Don’t quit your day job! While a seed investment may seem like the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, it’s more like stepping out of a landing craft on the sandy beaches of Normandy.
“Execution is everything and ideas are a dime a dozen…. Optimize your time, stay focused, get sleep if possible, and exercise daily. A sharp mind goes a long way.”