Advice from a Scientific Entrepreneur to Her 25-Year-Old Self

Contributed by Ginger Rothrock, Senior Director at HG Ventures, The Heritage Group

On my drive to work today I was listening to my favorite podcast, 20minVC . [Sidenote –When I leapt into the venture world 15 months ago, the 20minVC and TheFullRatchet were my crash course in “how to be a VC”–true story]. Anyway, one question Harry Stebbings asked his guest: “what do you know now that you wish you knew when you were 25” really struck me. For context, I’m a serial entrepreneur in the materials science world, having operated on my own and in a large non-profit research institute, launching, leading and evaluating innovation programs and translational product incubators. I’m now an investor with HG Ventures, the corporate venture arm of the Heritage Group – a multi-billion dollar private conglomerate in the traditional industrial sectors of construction, environmental services and specialty chemicals. Our team of five is incredibly active (11 venture deals last year!) and constantly seeking innovation in our sectors. We invest $50 million per year in early-stage companies and also launched a Heritage-sponsored Techstars accelerator to support emerging entrepreneurs.

Back to age 25, I was in Chemistry graduate school, and we had just made the decision to launch Liquidia Technologies. I had spent a year (2000) in San Francisco at the height of the startup boom, was surrounded by a family of entrepreneurs, and was confident as I boarded the Liquidia start-up train. I jumped in the start-up world the same way I jumped into my graduate work – focused on “getting s#!t done.” I was (am) darn good at execution, but brutally honest reflection yields severe inefficiencies in time, money, and my mental health that could have been solved by stepping away from the science. As I look back on those days as a startup, here’s what experienced me would have shared:

    • Find, cultivate, and revere mentoring relationships. The entrepreneurship world is remarkably full of people willing to #givefirst in terms of time, expertise and their own networks. For a scientist entrepreneur like me, my network was (shockingly) other scientists. Find people with more/different experience and different knowledge than you. Startup communities, accelerators, and events exist for this purpose – engage and commit to listen. I’ve had the opportunity to participate in our jam-packed Techstars mentor weeks – thrilling, exhausting, and SO much learning from 90 mentors in 12 business days, not to mention the enduring connections.
    • Build your tribe. While mentors provide invaluable feedback based on their past success and failures, a “tribe” empathizes with your present. Find other founders at the same stage as you that are willing to connect, be vulnerable and honest about their current situation. They “get it” when your family, partner, friends don’t. They will love you, advocate for you and push you to be your best while lending a supportive ear when things go south. Just like mentors, these folks can be found through start-up communities, accelerators and incubators, investors and mentors.
    • Talk to and work with (potential) customers as early as possible. In the physical science world, the inclination is to “finish” a product, then go sell it. It’s not like software, where you can release and re-release, then improve as you go along. Lean Startup principles extend to #hardtech too. Test product attributes you are targeting and relentlessly iterate which resonate and which don’t. Find a way to create small samples and engage in pilots, preferably face-to-face with a willing customer. We have 42 operating companies across the Heritage Group – our HG Ventures portfolio companies and Techstars cohorts lean heavily on them at early product stages to test their concepts, equipment and materials when change is cheap!
    • The 3Fs: Focus, Financials, and Fundraising. In the academic world, people are valued for their proliferation of ideas. In many ways, the early stage entrepreneurial world is the opposite – the less others know, and the less distraction, the greater the value. There is no better way to force focus than to build a robust financial model. You can use that model to pressure test every choice that has an assumed price and a value. Interested in partnering with Fortune500 players? Check those lengthened timelines to revenue. Want to build 3 products at once? How do R&D expenses balance with the market opportunity? Don’t worry – if you’re a scientific entrepreneur like me, you’ve taken all the math you’ll need to make it happen. P.S. you’ll dig the financial modelling process and lean on your mentors for support. PPS. Good financial models = better fundraising

      After 15 months of life as a VC, and more than 15 years since my first startup struggles, I’m acutely aware (and jealous) of the myriad of options founders now have in terms of support networks and content. Further, I’m now a Techstars fangirl; this program takes every aspect that I struggled with as a founder and packages it up in a meaningful 13-week experience. Our classes get access to amazing mentors, an instant tribe within the class, connections to the Heritage group companies for pilot tests/close customer interactions and a suite of training that didn’t exist when I was 25 (what in the heck were you doing, Techstars founders David, David, Brad and Jared??!). I’m grateful for our partnership with Techstars, where I can build relationships, grow from the #givefirst experiences, and maximize the impact that I and our ventures team can have with founders and the broader hardtech ecosystem.

