UIC Tech Ventures and Beyond! - Full Interview

Since winning the grand prize at the 2013 UIC Concept2Venture competition in December, the NuFortis team has been on the road these past few months participating and winning prizes at other business plan competitions all over the nation!  I had a chance to speak with them, and this is what I found out…
1. Tell us about your company and its origin in the Technology Ventures Program.

 NuFortis is a technology services firm offering the next generation Structural Health Monitoring (SHM) solution to the civil infrastructure industry. NuFortis was formed by Brittany Chibe, Flor Fernandez and Jason Rebello. We formed NuFortis in the fall 2013 semester as students in the MBA Tech Ventures ProgramNuFortis is optioning and will license a solution incorporating technology developed and patented by Oak Ridge National labs that not only monitors a structure’s health in real-time, but also continuously forewarns of structural failure, thus minimizing the costs and risks associated with failing infrastructure. This is a crucial technology when you consider the aging and rapidly deteriorating American infrastructure like bridges, dams, railways and the economic and environmental costs of structural failure associated with oil rigs, pipelines and nuclear power plants.

2. How did you end up on the same team?

In the first of three Tech Ventures semesters that takes place over the summer you have the opportunity to work on small assignments with as many different people as possible. The goal there is to get a sense of who you think you’d like to try and start a business with. You try to gain an understanding of how well you’d work together, who has complimentary and supplementary skills and abilities, genuine entrepreneurial aspiration, and areas of interest. As anyone that has started a business will tell you, one of the most important decisions you will make in the beginning is who you decide to “go into business” with. Our class had some talented people but in the end you have to choose and make the best decision possible with the information you have. Our team had some natural chemistry which we thought was critical to carry us through those late late nights arguing over business models, what’s important for slides, who’s going to say what etc etc. We’ve said it many times over the last 7 months…we love our team.

3. What excites you the most about your company/the solutions you are proposing?

I think what excited us about the technology and our company is that we have a very practical solution that has the potential to really make an impact in many industries. We are bringing advanced technology to create efficiency, cost savings and increased safety to the world’s buildings, bridges, nuclear power plants, oil rigs and pipelines.

 4. When did you know that your idea is actually a viable concept? / And that there is a market for it?

We got excited about it when we first found the technology and had a chance to meet with the inventors. The level of testing and the amount of research dollars that were already committed the product let us know that we were not the only ones that believed in this potential. In addition as our understanding of the technology grew and our understanding of the market size and current competitive landscape grew we knew we had something very viable. The technology is backed and protected by 10 patents with more on the way and it’s already been successfully tested by NASA and the US Airforce and this year it will be tested by the Federal Highway Administration on an actual bridge that is set to be destroyed.

5. What is your business plan competition schedule like this semester ?

Our upcoming schedule is outlined below and we are confirmed through the Oregon competition in April. We have applied to and are hopeful that we will get into the Rice and Global Ventures business plan competitions.

Mar 5 - Critical Pitch competition (associated with University of Chicago Booth Graduate School of Business)

Mar 29 - The Big Sell competition (Purdue University)

Apr 5 - New Venture Championship (University of Oregon)

Apr 11 - Rice Business Plan Competition (Rice University)

May 3 - Global Venture Labs Investment Competition (University of Texas Austin)

6. How many competitions have you participated in so far? / What was your placement in  each of them? / How much money have you won so far?

Including C2V we’ve competed in 3 competitions. As you know we won first place at C2V, we made the final round in the Georgia Bowl competition finishing 6th overall and we recently came in 2nd place in the Louisville Cardinal Challenge elevator pitch competition.  All in all we've won $4,250 and are looking to win more

7. What has been your best moment/experience with NuFortis so far?

Our best moment so far is the combination of small victories and growth since C2V. We’ve been honored to represent UIC in a few competitions on the business plan “circuit” thus far and the combination of the long hours of preparation, the strong competition, and networking has been a thrilling ride. We’re in March now and while it’s been a real challenge the prospects for NuFortis are still very real.                                                                    

8. Where do think your success will take you? ? What do you have in mind for NuFortis future development?

Tech Ventures has set us on a fun, exciting, and exhausting journey that could lead in so many directions and that’s exactly what we wanted, more opportunities. Entrepreneurship is a lifestyle and we’re in that world now with all the ups, downs, and pivots and we’re hanging on and enjoying the ride. The technology itself has so many applications and our goal is to continue to push NuFortis forward and grow it as much as we can in order to make a real impact on the world of Structural Health Monitoring

9. How much was UIC Liautaud able to support you during your project?

UIC Liautaud has played a large role. The relationships that Dr. Shrader has built and maintained have probably played the largest role. Because of his efforts to build Tech Ventures we’ve had the support of some amazing alumni that have given up a lot of their time to support us. In addition we’d like to say thank you to the staff that has supported the logistics of our travel to and from competitions. 

10. Is there anyone you would like to name, who particularly supported you during the business development process? / Do you have a mentor?

We’d like to thank Dr. Shrader along with Tech Venture alumni Michael McCoy and Alex Duchak for the countless hours they have spent advising us. We wouldn’t be where we are now without their consistent support.

11. Who provided you with ideas and support from the technological side?

We’d like to thank our Inventors from Oak Ridge National Labs, Lee Hively Ph.D and Bob Abercrombie Ph.D who’ve been a huge support with helping us understand the nuts and bolts of the technology we’re trying to commercialize.

12. What are your recommendations for students that are thinking about taking Tech Ventures this year?

If a student looking for an opportunity to test their skills, knowledge and abilities in a real world entrepreneurial environment then make the decision and take it seriously from the beginning. The more you view it as a real entrepreneurial opportunity and less like a school project the more you’ll get out of the program whether or not your concept becomes a reality.

13. After having this experience, has this changed your career plans?

We can say that Tech Ventures has been the single most impactful experience of our MBA program at the UIC Liautaud Graduate School of Business and one that will continue to resonate in our respective careers long after we graduate in May. Before we began our MBA program we may have talked about the idea of starting our own business. Now we’re actually trying to grow a business that we’ve started. 

If you would like to learn more about NuFortis' success, click here.

If you would like to continue reading about the UIC C2V Business Plan Competition, click here.