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Meet Mario Aguilera

March 31, 2016 - Author: admin

Mario Aguilera may currently reside in Helsinki, but he’s originally from Bolivia.  He first got the idea for a line of solar-powered back-packs from his days in the Bolivian army. While training with special forces, Mario and his unit would spend many days deployed in remote areas.  The only reason they had to return to base was to charge their equipment.  That’s when he began thinking about wearable technologies that could expand battery life.

Tespack provides a line of designer, wearable technology accessories, such as backpacks, that use solar energy to power devices like laptops and mobile phones.  Harnessing the natural energy of the sun, the Tespack wearables provide a continuous power source for devices and is built to withstand rugged outdoors and extreme weather conditions.  The company blends fashion with technology and military-grade endurance.

Designer wearable tech is something new for me, but I found Mario’s idea fascinating and certainly practical. My personal interest in this product is my ability to get lost on long trail runs or overnight hikes and have a wearable technology product keep my gear charged and ready to go. This product clearly presents an opportunity for large consumer markets. As a limited partner of True Ventures, who are the largest investors in Fitbit, this is an area I’m watching closely.

Mario has plenty of background in the clothing industry to support the sleek design of his products.  We may both be learning a few new things together, but I think the challenge for Mario will be focusing his growth potential when there are so many directions he could take this company.  That is a challenge I understand well, and I look forward to helping him make some smart growth decisions to push forward his smart wearables.

Mario already has a seed round of funding.  This trip will help him expand his contacts for the next round as well as make some important contacts in the manufacturing sector and in consumer products and retail sales here in Silicon Valley.

“Tespack has experienced rapid growth internationally, and with that growth comes big challenges such as manufacturing, design and distribution channels,” said Mario. “This opportunity comes at just the right time for my company, and I’m looking forward to high-impact learning with Neal on how to manage a high-growth consumer company.”

Welcome, Mario! Twitter: @aguileramario


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Meet the other Neal – Neal Oddens

March 22, 2016 - Author: admin

Well, this is going to be confusing.  One of our entrepreneurs is also named Neal.  Neal Oddens. He even spells his name the same way as I do.  Therefore, I have to choose a new name for him. Let’s call him Oddens for now to save confusion.

Oddens is CEO of IncreaseOnline, a company that uses analytics to help companies price and sell their digital media online. AdTech is something that is near and dear to my VC heart these days. I have several investments in AdTech companies, and it’s a space I think has tremendous potential.  That’s why I decided to bring Oddens to Neal’s Running Start.

I also like that this isn’t Oddens’ first rodeo.  He founded, a Dutch e-commerce platform for tires. With growth of 1700% over 5 years, has become a market leader and is now a popular household “go to website” for tires in the Netherlands.  I’m interested to see not only if he can do it again, but if he can take IncreaseOnline even further this time.

Oddens hails from Amsterdam, one of my favorite cities.  Lately, that city has been ripe with new internet talent, with the rise of incubators and communities like Appsterdam. I think there’s a lot of opportunities for IncreaseOnline and for entrepreneurship in Amsterdam. However, as progressive as the Dutch start-up scene is, there is still a largely conservative approach to company growth and investing in the Netherlands.  I’ve had a couple of angel investments there before, and I know the pros and the cons.  I hope we can give Oddens some real pointers for jumpstarting his company’s growth and taking back some of that wisdom to Amsterdam in May so he can pave an aggressive path to even greater success than he’s experienced in the past.

Oddens, like his namesake (me), agrees:

“While I’ve built a successful company before, I feel it’s time for the next level, ” said Oddens.  “I’m excited to spend time with Neal learning about how to build a company that reaches farther and grows bigger than I’ve ever managed before.  For that, I’m going to need a good mentor, and I’m so grateful Neal has chosen me to be part of this program.”

Welcome, Neal, or um, Oddens! Twitter: @nealoddens

Neal Oddens photo

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Meet Katherine Regnier

March 3, 2016 - Author: admin

KatherineI know you’re all curious about who made the cut for the Neal’s Running Start program and why.  So I wanted to profile our 4 winners before they join me in Silicon Valley on April 23.  I’ll introduce one entrepreneur each week on the blog, in alphabetical order by their company name.

Our first winner is Katherine Regnier.  Katherine comes from Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada.  Harry Marshall first met her at Web Summit in Dublin last year and was so impressed, he made an introduction and asked me to consider her for the Running Start Program.

She founded a company called Coconut Calendar that allows customers to book appointments with businesses online. Now, you might be yawning at this, thinking this has been done. However, in 2015 Katherine saw an opportunity in the retail industry to introduce a white label calendaring product, which has garnered interest from some top name brands.

I like Katherine because of her drive.  I like her willingness to learn and pivot the company with her new knowledge. I’m impressed that she’s built a thriving company despite living so far away from any tech center, and that she has landed an impressive list of customers with no investment.  She has many of the characteristics I look for in phenomenal entrepreneurs.

Saskatoon is a long way literally and figuratively from Silicon Valley. I hope this time in Silicon Valley will be a fantastic opportunity for Katherine to network and experience first-hand how to drive a high-growth company with Silicon Valley aggressiveness while keeping her small city corporate values.  Besides me, I’m sure she’ll meet some mentors who can guide her when she needs it after returns to Canada.  I’m excited about the unique talents she’ll bring to the program.

And Katherine has her own goals for the trip:

“First and foremost, I’m grateful for Neal’s generosity in offering this truly unique opportunity. During this fast paced ride, I hope to learn as much as I can from the best in the business. Taking an idea and turning it into something grand is my passion, and with this opportunity I will be able to launch my business into new heights.”

Welcome, Katherine!

Twitter: @katregnier

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