We have a new Mentor Network Cohort and we’re ready to kick off our first Founder Feature of the Series for 2019, where we chat with the founders of the 7th Cohort of The Mentor Network to learn more about them as individuals, as well as their entrepreneurial journeys. They have great wisdom and experience to share with the rest of the community and could likely use your help as well!
Today, we would like to introduce you to Erik Eberhart, Co-Founder and Head of Business Development at Intelenz. Erik describes Intelenz as a Digital Process Automation (DPA) Software through a Service (SaaS) company. The solution empowers customers to more effectively collaborate and share insights in real-time. A 360-degree view provides the status of all processes and projects executed across their company. This provides our customers with a significant return on investment.
Besides being accepted into Cohort 7 of The Mentor Network, Erik is an MBA graduate from Santa Clara University’s Leavey School of Business with concentrations in entrepreneurship and marketing management. Intelenz was recently accepted into the Founder Institute Funding Lab in Silicon Valley to help support fundraising efforts from professional investors during pre-seed or seed round as well as Series-A round!
What did you do before you were the Founder of your startup?
I began my career with Merck in various pharmaceutical sales and marketing roles for over 10 years. After attending graduate school, I founded a startup (PhaseCare) that developed one of the first Clinical Trial Management System (CTMS) based on end-to-end Quality Management System (QMS) principles for human pharmaceutical research trials (Sponsors and Sites). Once the CTMS was sold, I shifted my focus to consulting and helping startups. Some highlights for me include the opportunity to work as a funding facilitator that helped match startups with investors as well as the creation of a comprehensive workplace wellness service offering for a large health insurance company. After exiting this venture, I worked in a Business Development role at UL (Underwriters Laboratories) in the connected technologies business unit. While at UL, I led the business strategy and development of Food, Beverage, and Nutrition. This included building new tools for UL’s Prospector® website as well as the development of the Supplement Online Wellness Library (OWL), a dietary supplement and functional food finished product registry. First-of-its-kind, the launch of OWL registry was an industry-wide self-regulatory initiative that demonstrates the transparency of supplement manufacturers and retailers.
These experiences help me now — while working for Merck and with amazing customers, I learned how great companies execute on a vision effectively. I was trained that leaders need to ensure people have enough structure to follow. Without appropriate processes, policies, and expectations in place, teams operate inefficiently and are less likely to create high-quality outcomes. I take this mindset and attempt to document my processes, policies, and expectations as early as possible to alleviate some of the inefficiencies that most startups experience.
Why this startup? A.k.a. what is your ‘why’?
While working at UL, I worked with many companies that struggled with executing and documenting their processes for government regulators. They complained about the inefficiencies and cost to be compliant. Some of these companies had legacy enterprise software solutions. However, most of these solutions were siloed within an organization. This not only created the duplication of work, but it also required additional communication and manual documentation to fill in the gaps. Customers wanted an affordable and easy-to-use solution that evolved with their company and could help with the digital transformation of these manual processes so they could be in regulatory compliance. After some additional research, it was clear to me that I wanted to help companies find a solution that would be utilized and provide a significant ROI.
My co-founder, Renzo Zagni, had a similar experience. He was a former Vice President of Enterprise Applications & Development Operations at Oracle. He saw employees were using excel and word documents, email, and scheduling meetings to track and build process as well as to monitor projects. One day he was asked by consultants to gather and provide specific information about internal processes, policies, and expectations pertaining to Sarbanes-Oxley. This took his team a month to compile. After he left Oracle, he knew he could build a better tool that would digitally transform the manual processes as well as automate many of them. After he started on the development of the tool, we shared our stories, teamed up, and started interviewing potential customers.
What was your first milestone/win that let you know you were on the right track to building this business?
Our first win occurred when we were interviewing a business process management consulting firm. We demonstrated our product and asked for honest feedback. At that time, the consulting firm knew more about our competitors than we did. So when they told us they were impressed with our solution and wanted to be part of our pilot program, we knew we had something special.
Why did The Mentor Network stand out to you as a positive program to be involved with?
As an early-stage startup founder, I still crave a more formalized and structured professional development program to help me improve my business acumen and connect with potential customers. While at Merck, I was selected and completed their Leadership Development Program. This program included a formalized mentorship program by executive leadership and really helped develop my business acumen.
The Mentor Network was a clear stand out for me because it formalized and aligned with my needs for leadership development. The support given to early-stage startup founders by the Sprint Accelerator and several other corporations made it clear that this was a special program.
What have your big wins been so far within The Mentor Network?
After meeting with Nick Doyle, our mentor with DST Systems, we set some action items to focus on before our next meeting. One action item was to refine Intelenz’s target market for the investor pitch deck. This felt like a huge challenge because during beta testing we found that our Digital Process Automation tool fits well with many verticals. We continue to have positive conversations with companies representing CPG, Health Care, Life Science, Telecom and Oil and Gas. However, Nick convinced me to do some additional follow-up with our pilot customers that may help gain the insights needed to make this decision. It worked, while following up with a large Oil Company interested in adopting our solution, we learned that they had an independent consulting company complete an ROI analysis on their behalf. The analysis shows that our product can help reduce their process management costs by at least 5%. That is $20M per year. The consulting company also provided us with more analysis. They estimate that the Oil and Gas Industry alone represents a revenue opportunity for Intelenz of $240M. That is a big win for us, Thank you Mentor Network!
How do you maintain sanity in this crazy, insane startup world?
Daily meditation helps maintain some sanity as well as stand-up paddleboarding, surfing, hiking and attending live music venues with friends.
KC has so many resources and people to help entrepreneurs. What are we still missing? What gaps do you think we need to fill?
For me, I would like to see a nationally recognized and formalized funding lab for entrepreneurs.
Regarding the KC startup ecosystem, what has been your favorite service/resource that you would like to share with other founders to take advantage of?
To date, the Sprint Accelerator Mentor Network is my favorite resource for founders. I also have found that the Missouri Small Business Development Center (SBDC) and Small Business & Technology Development Center (SBTDC) at UMKC have been a valuable resource.
If you could go back to the day you started this journey and give yourself one piece of advice what would it be?
A straight path to where you are going on your journey does not exist. Don’t waste your time and energy trying to create one.
If you decide to ignore this piece of advice, not only will the path you created be wrong, but you will miss huge opportunities. Instead, set a long-term goal, which is your dream. Even a vague goal like “travel the world” can provide direction. Also, have a short-term plan (12-18 months). These are concrete personal goals you want to achieve. Ask yourself how you can improve and what you’re afraid to do. I find that most of the time that is the thing I should try.