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How Tech Start-Ups in Atlanta Can Benefit From Prototype Prime – Sanjay Parekh

Atlanta is home to an ever-growing array of start-up incubators such as Atlanta Tech Village, the Center for Civic Innovation, and 22 Tech Park. One of the newest addition to Atlanta’s incubators is Prototype Prime, focused on incubating both early stage software and hardware companies. We have with us today the co-founder of Prototype Prime, Sanjay Parekh.


Jim Fitzpatrick: Sanjay, Thanks so much for joining us on the Atlanta Small Business show.

Sanjay Parekh: Thanks for having me.

Jim Fitzpatrick: Okay, so Prototype Prime helps early stage technology start ups launch their product and services. Talk to us about this. This sounds like a very exciting program.

Sanjay Parekh: Yeah, so we’re a little over a year and a half old. We’re nonprofit. We’re funded by the city of Peachtree Corners, and we help early stage hardware and software startups kinda dream it, build it, scale it.

Jim Fitzpatrick: Really?

Sanjay Parekh: Yeah.

Jim Fitzpatrick: Okay. And how did this all come about?

Sanjay Parekh: So, I got involved with this a couple years ago. I was on a panel at the Advanced Technology Development Center right here in Atlanta, held for Peachtree Corners, and if you don’t know ATDC, they’re actually the nation’s oldest incubator right here in Atlanta.

Jim Fitzpatrick: Really? Wow.

Sanjay Parekh: Yeah. And I was on this panel and the mayor came up to me afterwards and we started this series of breakfast and he was asking me for ideas for this incubator, and the he asked me to come and help co-found it and run it. So that’s how the whole thing started, and the vision was let’s help early stage startups get going.

Jim Fitzpatrick: Right.

Sanjay Parekh: And then incubate them here, and hopefully they’ll stay somewhere nearby.

Jim Fitzpatrick: Let’s drill down. What services do you provide?

Sanjay Parekh: Yeah, so obviously we provide office space. We also have a hardware design lab, so for teams that are actually building hardware, they have a lab with 3D printers, electronics manufacturing, things like that.

Jim Fitzpatrick: Wow.

Sanjay Parekh: We have a podcast recording room for teams that want to do some marketing and things like that. But then we also provide support mentoring. We provide access to Amazon web services and Microsoft Cloud services, so they get discounts and credits to use those things.

Jim Fitzpatrick: Okay.

Sanjay Parekh: And then we’re always looking for additional stuff. We’ve got a law firm that works out of the space. They are there to consult with our teams any times they have questions about legal advice.

Jim Fitzpatrick: Sure. For the people that are watching, I know Atlanta Tech Village … How are you different from Atlanta Tech Village?

Sanjay Parekh: Yeah. So, yeah. Atlanta Tech Village, and Switchers, and Flat Iron, and you mentioned 22 Tech Park and Atlanta Tech Park up the road, as well. All of these places are run by folks that are friends, and so we view ourselves a little bit different. We view ourselves earlier in the ecosystem than any of them. So we’re with the folks that are just a person and an idea and they’re just getting started. They dot really probably know what they’re wanting to do and they’re just starting to grow. And I really view our output as the input of all of those great places that we have around town.

Jim Fitzpatrick: Gotcha. So they may start with you, and end up over there, ultimately?

Sanjay Parekh: Yeah. We want them to go wherever it’s best for them to succeed. That’s what we acre about. We don’t care about them staying in our building.

Jim Fitzpatrick: Right.

Sanjay Parekh: In fact, we want them to leave us within three to four years. We don’t want people to stay for a long term with us.

Jim Fitzpatrick: That’s kinda the target?

Sanjay Parekh: That’s the goal, right?

Jim Fitzpatrick: Okay.

Sanjay Parekh: Because if by then they’re not big enough that they need to leave then something’s probably not going well in their business and they probably need to do something else.

Jim Fitzpatrick: For the folks that are watching us today, and they’re sitting on the couch or they’re in their office or they’re taking a look at the internet and saying, “Wait a minute, I have an idea.”

Sanjay Parekh: Right.

