Michael Helmstetter – Co-Founder of TechAccel

Study the pathways that others have taken to success.

Dr. Michael Helmstetter serves as Co-Founder, President and Chief Executive Officer of Technology Acceleration Partners (TechAccel LLC). TechAccel leverages the technical expertise, regulatory infrastructure and the global distribution network of the world’s leading agriculture and animal health companies by matching sourced technologies to these companies’ innovation needs. Partner companies utilize TechAccel to source, acquire and co-fund/develop technologies sharing the de-risking process and accelerating their time to market.

Michael has more than 30 years of experience working with the private sector and government agencies. His start-up, spin-off and technology advancement expertise spans many sectors including agriculture, defense and biotechnology. His personal success in laboratory research and development covers biotechnology, toxicology, chemical instrumentation, sampling designs and complex data analysis.

Michael received a Ph.D. in Chemical Toxicology/Oceanography from Old Dominion University and a B.S. in Biology from Allegheny College. He has been a panelist, keynote speaker, lecturer and reviewer to several journals. He is also the author of numerous publications, technical articles, book chapters and technical reports.

Where did the idea for TechAccel come from?

It originated several years ago, when I was in another role running a research and development institute and working closely with Kansas State University. We saw a gap–promising technology frequently stranded in academic labs because it wasn’t quite ready to move into commercial-ready state–that made it hard to attract industry partners and associated capital. We also knew that global industry needed this same technology. TechAccel stemmed out of the idea to build a firm that could accelerate technology development and help it find a home in the market. Now, we bridge that gap, not just with capital investment, but also with science advancement.

What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?

I’m always on. I’m usually engaged in several calls and meetings a day, and frequently travel to stay close to our projects and partners and to meet potential clients. I’m reading and researching a lot–I stay current with agriculture and animal health technology and science. I enjoy anticipating alternate uses of advancements and identifying adjacent markets for innovations. I’m doing a lot of ‘what if’ thinking and challenging my team. I use my mobile to stay connected and keep things moving with my team. To stay productive, I delegate tasks and use my travel time to write and prepare for what’s next. But I also carve out time for family–sports events with the kids, school activities, just family time. I also believe in focus. I’ll put my attention on one thing at a time–I’m not that guy who’s always got to be texting and emailing instead of participating, really participating, in a meeting.

How do you bring ideas to life?

It’s that ‘what if…’ thinking. What if this technology could be applied in a new space? What if we tinker with this platform to make it do the same thing in a different market? I’m also big on making connections between disparate ideas. Some work, some don’t but the thought experiments are always useful. The next step is always to get others to vet the concept–dig in with literature search, understand the patent details and find out the real barriers to a solution. Often that will lead us to reimagine a solution or propose another connection.

What’s one trend that really excites you?

Hard to narrow down to just one trend. Maybe it’s the trend toward precision, in everything. We’ve barely scratched the surface of the big data movement–understanding massive amounts of data and applying it to specific scenarios in plant development, vaccines, medicine, genetics, climate, farming, even marketing. Technologies like CRISPR play here, with gene-targeting and trait selection for precise applications. Also the Internet of Things ties to this trend. We are seeing technology come to life in ways that will lead to very precise solutions with enormous potential.

What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive?

I’d say trust. I’m always willing to trust my team, my partners and my associates. I delegate, I ask for opinions and feedback and offer suggestions and coaching. I encourage them to take charge and own their ideas. I believe that trust and personal commitment gives us the passion, intellect and energy to punch above our weight.

What was the worst job you ever had and what did you learn from it?

Dishwasher at the Buffalo Yacht Club. I learned that work is hard. It’s OK to start at the bottom–you often will. Hard work and discipline can change all that.

If you were to start again, what would you do differently?

I’d trust my instincts. There were times when I saw an opportunity but, for whatever reason–lack of understanding, risk aversion, limited energy–others put up barriers that blocked me. I know now that I could’ve done things differently to make the most of the opportunity. I wish I learned to trust my own instincts sooner.

As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?

Study the pathways that others have taken to success. I always ask people how they accomplished their success. What lessons did they learn? And I ask for their perspectives on the things that I’m pursuing.

What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business? Please explain how.

Leveraging experienced consultants and contractors during the formative stages of the business. This allowed for a multi-disciplinary, experienced team to be directly responsible for early wins and credibility-building in a time- and cost-efficient manner.

What is one failure you had and how did you overcome it?

Impacts of being too transparent about my personal life with co-workers. I learned to rein it in going forward.

What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?

A user-friendly, app-controlled coffee maker. Imagine brewing from bed on Sunday morning…

What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?

Buying a bundle of board games for family game night. The rewards are priceless.

What software and web services do you use? What do you love about them?

Twitter and LinkedIn are my favorite social media tools. Twitter is great for the news and immediacy; LinkedIn for the professional connections and depth of content. I use Dropbox for collaboration and information sharing. I use Evernote every day to manage my tasks and store future readings. I take photos for referencing ideas. I sign up for blogs and newsfeeds to my email.

What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?

Beyond Performance: How Great Organizations Build Ultimate Competitive Advantage” by Scott Keller and Colin Price. Because it’s not all about short-term gain. Successful leaders build an organization that can execute in the short run and has the sustainability to be successful over the long term. I have a very long-term vision and will take short-term risks to maximize that long-term potential.

What people have influenced your thinking and might be of interest to others?

Too many to name. TED talks, good books, colleagues. People like Dov Seidman or Simon Sinek.


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