Elisa Miller-Out is managing partner of Chloe Capital, a seed stage investment fund focused on women-led tech companies, and serves as an Innovation Advisor for NYSERDA. Miller-Out is also the co-founder of PollQ, a polling software startup and serves on the board of Women 2.0, the leading global media brand for women in tech. She is an experienced mentor, providing guidance to startups as an Entrepreneur in Residence at Cornell University’s Blackstone Launchpad and the Southern Tier Startup Alliance, as well as mentoring for NEXUS-NY, Launch NY, 76West, and StartFast. We caught up with Miller-Out recently to discuss her experience as an entrepreneurship instructor and mentor for the National Science Foundation’s Upstate New York I-Corps Node.
What prompted you to begin instructing/mentoring for the I-Corps program?
I’m passionate about working with early stage companies and helping connect them with the strategies and resources they need to be successful. I-Corps teams are often very academic and research focused and my role is to help them understand how to translate their technology into a viable business, by doing customer-driven R&D. I also enjoy learning about the innovation that’s happening in the university research community. It helps me stay on top of technology trends as an investor.
Of the teams you’ve instructed/mentored, are there any success stories that come to mind? Where are these teams now?
Exotanium is a company in the software space that was in one of my early I-Corps classes. While some teams choose to stay focused on research, Exotanium formed a company and is focused on commercializing their innovative technology. They’re developing cloud-native application containers and management platforms that are secure and fast. The need for online operations is even greater post-COVID. They just completed a successful proof of concept with their first pilot customer.
Sometimes during the customer discovery process, teams discover a different path to take with their innovation. What is the most interesting pivot you have observed during your time as an I-Corps instructor/mentor?
Smart Scene was working on government solutions in the traffic management space, but pivoted to a corporate retail solution. I’ve seen a lot of companies pivot from government to corporate customers because of the long sales cycles and complexity of government contracts.
What advice do you have for new entrepreneurs?
Take a customer-driven approach. Start with understanding their needs and pain points through the customer discovery process. Then continue to iterate on the solutions in partnership with customers, rather than in isolation in the lab.
What important lesson have YOU learned from being an I-Corps instructor/mentor?
The process of commercializing research can be challenging, but it’s rewarding to see innovative ideas move out of the lab and into the world where they can make an impact in people’s lives.