Beth Xie is an experienced entrepreneur and investor, as well as an instructor and mentor for the National Science Foundation I-Corps program, teaching regional courses for both the Upstate New York (UNY) I-Corps Node and the New York City Regional Innovation Node (NYCRIN). She also serves as an Industry Mentor for the L2M Accelerator Network at Columbia Technology Ventures and as an Entrepreneur in Residence at the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA). Xie co-founded TaggPic, a computer vision startup that provided visual-content intelligence to real-world exploration and navigation, which was acquired by Google in 2014. She is passionate about training, building, and growing deep tech startups that disrupt market segments using deep learning, machine learning, and artificial intelligence. We recently caught up with Xie to discuss her experience and insight as an I-Corps mentor and instructor.
What prompted you to begin mentoring for the I-Corps program?
Beth Xie: My friend and colleague, Brad Treat [National I-Corps Adjunct Instructor] recommended that I serve as an industry mentor for the National I-Corps Program. Brad was a great mentor to me when I was co-founding my own startup at Cornell University. I wanted to pay it forward, so I signed on. I really enjoy empowering startup founders, especially those who are university inventors in deep tech through the I-Corps program. Since then, I have also begun teaching for the I-Corps program through the UNY I-Corps Node and the New York City Regional Innovation Node.
Of the teams you have mentored or instructed, are there any success stories that come to mind? Where are these teams now?
BX: I served as an industry mentor for two mission-driven startup teams—mPOD and Advanced Fetal Monitoring—and I am incredibly proud of both teams’ progress. mPod recently won a National Institutes of Health (NIH) grant through the Rapid Acceleration of Diagnostics (RADx) initiative. Advanced Fetal Monitoring earned a spot in the Central New York Biotech Accelerator at Upstate Medical University, and will be graduating from the accelerator’s Medical Device Innovation Challenge in February 2021.
Why is the customer discovery process so important? And how do you support teams as they navigate this process?
BX: According to industry research, the top reason why startups fail is because there is no market need. The customer discovery process, if done right, is one of the most helpful tools to discover product-market fit, find unmet market needs, and increase chances of success. I support the teams going through this process by asking them to examine their hypothesis about their product-market fit in a way that is quantifiable, relevant, specific, and testable.
What advice do you have for new entrepreneurs?
BX: Stop selling your technologies and your inventions. Focus instead on understanding, quantifying, and solving the most urgent pain points of the customer. Meticulously research your startup’s ecosystem and your customer’s ecosystem. This knowledge will pay tremendous dividends down the road.
What important lesson have you learned from being an I-Corps mentor and instructor?
BX: Launching and scaling a startup is incredibly hard work. Very few founders understand their customers precisely from the start. Those who choose to take on the time-consuming and challenging work of customer discovery upfront are the founders most poised for success.