MIT’s Storyteller In Residence, Dom Smith chats to Jordan Handler about his start-up and research on hydrogel materials for Hydroprint, and get some tips for effective entrepreneurship.
What do you do here?
I’m a second year MBA student at Sloan, I came into the school with a new idea for 3D Printing, and that’s what led me to MTC, where I connected with one of the EIRs, Elaine Chen, who helped me connect to professors around the university.
What challenges have you faced?
The idea I came into the school with, which we’ve since pivoted away from, was to take a form of 3D Printing called Stereolithography that uses light waves to cure a liquid polymer and change the light source to a more controllable array of LEDs. What was difficult starting off was for me to piece together what technologies needed to be invented for this idea to be useful. I didn’t know what I was getting myself into. I didn’t have a great sense of what I needed to do. I was an engineer before coming to Sloan, and doing things like market research were not exactly at the top of my list, or something that I wanted to do. The challenge there was simply understanding the needs.
What are your future goals?
At this point, I’m working on building a startup around a research project on hydrogel materials, they’re like super tough Jell-O. What we’re doing is 3D printing them using light to build different sorts of medical devices. I am now working with a PHD and post-doc student, both of whom have an extra year, and am also looking for a co-founder. Ideally though, we’ll jump into an incubator and start printing for customers.
How would you advise that someone best use the Martin Trust Center?
The folks here are extremely helpful, and I’ve found that the EIRs are very helpful in a practical sense, whether networking or advising. There are a lot of students in here working on really cool ideas; it’s easy to walk in and see somebody working on their computer but have no idea who they are, but you might get to talking about cool things and new technologies all across the board.
What would be your recipe for entrepreneurial success?
The first thing is the market research aspect. That’s incredibly useful so that you don’t end up wasting time in the future. It helps to set the right course. There are resources all over, including grants and pitch competitions. But it’s not all about the money – it’s about getting your name out, and learning from others. That will open up new doors.
Have you always had that entrepreneurial spark?
I never really considered myself an entrepreneur. After college I went to work as an engineer at Boeing, which is pretty far from having a startup! Having said that, I feel like having an idea and being passionate about it, and believing in it, has allowed these entrepreneurial ideas to creep up on me without notice. I just started working on this idea, and the next step seems to be to start a company. It’s been interesting here, meeting other entrepreneurs; a big surprise is that not everybody has the type of personality I envisioned – the extremely extroverted, or the perfect networker who knows everything! That’s not [always] the case. It’s been pretty cool.