Jim Fitzpatrick: “I’ve done some research on it. There’s a need for this product, or this app, or whatever the case might be. And I’ve done some research to the point that, hey there’s no one else doing it, and I think I can put it together.” Is that the time that they want to talk to you?

Sanjay Parekh: Yeah. Possibly. They probably want to come by and start maybe taking some of the classes that we hold, as well.

Jim Fitzpatrick: Okay.

Sanjay Parekh: So we partner with ATDC and they hold classes with us.

Jim Fitzpatrick: Okay.

Sanjay Parekh: And so that’s usually a great place to just start fleshing out the idea and really understanding is there a market? So there’s a program called Customer Discovery that ATDC runs. That is a great way, and kinda forces you into doing those customer interactions. There’s a lot of people that say that, “Oh, yeah, there’s customers and they want to buy it.” This really makes that really methodical and says, “Okay, you need to go out and talk to 100 or 200 or 300 customers.”

Jim Fitzpatrick: Right.

Sanjay Parekh: People that you don’t know. Not your friends or family, people that are brand new, don’t know you, have no reason to tell you that what you’re doing is good, and really understand if the marketplace wants what you’re building.

Jim Fitzpatrick: Yeah, for sure. So, everybody’s afraid to tell their secret and share the secret sauce to speak.

Sanjay Parekh: Right. Yeah.

Jim Fitzpatrick: Somebody might steal it, or maybe it’s out there or whatever. What do you say to those people? That are so afraid to share that they’re paranoid about it?

Sanjay Parekh: Yeah. So if the idea hinges on the fact that you have to keep it secret and that’s the only competitive advantage you have, it’s not a good idea.

Jim Fitzpatrick: Okay.

Sanjay Parekh: So don’t do that.

Jim Fitzpatrick: Okay.

Sanjay Parekh: But six billion people on the planet, somebody else has probably had your idea. It’s really about the execution at the end of the day.

Jim Fitzpatrick: Okay.

Sanjay Parekh: And personally, the ideas that I’ve had, I tell everybody and I want them to tell me why it’s a bad idea.

Jim Fitzpatrick: Sure.

Sanjay Parekh: Because I’ll work on something else.

Jim Fitzpatrick: Right.

Sanjay Parekh: I have tons of ideas and when you’ve become an entrepreneur in that entrepreneurial mindset, you end up seeing opportunities everywhere.

Jim Fitzpatrick: Oh, for sure.

Sanjay Parekh: And I’d rather work on the one that’s a big opportunity than working on something that two years, three years later, finding out nobody cares.

Jim Fitzpatrick: That’s right. That’s right. And then you’ve got people out there that are watching right now that say I don’t have a widget to build, and I don’t have a tech to build, but I know that I want to create one, one day.

Sanjay Parekh: Right.

Jim Fitzpatrick: What do you tell them? Where do they start?

Sanjay Parekh: Yeah.

Jim Fitzpatrick: Do they start by taking the classes at your location? To kind of get in the arena, at least?

Sanjay Parekh: Yeah.

Jim Fitzpatrick: To say, “Let me learn more about this.”

Sanjay Parekh: They can. Definitely, that’s a way. But some of it’s mindset, right? Once you really get that mindset of being an entrepreneur and seeing those problems, you start seeing problems everywhere. Most people, through life, will see those problems and go, “Oh, that’s too bad. I wish somebody would fix that.” And then they move on. Right?

Jim Fitzpatrick: Right.

Sanjay Parekh: Entrepreneurs go, “Oh, that’s too bad, and that’s horrible, and how can I make that better?” I have a long list of … In EverNote where I keep track of all the ideas that I’ve had and I’ll occasionally see somebody do some of those ideas and I take them off my list and that’s okay, that’s great!

Jim Fitzpatrick: You don’t get mad?

Sanjay Parekh: No because-

Jim Fitzpatrick: You don’t get mad at yourself and say-

Sanjay Parekh: There’s so many ideas that I’m not gonna get them all done anyways, right?

Jim Fitzpatrick: Right.

