We partner with Trailblazers, founders whose innovative ideas are reimagining their industries. This series aims to highlight disruptive companies and the leaders who built them.
Serene Al-Momen, Co-Founder and CEO of Senseware, shares her success in building a forward-thinking company with the right people. Senseware is a leader in the IoT industry and digitally transforming physical spaces by making real-time data from the built environment easily accessible.
Tell us how you got started with Senseware.
It started as a solution to Parkinson's disease. My co-founder Julien was working on a technology that uses accelerometers as a sensor to more consistently pick up on movements that the doctor’s eye could not in order to enhance the diagnosis process. We realized another sensor, a gyroscope, would be nice to add to the mix but it was too late to incorporate the new sensor without having to re-develop the entire technology.
That’s where the idea behind Senseware came from. We met at a healthcare conference where Julien was talking about this pain point and it was one of those great moments where we realized the potential of the idea. Why don't we develop a technology to connect any sensor at any time without having to re-develop the core technology? We would be able to understand the data coming from a new sensor with real time visibility from anywhere at any time. Senseware has a physical environment application today, but our journey began in healthcare.
How did you pivot from healthcare to the physical environment space? And what are some of the other challenges Senseware faced in the early stages of the company?
First, we needed to find the market that was right for a technology like ours. We saw to that by going to every tech conference out there and talking about our products more generically in a way that could apply to any application, any use case. We realized we attracted more of the built environment such as commercial real estate and construction applications, so we started to focus on this new market.
Our technology also incorporates hardware. In the early stages, if you have hardware and produce a low volume, it's hard to outsource the manufacturing of the hardware. We had to figure out ways to create a deployable version of the technology into the real environment. We experimented with technologies like 3d printing, for example, to create professional enclosures for electronics. And we made it work until we got to a volume where we could contract to a manufacturer at a worthwhile cost.
The last thing I would say is finding the right people. Not everyone is cut out to work for a startup. It's a grind, a lot of hard work, a lot of wearing multiple hats. I always like to ask how the candidate handled difficult situations in the past, because that's the nature of the startup environment: constant ups and downs, so you want to find a person with grit. COVID-19 has brought more challenges to entrepreneurs and business owners. Did you learn anything from the experience? Like many CEOs and business leaders, I had a lot of questions when the pandemic first started. From day one, we intentionally built our technology to be future proof. That means we help you get the data you need today and whatever data you may need in the future as well. The pandemic brought this to light for us. We already had an indoor air quality solution which has been the best on market for years in terms of data quality, ease of use, and time to deploy. COVID-19 made monitoring air quality a must in every indoor space. Since we spend 90% of our time indoors, it’s essential to know the air we breathe is healthy. This is something I’ve always believed. Through our solution we have helped hundreds of spaces including office buildings and schools monitor the quality of their air in real-time and reopen safer.
You highlighted the challenges of finding the right people to join your team. What advice do you have for early-stage entrepreneurs in the same position?
1. Find a good, trustworthy partner and co-founder. Because it's such hard, hard work, it's nice to have a partnership and someone else to share the efforts of growing the business.
2. Surround yourself with a diverse set of advisors. Initially, we were unable to hire highly experienced people even though we needed that level of experience to help us be successful, so we augmented our inexperienced team with highly experienced advisors. When we were trying to increase sales, I went to the CRO on my advisory board who helped me think through the process of restructuring and gave me valuable information that I could apply without having to hire someone at his level.
3. Partner with strong service providers, especially good legal counsel. You want to make sure that you get the best advice out there. Service providers can also be a source of introductions to investors.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
My biggest piece of advice to entrepreneurs is to keep going. The business will have ups and downs. There are days where you will think, “Oh my god, it's going nowhere” and days where you will feel like “I'm on top of the world and everything is coming together.” Don’t be discouraged by the nature of it, and just focus on working hard towards what you can control.
If you’d like to learn more about Senseware, please visit their website to schedule a demo. This article is part of an ongoing series by Blu Venture Investors to celebrate leaders in innovation and spotlight portfolio companies. Please click here to read more articles on the BVI Blog. Answers have been edited for clarity.