We sat down with Eric Knight, serial inventor and entrepreneur who imparts knowledge and experience working directly with Connecticut’s youngest and most promising start-ups as part of CTNext’s Entrepreneurs in Residence program.
For starters, can you tell us about your background and experience?
Most people know me as an inventor. I’ve been an inventor for 30 years, creating lots of products and services that many people have used over that time. I am an experienced serial entrepreneur, having conceived of, started and grown many businesses to a significant size, had them flourish, exited and then started again. And I’ve done that multiple times.
As a CTNext Entrepreneur-in-Residence, what experience and expertise do you offer to startups and entrepreneurs?
I bring to the table wide-ranging experience from which the companies that come see me can benefit. It’s rare that someone walks into my office and proposes some sort of project, idea, invention or service that I haven’t had some experience with or general knowledge of. I can apply lots of experience to lots of ideas.
For the startups and founders with whom you work, what would you say are the greatest needs?
There are three areas that come to mind. One is in intellectual property. Someone will come in with an idea for a product or service and they haven’t locked down their IP. The second is business fundamentals. Many people are trying to start a business but have not had a lot of business seasoning. They’re really learning as they go. And the third is marketing. Most individuals don’t have an understanding of what it takes to bring a product or service to market. Most will say, “Well, we’ll just do some social media, and allocate a few dollars and the world will come knocking at our door.” And they don’t realize that, even with the power of all the different media elements, the cost of marketing can be as much or more than the cost of developing the product or service.
What do you think are some of the biggest challenges facing startups and entrepreneurs today?
Most startups will say their biggest challenge is raising money. But I don’t find that to be the primary issue. Many times, these companies will be reaching for money before they are ready. They need to have some fundamentals taken care of first. They need to have a business model that makes sense, that is sustainable and is supported by the market dynamics.
In what ways, in your view, is CTNext able to help these individuals overcome some of those challenges?
CTNext offers a great service through the application of the Entrepreneurs in Residence program. We can work with these entrepreneurs, help them see the bigger picture, and help them get what they need so they can line up the right resources in order to have a successful outcome.
What stands out as you reflect on your work as an EIR?
I have a number of proud moments. I see almost 200 companies a year, and I’m most proud that I’m able to help so many companies. I’ve been able to provide mentoring and support to a number of Entrepreneur Innovation Award winners, helping them get their applications ready, prepare for their pitch and win. And then there are many individual cases where I see a small enterprise with a very simple idea that has great potential–and I’m able to help bring the right resources to bear. Those moments make me feel very proud and excited, and it is one of the more enjoyable things that I do in my business career.
Finally, how would you advise that a startup, or an entrepreneur with an idea, best leverage all of the resources available through CTNext?
There are tremendous resources available at CTNext for any entrepreneur. It’s really a single gateway into many other resources that are available in Connecticut. It is a gem of a service that is available to startups. Starting with CTNext will open many doors for the enterprise, which is one of the most important things that they can do, and one of the most valuable resources that is available to them in Connecticut.