Swati Chaturvedi left management consulting and investing behind to make an impact–yes, to change the world.
She’s well on her way.
No, she hasn’t written an affordable Hamilton.
The MIT grad started visiting angel investor groups with an interest in startups, but couldn’t find any company compelling enough to invest in. Sure, there were droves of internet startups that could make lives incrementally better, but nothing world-changing.
So Chaturvedi started the MIT Alumni Angel Investors group to fuel startups focused on solving big world problems like curing disease, growing more food for everyone, and making energy abundant for all.
The successful venture was the seed of what would become Propel(x), which has already raised over $7 million in capital for 41 startups since the launch of the Propel(x) website in 2014.
Chaturvedi’s goal is breathtaking–to match the $2.5 billion dollars in annual funding doled out by the government’s National Science Foundation via Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) grants.
I talked with the thought leading CEO about her story, her favorite startups she’s helped fuel, her thoughts on being one of Silicon Valley’s only female CEOs, and lessons for entrepreneurs (especially women). Here are her thoughts, in her own words.
Tell me about your favorite game-changing startups that you’ve connected to funding.
Well, first let me clarify that this is a subset of amazing startups who are through the funding process and have indicated they’re OK with having their story public.
Seatrec is a company that has figured out how to harvest temperature differences (from light and shade, from night to day) and store the energy in a battery. The first application is in the ocean, where a battery captures power from differences in water temperatures to then power underwater vehicles (as opposed to toxic batteries that currently do the job).
A startup called zPREDICTA has figured out a way to replicate the environment of the human body to enable a more efficient clinical trial process. This is game-changing. Drugs fail trials quite often because they behave differently outside the body in lab settings then they actually do inside the body, netting an unnecessarily prolonged process. Billions and billions of dollars spent on clinical trials can be saved.
A startup called Aromyx has figured out that our sense of smell and taste comes from 400 receptors inside the human body–receptors they can recreate on a microchip. So imagine being able to replicate the taste and smell of a potato chip, but on a much healthier food.
And a Stanford startup called Axiom Exergy is changing how energy is used during peak hours by using electricity to store cooled air and circulate it during the day.
What’s the timing for expected returns on these ideas?
We expect to start seeing healthy returns in five-to-seven years, like any startup. The probability of this is vastly improved by the fact that investors are putting money in ideas that already have prototypes built and have been expert vetted, and have already secured funding between $1-12 million dollars. These aren’t science projects.
What’s it like being one of the very few female CEOs in Silicon Valley?
Sometimes the differences are noticeable but I don’t get distracted. People with purpose in life don’t get distracted by comparison to others and things that don’t matter. When we’re dead and gone, we’re remembered by the work we leave behind. While I’m not the entrepreneur in the field, like an Alexander Graham Bell was, I can be the enabler and coach to the entrepreneurs. That’s what matters.
What advice do you have for tech and/or female entrepreneurs and startup wannabes?
First, technologists love to talk about the technology–this isn’t as important as what does it mean for the world. They should start with this, the commercial application, and not get lost in the intricacies of the technology.
Second, be professional–get back to unanswered questions from potential investors in a timely manner. I see the opposite too often.
Third, when you’re building your management team, look within your network–people you know and can trust. Too many entrepreneurs spend lots of time expanding their network to consider bringing people on their team they don’t have a history with.
Finally, for female entrepreneurs–take the plunge and go for it! Especially if you have a significant other to stabilize family income. It all falls into place.
This article by Scott Mautz also appeared on Inc.com. To read more Inc. articles by Scott Mautz, click here.