Av Utukuri
IMPACT INVESTING

Av Utukuri

#118

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Chairman & CEO, Creator of Next Gen Hardware / Software Technologies

Know where your audience wants to go – Av Utukuri

“There’s always something at the end of the rainbow. But if you don’t go, you’ll never find the rainbow.”

ABOUT

I love technology and not only imagining what is possible, but being a part of making it a reality. I am a serial entrepreneur involved in 5 tech start-ups to date. I am a product market fit CEO that loves to dissect complex problems and figure out how technology can be implemented elegantly to solve them.

I am a passionate engineer that loves to dive deep and understand not only how technology works but how it can be used to change the status quo. As a graduate of the engineering science program from UofT I am a very hands on executive that has written almost a million lines of code and filed almost 100 patents.

I am also an avid painter that loves design and painting modern, impressionistic art.

As a senior executive and founder in these start-ups, I was instrumental in raising capital, providing board oversight, technical management expertise, product direction and strategic vision. I love to understand how customers interact with products, fine tune and deliver long term value.

Over 20 years in electronics, software and design experience. Vast experience in product development including: analog\digital hardware, embedded systems, algorithm development and optimization, mathematical modelling, software and GUI development, product and sales strategy.

REQUEST INTRODUCTION Arrow

THE FULL INTERVIEW

Av Utukuri

The full #OPNAskAnAngel talk

Jeffery: Welcome to the Supporters Fund Ask An Investor. I’m your host Jeffery Potvin. And let’s please welcome Av Utukuri as our investor for today. Welcome Av. How are you today?
Av: Hey, I’m doing great. Thank you so much. Thanks for reading.
Jeffery: Such a real pleasure having you join us. super excited to talk with you. And I know we were chatting just before we jumped into everything, but there’s so many great things with your background and even today with what you guys are doing and I can’t wait to jump in and unpack this for the audience. And maybe the best way for us to start is maybe you can give us a little bit about your background all the way from the days when you first started Nytric, all these great things, from your engineering background in University of Toronto. just share a little bit about that journey and then one thing about you that nobody would know.
Av: okay. So, I started my career as an engineer. to be honest, I always wanted to be an engineer since I was a little kid. I had my first Commodore 64 and I started hacking on it. So, don’t tell anyone I used to go ahead and hack calling cards to try and hook up with my friends in Europe back in the day so that you could trade hacking. This is before the internet. So, I always knew that I wanted to take things apart. I got into a program called Engineering Science at University of Toronto which is very research heavy and did my first startup right out of there. In the second year, we had an engineering design project course and we invented this Virtual Reality system. We made this headset pretty well. what oculus has now, we did in 94. And I needed to get some games. I went out to this little company called ID software who gave me source code for a bunch of games like Quake, and we hacked a 3DFX card back in the day into stereoscopic Virtual Reality and we started selling this product. It was incredible jumping into this entire Virtual Reality and it’s quite interesting as to what’s happening now because I lived that in the previous cycle. Unfortunately that market died and I was licking my wounds as to what to do next. And some of my VC partners came to me and said, we loved your tech team, that’s why we invested. We would like to hire you guys as a technology team because here’s a problem VC’s have. We can fire CEOs, we can fire sales people, but we can never fire engineers. like if they say the product is not working, it needs more money. it needs to be redone. we’re stuck. We would like to have a technology practice inside our VC fund. that way you’re going to be the CTO in residence. And unlike the CEO in residence, that was a fascinating idea. they asked us to move to New York and we said, look, where none of my team wanted to and they basically said why don’t you start a practice in Toronto and we’ll give you business and you can co-invest with us. That’s how Nytric got started. So, for dozens of years, I reached out to investors and funds and we put anywhere between 50 to 250,000 of our own money and we called ourselves the technologists in residence. So, we held engineers accountable, just like VCs hold salespeople accountable. It was an amazing partnership. We had multiple exits. I got to have a front stage seat at product strategy. product launches the issues that happen scaling manufacturing in Asia trying to meet regulatory and customer requirements because inventors all the time come up and say I have a widget. Canadian Tar is going to buy 20,000 of them. we’re going to make it for 19. our gross margins are 40 and investors look at that and say awesome. That makes sense. but they have no idea. Can you make it? Can you deliver it? what type of technical challenges will you have? is the amount of money that you’re spending on technology enough? and they always are wrong. And I’m the one that comes in going, hold on. you’re saying you want to make 25,000 units and you want to get FCC certification with this chip. you can’t do that in six months. there’s no way you’re going to hit the Christmas rush. like the money that you’re spending is not realistic right. And suddenly that’s where investors get a lot of value from working with Nytric. So, I did that for years and years. we had some. And in 2008, a dramatic thing happened with the great recession. our deal flow went from four million dollars’ worth of NREs and deal flow that we were doing with dozens of companies we were investing in down to zero because we’re a product development new product launch type company. That’s what we were focused on. Nobody was doing that in 2008. So, very quickly, we pivoted. we had a bunch of money in the bank based on some of our exits and we’re like why can’t we do this ourselves. So, I started a few companies. We all put our own money in. We decided to make an incubator out of Nytric. We decided to put anywhere between 250 to 250,000 to 2 million, developed ideas internally, spun them out with patents and commercially ready products and brought investors to the table based on everything that we learned. So, Baanto was one of my first companies we invented. a new type of touchscreen technology put 86 patents behind it, innovated the modern touch screen, got that out into the market. Right now, that touchscreen is actually flying inside the F-35 as a cockpit. The entire cockpit instrumentation by Lockheed Martin is driven by our touchscreen. So, some really cool stuff out there started Vizietto Inc. And then I started serially investing as an angel investor on the side as well. So, that’s my journey here. I’m a serial entrepreneur with a deep engineering background. millions of lines of code that I’ve written and managed, but at the end of the day I understand what VC inventors and sales people need. So, that’s my superpower. It is bridging that gap. something that very few people know about me. It was 50-50 about getting into engineering. I got into OCAD for drawing and painting and I wanted to be a professional artist. And I’m colorblind. So, I did not pursue that career and I went to engineering. And recently with Covid, I started my online gallery and sold a bunch of paintings to support charity. So, I’m looking to connect art and technology together with the charitable cause and it’s been very fulfilling to go after