Choosing (and using) a Mentor

Another way to phrase this title is, “Filling Gaps in the Team”.    If you are reading this from a campus, you have probably built something cool – at least you think so.  Your Professor may like it too.  After all, your gizmo fulfilled a commitment made in a grant application.   So that makes 3 fans – Program Manager from the granting agency, your professor and the person you see in the mirror.

The sad news is that three fans aren’t a market.  And 2 people with a cool technology aren’t’ a company.   Once the innovators realize that they need both a market and a business leader to help find and map to that market, the mentor will be a welcome addition to the team.

Recruiting your first mentor is a rehearsal for hiring your first CEO.    As with all important relationships in life, choose your influencers carefully because they shape your thinking and guide your actions.   They also alter the impressions you make on others.  How do you recruit this business leader?  You can find mentors by going where serial entrepreneurs gather – every city has them – venture forums, startup meetups, tech venture groups etc..  When you are at these networking events, describe why your customers need what you have built and see how they respond.  Note, I said nothing about how your invention works.  No one cares.  Customers and prospective partners just want to know that it solves a big expensive problem.   If you are preparing to submit a grant that demands customer discovery such as NSF I-Corp or Georgia Research Alliance Phase 1, you can even say you are meeting mentors in order to select the right veteran entrepreneur as part of your team.   I’ve had teams at Georgia Tech discover excellent mentors using this networking approach.   

The role of the mentor is to spin the flywheel to startup speed.  Research moves at research speed.   Startups have to move much faster.  15 meetings a week is how you discover customers in a startup.  Your mentor will show how a career of building a reputation pays dividends.  They will be able to call on former customers and employees to find meetings and advisors.  Their LinkedIn will have over 500 contacts and they will be able to use them for your team.  Once you connect to your mentor, their network becomes your network.   Use it.

When research based startups succeed, it’s because they found The Right Mentor who became CEO.   That person loves to meet new people listens well and does not hesitate to make the hard decisions quickly about product market fit or people.   They are less politic than on-campus leaders.   They can’t afford groupthink.  So with this picture of a new partner/leader in mind as you search to round out your team, take the plunge and find someone you want to travel, eat and laugh/cry with.  It’s all coming your way once you launch a startup.

Innovolt® Named To 2013 Red Herring Top 100 Global

Intelligent Asset Management Technology Provider Recognized As an International Leader for its Innovation and Ingenuity

ATLANTA, Nov. 25, 2013 — Red Herring recently announced its Top 100 Global, naming Innovolt® Inc., the pioneer of intelligent asset management technology, as one of the leading private companies from North America, Europe and Asia.

“Since 2006, Innovolt has worked tirelessly to provide a technology solution that increases the uptime and reliability of electronics, which saves companies time, money and resources,” says Jeff Spence, Innovolt President. “For Innovolt to be recognized as one of the world’s most inventive companies by Red Herring is validation that our technology offering is making an impact and improving business operations around the world.”

Innovolt’s technology is imperative to creating sustainable business environments, as power disturbances cost U.S. industry as much as $188 billion a year in lost data, material and productivity, according to the Electrical Power Research Institute.

“Choosing the companies with the strongest potential was by no means a small feat,” said Alex Vieux, publisher and CEO of Red Herring. “After rigorous contemplation and discussion, we narrowed our list down from hundreds of candidates from across the globe to the Top 100 Winners. We believe Innovolt embodies the vision, drive and innovation that define a successful entrepreneurial venture. Innovolt should be proud of its accomplishment, as the competition was the strongest it has ever been.”

In addition to being recognized as a global technology innovator in 2013, Innovolt saw an incredible amount of growth this year with the expansion into several new markets, including vending, parking and gaming. In 2014, Innovolt looks forward to furthering its presence in these key markets, while developing new products to meet the needs for other industries that are reliant on clean and constant power.

To learn more about Innovolt, please visit

About Innovolt® Innovolt® combines patented electronics protection technology with comprehensive monitoring and analytics applications to deliver the leading Intelligent Asset Management platform.  Significantly reducing the cost of electronics ownership, Innovolt intelligently protects and manages the productivity and usable life of the technology that powers today’s digital world. The company’s proven Remote Optimization Control (ROC™) technology guards valuable electronic assets against the damaging effects of power and environmental disturbances and incorporates a cloud-based platform to give businesses the tools they need to predict, measure, and maximize equipment performance across the distributed enterprise. Innovolt has also been acknowledged as a fastest growing technology company by Inc. magazine, Deloitte, the Technology Association of Georgia, Atlanta Business Chronicle, American Business Awards, and Lead411 and was a finalist for Forbes list of America’s Most Promising Companies in 2013. For more information, visit

The new Startup Competition is here!