        Scott Kraege Joins Techstars as Managing Director of The Heritage Group

        Today, I’m excited to announce that I am joining Techstars as Managing Director of The Heritage Group Accelerator, powered by Techstars in Indianapolis. Born and raised in Indy, my 20 year entrepreneurial journey is rooted in dedicating time and energy to scaling successful companies and fueling local growth in this emerging heartland tech-hub. I’m thrilled for this next step to support and mentor early-stage entrepreneurs in my home, Indianapolis, alongside an organization that has made remarkable impact on Indiana’s ecosystem and growth, The Heritage Group.

        As a serial entrepreneur, angel investor and advisor for startup groups around the Midwest, I have a deep passion for working with other entrepreneurs to help them grow and scale their businesses. I was first introduced to Techstars through my role as a board member for the Indiana Sports Corporation, a founding partner of the Techstars Sports Accelerator Powered by Indy, and was inspired by their mission to help entrepreneurs succeed and their #givefirst mentality. I knew then I wanted to explore their culture and team further.

        I joined The Heritage Group Accelerator as an Entrepreneur in Residence for the 2019 accelerator class. Through my role as EIR I had the opportunity to work with and learn from the program’s first year managing director, Lesa Mitchell. Working closely with an Lesa, an inspirational leader, provided me with confirmation and insight into running a world-class program. As Lesa returns to Kansas City to resume running Techstars Kansas City, I have some big shoes to fill and I’m eternally grateful for Lesa’s dedication to the program. I look forward to continuing her legacy in Indiana in leading the 2020 class of the The Heritage Group Accelerator, powered by Techstars.

        With this accelerator supporting companies disrupting legacy industries addressing the next generation of solutions serving core business needs, I’m humbled for the opportunity to work with founders that share the same passion and commitment to tackling some of society’s biggest challenges through innovation in industries like energy, transportation, construction materials and chemicals. Over the last 20 years, Indianapolis has grown to become a top player in the tech industry thanks to the grit and hustle of our tight knit community. My mission is to showcase the power of Indianapolis as an established startup community by fostering even more innovation within the city limits. A few of my goals as Managing Director for the program include:

        • Driving exposure and leveraging the abundant resources at The Heritage Group for the startup founders. Few other accelerators have an executive team with as much experience, reach or access to state-of-the-art facilities as this group has. 
        • Giving back and growing the community by establishing a strong presence of successful  startups in Indianapolis. 

        Through my journey as a founder and advisor, I’ve personally experienced the highs and lows that come with growing a new business. That tribal knowledge and industry expertise combined with The Heritage Group’s community of smart, passionate industry leaders will lead to great things for Indianapolis, and I’m honored to have this opportunity. 

        Applications for the 2020 Heritage Group Accelerator, powered by Techstars open February 17. Stay tuned for more information or sign up for office hours here. We will be conducting office hours and meet and greet events over the next few months.

        The Inaugural Class for The Heritage Group Accelerator Powered by Techstars Aims To Disrupt Existing Markets in Advanced Materials, Construction, and Environmental Services

        We are thrilled to announce the 2019 class of The Heritage Group Accelerator powered by Techstars. We have chosen ten exciting startups for the inaugural class of this accelerator in partnership with Indianapolis-based company, The Heritage Group (THG). Hailing from Canada, Estonia, Germany, and the U.S., the 2019 class represents a diverse array of technologies, from wireless charging in roads to recycling waste into valuable materials. All of these companies share a mission of tackling some of society’s biggest challenges by innovating in traditional industries such as energy, transportation, construction materials, and chemicals.

        The Heritage Group manages over 30 companies in the core industries of transportation infrastructure & materials, environmental services, specialty chemicals and fuel products. Over the next 13 weeks the startups will scale their businesses under the guidance of mentors from both Techstars and THG’s leadership, allowing the founders to work with dozens of expert mentors in a variety of industry-specific specializations. 

        As part of its effort to reinvent traditional industries, THG built The Center, a state-of-the-art collaboration and R&D facility in Indianapolis where The Heritage Group Accelerator is housed. The Center was purpose-built to incubate disruptive technologies and connect entrepreneurs with researchers and industry leaders. HG Ventures, THG’s venture capital arm, is also based at The Center and invests $50 million annually in related startups.

