When David Beck and Mike Orndorff enrolled in the MBA program at Georgia Tech, they already knew they wanted to start their own businesses right after graduation in 2005. They just didn't know what kind.
Before long, the two teamed up, taking advantage of just about every entrepreneurial opportunity offered by the College of Management and evaluating multiple technologies developed by Georgia Tech researchers for their commercial potential. "We talked to everyone we knew at Tech about what kinds of cool technologies were out there, but we kept running up against the same issue: the technologies had great promise but weren't close to being ready for market," Beck remembers.
Finally, they found sensor technology developed by Haihong Zhu as part of his doctoral thesis for his PhD in mechanical engineering, which he earned in 2005. The three built a company, Sentrinsic, around it, entering the 2005 Georgia Tech Business Plan Competition. Started in 2001 and open to all Georgia Tech students and alumni who've graduated within the past five years, the competition is intended primarily as an educational exercise, but it often leads to the creation of real technology-based businesses.
Winning first place in the Most Fundable category (a $15,000 service package) showed Beck and Orndorff that they had chosen their technology wisely. The award goes to the team most ready to enter the marketplace. "Neither of us dropped a single resume because we were so confident about this business," Beck says.
Their full-time commitment to the company is paying off now that Sentrinsic (which means intrinsic sensing) is making headway in the marketplace, joining the ranks of past Business Plan Competition winners who've found real-world success: Polytorx, Radatec, and VirtualBLUE.
Sentrinsic designs, manufactures, and sells position sensors for industrial automation and robotics. Position sensors are essential for automated systems, guiding moving parts, such as robotic arms, where they need to go. The company's patent-pending Intrinsic Sensing technology offers customers high precision, fully integrated position sensors at half the cost of competing technologies, says Beck, Sentrinsic's COO.
"Simply put, we're better, smaller, and less expensive than anything else out there," he says.
Supported by VentureLab, which helps commercialize technologies developed at Tech, Sentrinsic made its first sale in April. Its technology is in beta testing for food-processing applications, and all sorts of companies (from startups to Fortune 500s) are evaluating its sensors. "We've had exciting market validation to date," says Orndorff, Sentrinsic's CEO.
In addition to their Business Plan Competition winnings and personal investment, they've been operating Sentrinsic on grants from the National Collegiate Investors and Innovators Alliance ($15,000) and Georgia Research Alliance ($50,000). The company is currently applying for $200,000 in additional grants.
"We are very excited about our ability to bootstrap this company," Orndorff says. "We don't anticipate needing venture capital-size investment to make this a resounding success."