Instructor Spotlight: Nakia Melecio
Meet Nakia Melecio, a serial entrepreneur who brings over 20 years of experience to the teams he works with through the I-Corps program. Dr. Melecio is a Senior Research Faculty member at the Georgia Institute of Technology’s Enterprise Innovation Institute, as well as a Startup Catalyst at its Advanced Technology Development Center. He specializes in deep tech and is heavily invested in the entrepreneurial community, serving as a mentor and advisor through Georgia Bio, Georgia Tech CREATE-X, the U.S. Department of State’s Global Innovation through Science and Technology (GIST) Initiative, and FedTech, among others. Most recently, Dr. Melecio was announced as the Principal Investigator on a $2.6 million grant to develop a Center for MedTech Excellence at Georgia Tech. Funded in part by the U.S. Economic Development Administration, the center will work to support medical technology startups through scaling and commercialization challenges unique to that sector.
Throughout his career, Dr. Melecio has worked with over 700 startups, logging more than 15,000 hours of classroom instruction time. He has helped to successfully launch startups all around the world, including in the United States, Australia, the United Kingdom, Canada, Nigeria, and Ghana. As the founder and CEO of iDesignProject, an organization helping founders accelerate the commercialization of their technology, his passion for entrepreneurship and innovation runs deep.
Dr. Melecio has been part of the NSF I-Corps National Innovation Network for several years, first as a national Teams mentor and then teaching courses with the South and IN-LA Nodes. He became an instructor for the UNY I-Corps Node’s regional program in 2021. In June, he taught an I-Corps regional course at Cornell University, and in August he led the UNY Node’s first all GEM Fellows regional course. We spoke with Dr. Melecio to learn more about his experiences as an entrepreneur, mentor, and I-Corps instructor.
Q: Why did you want to become an I-Corps instructor?
Nakia Melecio: I have always been passionate about science, research, and entrepreneurship, and five years ago, I was a mentor in the national NSF I-Corps program. Seeing the instructors in action, the lightbulb went off, and I found a deep connection with the NSF I-Corps program at that moment. I knew I wanted to share my experience working with students and faculty to help them translate findings from lab to market.
Q: What one piece of advice do you have for new entrepreneurs?
NM: I always tell startups and entrepreneurs to build with the end in mind, and every decision you make should reflect that vision. I also tell them that while you are building and growing as an entrepreneur, always lead with passion, integrity, and always be teachable and coachable because failure is inevitable, but attitude and integrity are optional.
Q: Of the startup teams you have instructed, are there any success stories that come to mind? Where is/are those team(s) now?
NM: One of the teams I am the proudest of is TQintelligence, an AI-based tool for mental health professionals. This team has persevered against all odds, and not only were they successful in the NSF I-Corps program, but they also went on to win an SBIR Phase I and Phase II. I spent a lot of time with this team during our cohort and after, and still provide guidance and support to this day.
Q: Can you recall a startup team that went above and beyond during customer discovery?
NM: One of the teams that I have been most impressed by was team 2174 Haystack System. I haven’t seen a team with the level of precision they had during customer discovery; not only were they efficient, they were surgical in how they dissected their customer segments. This team fully embraced the process and committed to taking the advice of the teaching team and mentors.
Q: After learning about so many different customer markets, can you share a market or customer problem that still requires a solution/has great demand?
NM: One such market is technologies that are focused on personalized medicine and developing efficient technologies and cost-effective clinical manufacturing platforms to support the later clinical trial phases and ultimately commercialization. One of the teams I was working with wanted to improve the cGMP manufacturing platforms and the quality control requirements for clinical-grade CAR-T cells in early phase clinical trials. CAR-T has great demand, but some of the challenges are manufacturing and cost, so this problem still needs more innovation.
Q: What important lesson(s) or insight(s) have you learned from being an I-Corps instructor?
NM: One of my biggest lessons is following my own advice, and that is being teachable and coachable. In my opinion, it is a privilege to be an NSF I-Corps instructor — to be trusted to lead some of our nation’s brightest and most brilliant researchers through a process to explore entrepreneurship in a safe space. For me; that is something that I don’t take for granted. One of the most substantial insights I have learned is from the feedback from the teams for me, and this is the opportunity for me to adjust, learn, and perfect how I deliver instruction in the classroom to students and faculty.