Shortly after MesoMat won the grand prize at Lion’s Lair 2018 on September 27th, we sat down with them and asked about the nitty gritty of their entrepreneurial story. Co-Founder Paul Fowler, answered a few of our most pressing questions.
What was the inspiration for your Company?
MesoMat began with the goal of commercializing technology developed in the Department of Physics and Astronomy at McMaster University. Through fundamental research on soft materials and the physics of self-assembly in the research group of Kari Dalnoki-Veress, a technique to cheaply fabricate microscopic coils was discovered. In the process of developing this discovery, we needed stretchable, flexible conductive fibres. We conducted an extensive search trying to purchase stretchable conductive fibre and after being unable to find what we needed, we decided to fabricate it ourselves. We quickly learned that this was a highly sought-after material with many applications. Based on positive feedback from potential customers, bringing stretchable conductive fibre to market became MesoMat’s focus.
When did your Company start? What year? Who is your team?
The technology which underlies MesoMat is the cumulative result of nearly a decade of collaborative research focused on the physics of self-assembly between researchers at McMaster, ESPCI in France and other institutions. The core innovations behind stretchable conductive fibres were developed in 2017 and MesoMat incorporated in January 2018.
The three co-founders of MesoMat are, Paul Fowler, Kari Dalnoki-Verss and Sukhbir Kalirai. Paul is a McMaster graduate and former graduate student in Kari’s research group. After graduating Paul held teaching and research positions before managing R&D at Validere, a YCombinator backed Toronto based start-up. Paul left Validere to start ,MesoMat with Kari in 2017. Sukhbir joined MesoMat in 2018 as a business co-founder and has experience in finance, business development and operations through work in private equity and at Tim Hortons corporate office. Clare Armstrong, a PhD graduate from the Department of Physics and Astronomy at McMaster, with previous start-up experience, manages research and development. Élie Raphaël and Thomas Salez are researchers in France who continue to provide scientific support and help to grow the business in Europe.
What was your favourite or most memorable part of participating in Lion’s Lair?
The entire Lion’s Lair process was fun, rewarding and helped MesoMat grow as a business. The feedback we received from practicing our pitch helped us refine how we present our company to both investors and customers and was extremely valuable. Having a platform to pitch to individuals who are not only successful in their professional career, but are actual investors themselves, was extremely beneficial.
From a purely fun perspective, the media attention was amazing. The radio interview, filming the pitch for television and gala were unique and unforgettable experiences that were out of the ordinary for a typical day at MesoMat!
What is the most challenging part of being an entrepreneur?
From a practical perspective building a company requires involvement in every aspect of the organization – developing the technology, meeting with potential customers, meeting with investors, managing finances and legal work and more. Determining where to focus your energy and how to prioritize is a difficult challenge that has a substantial impact on the business. Support from organizations such Innovation Factory and McMaster University and competitions such as Lion’s Lair help to focus the business to set goals and targets that position the company for success.
One of the challenges building and developing MesoMat has been determining our go-to market strategy. Our stretchable fibres and yarns are a platform technology with broad applications in many sectors. As a result, there are many potential pathways and refining where MesoMat adds the most value is an ongoing process.
What role does innovation play in your business?
MesoMat is not only generating new ideas to improve our current technology, we are also developing other innovative materials to solve fundamental problems in billion-dollar markets. Innovation drives our company forward and guides us to find new and interesting problems we can solve. As a company we want to stay at the forefront of technology and be constantly pushing ahead with new ideas. Stretchable conductive fibres are one part of our long-term plan and in order to build a company with a diverse set of products, one of our core values is constant innovation.
What are your plans for the next year? 5 years?
Over the next year, we are focused on bringing our stretchable conductive fibres to market in the wearables space. Particularly, we are targeting smart PPE, performance wear and healthcare markets. Since our fibres are a platform technology with numerous applications across many sectors, we will continue to determine our product market fit and where we add the most value to our customers. By the end of 2019, our goal is to be supplying fibres through a combination of manufacturing and IP licensing agreements to companies in available globally. Long term, we are committed to our ambitious goal of building an advanced materials company in Hamilton. MesoMat plans to develop not only other advanced fibre technologies but other innovative materials which can help solve fundamental problems in billion-dollar markets.
What did you learn that you would not have learnt if you had not participated in Lion’s Lair?
One of the key things we learned from Lion’s Lair was how to pitch and position our company to different audiences. Not all investors and customers view our technology through the same lens and using a specific structure and language may work extremely well in some cases, yet may not resonate in others. Lion’s Lair also really forced us to focus on building a solid go-to market strategy with clear timelines, target markets and goals. Although we had a plan in place, Lion’s Lair helped us rapidly refine our ideas and test them for improvement. We are already reaping the rewards of the effort we put into refining our pitch and business plan and our recent growth wouldn’t have been at the current pace without the training and support we received from the competition.
What advice would you give anyone looking to participate in Lion’s Lair in 2019?
Lion’s Lair is an incredible opportunity to grow and develop a company while learning how to best pitch and market your ideas along way. Although at its core the Lion’s Lair is a “pitch competition”, it is so much more. It gives companies the ability to participate in training sessions which are valuable for your business, allows you to meet other inspiring entrepreneurs and challenges companies to think about themselves in new and interesting ways. Perhaps most importantly, throughout the duration of the Lion’s Lair process it has felt like the entire Hamilton community is behind your company and eager to support innovation. For that reason alone, it is worth participating in the competition!
Keep your eyes peeled for their continued success throughout the coming year!
Follow them on social media here