TechLaunch, New Jersey’s tech accelerator founded by Mario Casabona with help from the New Jersey Economic Development Authority, will hold its third Demo Day July 14, 2014, at Montclair State University.
In advance of the seven participating startups presenting their products on Demo Day, NJTechWeekly.com asked them to name an entrepreneurial lesson they had learned during the program and describe how learning it had changed their way of doing business.
In Part One, we present answers from SHIELD Tech Innovations, Outdoor Exchange, and FUSAR.
SHIELD Tech Innovations
SHIELD Tech Innovations lets college students alert campus police of an emergency quickly and discreetly by pushing a button via a wireless panic device partnered with a smartphone application. Within seconds the student’s GPS location and credentials are relayed to a dispatcher. The company provides an all-in-one product and service, including the wireless panic device, the smartphone application and the police dispatcher dashboard.
The SHIELD Tech team includes cofounders Christopher Coppola, CEO, and Ralph Mattiaccio, president. Coppola has a master’s degree in mechanical engineering from Stevens Institute of Technology (Hoboken). He is responsible for the startup’s hardware development, day-to-day business and financial administration. Mattiaccio has a master’s degree in computer science, also from Stevens. His roles include software development, project management and business development.
Said Coppola, “One of the entrepreneurial lessons we’ve learned from TechLaunch was the importance of the minimal viable product (MVP). The most detrimental decision a startup technology company can do is be in the mindset of ‘build it and they will come.’
“Money and time are scarce in a startup. The MVP should be a proof of concept, a foundation that can be built upon. Building an MVP first scopes the project and allows for changes as you talk with customers and users along the way. Learning these concepts early really grounded our business strategy and prioritized the needs versus wants of the first iteration of our product,” said Coppola.
A company that cited pivoting as its most important lesson learned is Outdoor Exchange (OX). The startup’s team, led by Dariusz Jamiolkowski, founder, includes Sebastian Niezgoda, developer; J.J. Chojnowski, data analyst; Roman Jaworuk, operations; Adam Hackett, marketing; Arthur Plonski, databases; and Pawel Kierzkowski, finance.
OX says it is developing the world’s largest community marketplace for listing, discovering and booking outdoor gear. “We are building that community by selling memberships for an affordable annual fee for access to high-quality outdoor gear, and [we] will be taking care of the supply side ourselves. We are also teaming with independent gear rental shops in strategic locations and with particular gear specialties to expand our reach while simultaneously giving them an e-commerce platform for their goods,” said Jamiolkowski.
“We will ultimately open that same platform to our highest-rated users to allow them to rent from others as well as list their own sets of outdoor gear, which typically go unused for the majority of the year, even when in season,” he added.
About pivoting, Jamiolkowski said, “We had planned to build our product and launch on the Fourth of July. Instead, we built our first iteration the first two weeks of the program and spent the remainder of the time improving [it].”
The CEO of FUSAR, Ryan Shearman, said learning to make small pivots was his company’s most important lesson learned. The startup seeks to develop the world’s most advanced wearable technologies to keep people safe on the road and the racetrack. “We call it ‘hardwear,’ ” Shearman said. FUSAR says its inaugural product, the Guardian, is the world’s smartest motorcycle helmet. The proprietary S.T.A.R. system in the Guardian, which features a true heads-up display and a powerful onboard computer, provides motorcyclists vital information about their surroundings. “By introducing helmets that feature active driver assistance capabilities, we’re making roads safer for everyone,” Shearman said.
FUSAR is led by three cofounders: Shearman; Clayton Patton, cofounder and CFO; and Todd Rushing, cofounder and director of design. Other team members include Peter Kallman, marketing manager, and Nick Scaglione, Rob Shearman, Campbell Abbott and Nick Solazzo, all interns.
Shearman says startups must not be afraid to pivot: “Pivoting doesn’t always mean changing the core direction of your business, and it can lead to great things. That said, some obstacles can be navigated with creativity and tenacity, and flipping the script may not always be the best course of action. By implementing smaller pivots, FUSAR has been able to progress much more quickly than if we had stayed true to our original strategies.”