Sanjay Parekh: Life is finite. I’ve only got … Let me spend it on the ones that only I can do maybe.

Jim Fitzpatrick: That’s right.

Sanjay Parekh: If somebody else takes it, great. I will use that product. That’s awesome. But I think you really have to have your eyes open and see the problems out there and not just be like, “Oh, that’s too bad.”

Jim Fitzpatrick: Yeah. So if we drill down, what’s the vetting process to become a client of Prototype Prime?

Sanjay Parekh: Yeah, so to become a member there’s an application process.

Jim Fitzpatrick: Okay.

Sanjay Parekh: They apply and then we interview them. We kind of go through a tour and some of it is they have to really be sure that we’re a good fit for them, as well as them being a good fit for us.

Jim Fitzpatrick: Sure.

Sanjay Parekh: Right? So there’s some culture component to it. Are they good … A team that will add value into the building? Our building is open 24/7 for our members.

Jim Fitzpatrick: Really?

Sanjay Parekh: Yeah, absolutely. Entrepreneurs work crazy hours.

Jim Fitzpatrick: Yes, they do. Yes, they do.

Sanjay Parekh: We have people in the hardware lab that have done 24 hour shifts because they gotta get hardware out and products out to their customers, and so we don’t want to slow that down.

Jim Fitzpatrick: Right, right. Very cool. And then, I would imagine you also offer the services that say, “Hey, they got some traction going here on this product. We’ve got availability to the people that want to help you fund it, and take it to the next level.”

Sanjay Parekh: Yeah, absolutely. So we make introductions and as the time is right and they are really ready, we’ll start making introductions and kind of helping them out and helping guide them through that process.

Jim Fitzpatrick: Sure. Which is a huge part of it, right?

Sanjay Parekh: Yeah, absolutely. Especially as a first time entrepreneur.

Jim Fitzpatrick: Right.

Sanjay Parekh: Even as a repeat entrepreneur, you can always pick up things, but I think the learning curve is a lot steeper for that first time entrepreneur.

Jim Fitzpatrick: Yeah. For sure, for sure. So, what does the future hold? What’s the end game here?

Sanjay Parekh: Yeah. So I view Prototype Prime on a very long scale. When we started this thing, I talked about the year 2100. So I talk about an 82 year plan, as of this year. It goes down by a year every year.

Jim Fitzpatrick: That’s good!

Sanjay Parekh: With this vision, because my view is … And that’s why we’re a nonprofit, is that I know that somebody is going to take over from me and the rest of the team after we’re done.

Jim Fitzpatrick: Sure.

Sanjay Parekh: Right. The goal is not just for the next couple of years. The goal is how do we help our kid’s, kid’s’ kids down the line.

Jim Fitzpatrick: Yeah.

Sanjay Parekh: And so we’re trying to make sure that the things that we’re doing stick around and then the challenge of that, whoever takes after us are dealing with at a higher level. So coming up soon is an autonomous and advanced vehicle test track that we’re building in partnership with the city of Peachtree Corners. They’re actually funding it and doing all the work and that’s gonna be available for us.

Jim Fitzpatrick: That’s phenomenal.

Sanjay Parekh: So we’re gonna be focusing more on advanced and autonomous vehicles. So we’ve been talking to start ups and corporates that are coming into do some of that work and it’s gonna be on the live street. And from what we’ve heard it’s the maybe first ever live street where there’s real traffic on the street, as well, that these vehicles are gonna have to interact with.

Jim Fitzpatrick: That is awesome. Who would have thought Peachtree Corners would be right on the cutting edge of technology?

Sanjay Parekh: Well, their tagline is innovative and remarkable, so.

Jim Fitzpatrick: Yeah.

Sanjay Parekh: There you go.

Jim Fitzpatrick: And you guys are living up to that. That’s for sure. So that’s great. You’ve got so much going on. Certainly for those people that want to learn more, they can go on, fill out some information. Sanjay, thank you so much for joining us on Atlanta Small Business Show. You’re very much appreciated.

Sanjay Parekh: Yeah. Thanks for having me.

Jim Fitzpatrick: Great.

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