Joe Sprengard, founder of General Nano
How did you come to be an entrepreneur?
By accident. I met two inventors at the University of Cincinnati who were faced with a decision to either license their nanotechnology to a company in Seattle, or create their own company. Their desire was to keep the technology local, but they needed a business person to help. I happened to be in the right place at the time.
Why did you start your business?
Because of the United States Air Force (USAF). They wanted to see if our technology could solve specific aerospace problems, and there was no way of knowing without starting a company and competing daily in the marketplace. The Department of Defense knows that America will be at a competitive disadvantage if we can't manufacture nanomaterials for next generation aerospace applications. For the founders of General Nano, the USAF encouragement was all we needed to make the leap from the 'known' (our current jobs) to start what was, and is, largely 'unknown' – a commercially viable nanomaterial for aero/defense applications.
What resources here did you take advantage of and how did they help?
1. DoD SBIR program - General Nano has secured seven SBIRs in 36 months
– imagining grant program; helped tremendously in defining our business model and vertical markets.
3. Ohio Third Frontier
– General Nano won $2M from the Advanced Materials Program; $1M allocated to UC to expand the Nanoworld Lab; fosters a fluid pipeline of IP.
4. Hamilton County Business Center
(HCBC) – our home away from home.
Where did you find your first employee?
University of Cincinnati. Lucy Ge Li joined our company immediately after graduating from UC, where she studied for three years alongside the inventors of our technology. UC's Nanoworld Lab
pipeline of talent is a tremendous asset for General Nano
. If not for our company, Cincinnati would have lost Lucy and others to companies not in our region.
What advice would you give to someone starting a company here?
Surround yourself with the best people. Products and services change – people don't.
Can you share a funny or amazing entrepreneurial experience with our readers?
If you're married and have a six-week old son, it's probably not the best time to seek your spouse's blessing to leave your job and start a venture. Thankfully, I have a true companion and a son who reminds me that work does not define my value.
What inspires you?
Our employees. Management has an obligation to take care of their people. Management eats last; employees eat first.
What companies or founders do you admire and why?
Joe Hayden and his son John, both former chairmen and CEOs of The Midland Company
, have been my business idols since I was 16 years old, and strangely, it is not because of business. I had the good fortune of benefiting from the youth baseball program they created, sustained, and have grown for 40-plus years. I dream someday of giving back they way the Hayden family does.