        Without further ado, here is the inaugural class of The Heritage Group Accelerator powered by Techstars:

        Alkemy Environmental’s patented technology recycles waste materials into concrete aggregate.

        Boston, MA 


        AquaRealTime provides an early detection and monitoring system for harmful algae blooms, allowing stakeholders to better prepare for and contain environmental hazards. 

        Boulder, CO

        Ateios’ thin-film printed batteries are naturally flexible and stretchable, enabling new forms of wearable technologies with better ergonomic design. 

        La Jolla, CA


        E.O.I Technologies’ remote laser-based vibration sensor allows rapid and large-scale data collection. This enables early detection and prevention of failures and downtime for key infrastructure and industrial assets.

        Calgary, Canada

        Gelatex aims to make the fashion and textile industry more sustainable by making an eco-friendly textile that is scalable, affordable, and chemically identical to leather.

        Tallinn, Estonia

        Magment’s infrastructure solutions use patented magnetic concrete which enables dynamic wireless charging for electric and autonomous vehicles.  

        Unterhaching, Germany


        MITO Material Solutions manufactures hybrid nano-additives, enabling composite manufacturers to create tougher, lighter, and more durable products.

        Stillwater, OK

        Recycled Granite has developed numerous technologies which enables granite and stone waste to be converted into sustainable building materials. 

        Schererville, IN 

        Wildnote is a digital platform to seamlessly collect and report environmental data, eliminating the need for time-consuming traditional paperwork. 

        San Luis Obispo, CA 

        Zilper Trenchless has developed an award-winning trenchless boring technology for the construction industry, leading to 40% cost savings and minimizing disruption to infrastructure and traffic.

        Cambridge, MA 


        Lesa Mitchell joins The Heritage Group Accelerator Powered by Techstars to help startups disrupt legacy enterprises

        Many industries that aren’t top of mind for most of us but serve our most basic everyday needs – from industrial production, transportation infrastructure and environmental services and safety – all are facing technological disruption and innovation.

        The Heritage Group (THG) and Techstars are working together to help entrepreneurs and startups disrupt these legacy industries through The Heritage Group Accelerator Powered by Techstars located in Indianapolis. As an experienced Techstars Managing Director and long-time mentor, Lesa Mitchell is taking the helm as Managing Director to work with founders looking to disrupt existing markets by pioneering the next generation of solutions across the spectrum.

        “With my background as an executive in a large scientifically focused organization, an entrepreneur and one of the lead funders and board members in the creation of the NSF iCorp, I’m excited to work with founders across scientific and technology fields to help them identify challenges and opportunities and grow their businesses,” says Mitchell. “Working with a company like The Heritage Group provides startups the chance to work across multiple companies that could become customers, and obtain access to expertise that will help them scale.”

        The Heritage Group, an innovation organization with deep expertise and significant holdings in industries such as transportation, infrastructure, materials, environmental services, specialty chemicals and fuel products is a leader in many of the industries it seeks to transform. In addition, THG’s venture arm, Heritage Ventures, is one of the largest investment vehicles in the Midwest focused on early and growth-stage opportunities, with flexibility to invest at any stage across the venture capital spectrum. THG is eager to merge its long history of innovation in the industries it serves with today’s innovators and is eager to mentor early-stage companies through the accelerator.

        “Our aspiration is to bring THG’s spirit and experience, at scale, to a much broader range of early-stage companies and opportunities,” says Amy Schumacher, president of THG.

        The program is currently accepting applications for its inaugural class. Specific areas of interest for the program include:

        • Environmental and Recycling: new materials that decrease the need for clean-up; waste management and/or waste water recovery solutions; and more.
        • Construction and Materials: Building infrastructure including materials and techniques; new equipment and safety solutions.
        • Specialty Chemicals & Energy: Special chemical products across a range of lubricants, solvents, fuels and other specialty chemicals; energy generation including battery technology
        • IT and Industry: Industrial internet of things; vehicle to infrastructure sensor technologies; software/SaaS models

        Participants in the program will have access to the Techstars worldwide network and to THG’s highly knowledgeable business leaders and experts in a variety of industry-specific specializations. In addition, entrepreneurs will work with the THG’s research and development team who play a critical role in developing new startups with novel technologies.

        Does The Heritage Group Accelerator Powered by Techstars sound like a good fit for your company? If so, we want to hear from you. Request more information about this program, schedule one-on-one office hours with program staff, register for our upcoming AMA (Ask Me Anything) on May 9th, or apply now.