Business Spotlight: The Spirit for Innovative Technology
Improving FAU Tech Runway’s Technology Startups with Neil Katz
By Paige Russo
With a passion for the newest and most innovative technologies, Neil Katz became a mentor at FAU Tech Runway because of its focus on giving back to the entrepreneurial community.
Neil Katz is a former IBM Distinguished Engineer and Chief Technical Officer (CTO) in the IBM CIO (Chief Information Officer) office and IBM Research. He has filed more than 50 U.S. patents and is an IBM master inventor, a honorific title bestowed by the IBM Corporation to an employee based on their contribution to the patent portfolio. He has expertise in commercialized technology, ranging from mobile computing to online gaming.
Despite his enthusiasm for new technology, Katz warns his mentees “not to fall in love with your technology.” “I have done this for a long time and seen many startups become enamored with their technology at the expense of losing sight of what customers are willing to pay,” Katz said.
Here are some insights and resources from Katz for technology startups:
Q. What is the best advice you can give an entrepreneur?
A. Though I am an engineer and I am fascinated by new and exciting technologies, I tell all the entrepreneurs I engage with to focus on the customer. You need to make sure that you clearly understand who the customer is, what their needs are and how you are solving their problem in a unique way that no one has tried before. At the same time, you are also managing and controlling your costs during the very early stages of your startup when revenue may be minimal to nonexistent.
Q. Have you had a mentor before? If so, how have they helped guide you?
A. Yes, I have had many mentors in my career. These mentors have guided me in career decisions and helped me evaluate risks and opportunities as I sought new and challenging growth areas. I believe the mentoring in my career helped me try new things I may never have considered.
Q. Do you recommend any books, podcasts or resources for entrepreneurs to learn from?
A. Books I would recommend are Shoe Dog: A Memoir by the Creator of Nike by Phil Knight, The Lean Startup by Eric Ries, Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley by John Carreyrou and all of the books by Clayton Christensen, including The Innovator’s Dilemma.
Shoe Dog covers Knight’s experience of starting Nike in the days before there was a venture capital community. The Lean Startup describes lean and agile methods for starting a technology business, while Bad Blood is about Theranos, a private health technology corporation, and how things can go wrong in Silicon Valley when building the business becomes more important than truth, honor, integrity, and trust.
Regarding podcasts, I enjoy Skeptics Guide to the Universe, an entertaining weekly podcast that reviews recent science and engineering discoveries, conspiracies and controversies.
A resource I would recommend startup companies is Y Combinator, a premier Silicon Valley seed funding engine that has an excellent library of videos and lessons that can help any startup at many stages of their journey.
Q. What do you like most about Tech Runway’s mentor program?
A. I can’t say enough about the support that the mentors receive from Rhys Williams, managing director of Tech Runway, and the Tech Runway office team. They do an amazing job of running the program, managing both the entrepreneurs and mentors and keeping everything on schedule. And, of course, the terrific mentors we have at Tech Runway who are always willing to share and help the entrepreneurs. Sometimes I think I learn more from the mentors and entrepreneurs then I end up giving back.
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