As a co-leader of the University of Pittsburgh I-Corps site, Paul J. Petrovich helps innovators bring their technology to market through the customer discovery process. Paul also serves as Assistant Director of Business Development at the Pitt Innovation Institute. He demonstrates a passion for supporting startups in the early stages.
Paul has received several accolades for his work in economic and business development. In 2006, he received the prestigious Tibbets Award in recognition of outstanding regional contributions to the federal SBIR program. In the same year, he won the PASBDC Director’s award for consulting excellence.
In addition to his consulting work, Paul is a Certified Public Accountant with a degree in business administration from Indiana University of Pennsylvania.
We recently spoke to Paul about his journey with I-Corps and the advice he has to offer new entrepreneurs.
What motivated you to become an I-Corps instructor?
I was first introduced to the I-Corps curriculum in 2012 when I served as a mentor for a University of Pittsburgh team. After spending the earlier years of my career consulting behind a desk, my eyes were opened to the magnitude of learning possibilities outside of the building. My initial experience as an I-Corps mentor motivated me to conceive our First Gear Program, initially with secured state funding, and in 2015 awarded as an NSF I-Corps Site university. My desire to become an I-Corps instructor follows my desire to discover through interaction with people and help faculty and students build scalable and sustainable business models.
What one piece of advice do you have for new entrepreneurs?
Focus on your customer and become intimate with the jobs that they do. Find opportunities to enhance their lives. Ensure that you are passionate, and adopt an Apollo 13 attitude: “Failure is not an option.” True entrepreneurs make things happen.
Of the startup teams you have instructed, are there any success stories that come to mind? Where is/are those team(s) now?
In 2015, I worked with a team of bioengineering students with a novel antioxidant coating that prevents expensive inflammation complications in the dental implant market. This was a team that took customer discovery to heart and understood clearly that by listening, they could learn from their potential customers and stakeholders. Through this discovery effort, the team eventually pivoted and developed safe, environmentally friendly coatings. They joined the billion-dollar antifouling coatings market, in industries that include HVAC, energy, and defense. Today the company is actively utilizing the federal SBIR program for product development, selling solutions to their customers, and adding to the economic vitality of our region.
After learning about so many different customer markets, can you share a market or customer problem that still requires a solution/has great demand?
There are unlimited opportunities to discover solutions that address significant major market problems in many segments: healthcare, education, transportation, environment, robotics, artificial intelligence, energy, and more. Within these markets, numerous opportunities exist for the creation of viable solutions that benefit companies, individuals, and society. Solutions that improve lives relating to diabetes, obesity, remote learning, self-driving vehicles, climate change, clean water, cybersecurity, infrastructure, and grid management.