Our web page for the competition is now up. Go check out the details:

The first session is Monday October 21 at 7:30pm at the Scheller College of Business Room 200. No need to register, just join us there!

Urjanet Supports New ENERGY STAR® Portfolio Manager® Tool

Customers of Cloud-Based Energy Data Service Can Benchmark Easily with EPA Platform

Atlanta, GA (September 17, 2013) – Urjanet Inc., a provider of intelligent energy data to business and industry, today announced that its utilityCONNECT subscription-based, energy data service now supports EPA’s new version of ENERGY STAR® Portfolio Manager® released in July. Portfolio Manager is an online tool that helps companies measure and track energy use and greenhouse gas emissions to benchmark building performance. Urjanet now allows its customers to take the normalized utility usage data from utilityCONNECT and input that data directly into Portfolio Manager, saving tremendous time, improving benchmarking results and providing more accurate data with which to make business decisions. [Read more...]

Applying for I-Corps

I just had a great conversation with a guy who recently completed the I-Corps program. He mentioned that we should add a post about how to apply, to make it easy for GT teams to apply for the $50,000 grant.

Here are his tips:

When contacting an I-Corps program officer, provide the following information:

1. Composition of the team proposing to undertake the commercialization feasibility research (Entrepreneurial Lead, Mentor and PI).

2. Relevant current/previous NSF awards (including award number, the program that funded the project, and NSF program manager for the project, if available).

3. Brief description of the potential commercial impact.

4. Brief description of the current commercialization plan.

E-mail to this to Babu and here’s the link with all the other important details

Meet Ben Hill, VentureLab principal

Ben was employee number 13 of the first ATDC graduate company, ChalkBoard. Working in operations, logistics and manufacturing, he was part of the team that put together a digital input pad for home computers in 1983/84 (!)  It was the brave new world of Commodore 64, Atari 400/800, Apple II and, ultimately, the IBM PC.

The technology seemed to be a great fit for the engineering and CAD market, but the company pursued the consumer market and ramped too quickly before building a sustainable base, which led to the company going under in the the Fall of 1984.  About this experience, Ben remembers he and his fellow worker bees saying the company was “a lot of flash and no cash.”

Ben joined ATDC as a staff member for a little over four years and had the startup bug again. His next gig was with IVEX, an ATDC graduate that developed high-end computer graphics and display systems for visual simulation for flight training. While working there as a program manager, Ben co-founded Cirronet as a business partner, and, yes, worked two jobs in parallel.  The IVEX job was full-time and the Cirronet job was during the evenings and on weekends.  Eventually, Ben joined Cirronet full-time and helped it grow to over 20 employees based on being frugal, effective cash flow management, raising a modest amount of angel capital, and closing some deals.

Over time, Ben brought in management and moved to the board of the company where he served as corporate secretary.  Cirronet grew to 50 employees based on organic growth and some additional angel investment.  It’s spread spectrum radio modules have been integrated into products offered by GE, Trimble, Mine Safety and others.  The company was acquired in 2006 by RF Monolithics, which is now part of Murata.  Should you stop at Sonic Drive In, odds are you’ll use a Cirronet radio to place your order and charge your credit card.

From his startup experience, he recounts these three lessons learned:

·        Cash is king

·        Know your customer’s motivations.  Does your idea address a customer need or a want?  What’s driving your customer: pain or gain?

·        You can feed the kings and live like the masses, or feed the masses and live like kings.

An even-keeled sort of fellow with a Missouri “show me” attitude, Ben loves being surrounded by the ideas and innovation on campus and likes being around creative people. It is the favorite part of his job.

Ben Hill

Startup Exchange is growing!

Compared to last year, the group has grown!


Innovolt® Ranks No. 31 overall on 2013 Inc. 500 list of America’s Fastest-Growing Private Companies

Award Recognizes Leader in Intelligent Asset Management Technology as No. 1 Company in Atlanta and Georgia


ATLANTA, Aug. 27, 2013 /PRNewswire/ – Inc. magazine recently ranked Innovolt® Inc. No. 31 on its 32nd annual Inc. 500|5000, an exclusive ranking of the nation’s fastest-growing private companies. Innovolt, the leading provider of intelligent asset management technology, received additional recognition as the No. 1 Atlanta Metro Company, No. 1 Georgia Company, and the No. 2 Business Products and Services Company in the nation. [Read more...]

You’re at Georgia Tech — You can do that!

Props to Nick Selby for an outstanding Welcome to the Georgia Tech Class of 2017.


Nick, if you ever want to talk about your ideas, we’re here to help!



Atlanta Tech Edge – Episode One

Many thanks to Wes Moss of Atlanta Tech Edge for featuring VentureLab as the second story in the first episode.

Check out the show here, our bit is at about 3:54.

Atlanta Tech Edge