Startups Start Here: Interview with Successful Entrepreneur, CEO of Tech Startup, Darren Engle

UCF entrepreneur, Darren Engle

UCF entrepreneur, Darren Engle

February 10, 2016

Darren Engle, an entrepreneur and a UCF alumnus, has launched two successful startups. The first, Acudyn, Inc., a research, design, and development corporation that specialized in the advancement of energy and automation technologies, was successfully acquired by FAZ Technology in 2014. Engle’s current company, Multicore Photonics, Inc., develops fiber optic sensors and instrumentation for industrial applications.

Both of Engle’s endeavors have direct connections with UCF. Acudyn, Inc. was a client of UCF’s Business Incubation Program (BIP), where Engle received services such as coaching, access to networking events, as well as education and support in areas such as finance and accounting, intellectual property protection, public relations, and marketing. Multicore Photonics has licensed technology through UCF’s Office of Technology Transfer.

We wanted to talk with Engle about his history with UCF, both as a UCFBIP client and as a licensee. We also discussed his experiences as an entrepreneur. He shares insights below:

How did this process begin for you as an entrepreneur?

I did not feel completely whole working as just an engineer, even though I enjoyed my work. I felt driven to adventure, to design, and to create.

For me personally, it came down to the specious validity of the self-fulfilling prophecy. What I mean is, having a degree in a certain field may not mean you will be satisfied with the career lead by/through that degree.  As with everything in life, you have to create your own path.

I find the colloquial proverb “do what you love and the money will follow” to be quite accurate, not only through personal observation but also through personal experience. However, it should be noted that money in this context does not always translate into monetary wealth. It simply means your provisions will be met.

How did you find UCF’s Office of Technology Transfer (OTT)?

The relationship with the OTT was established during the time that Acudyn was a client of the UCF Incubator Technology Program [now UCF BIP]. After the acquisition of Acudyn, I became aware of the optical fiber technology and reached out to the OTT at UCF to find out more about the technology and if it was available for licensing.

What technology did you recently license? At what stage of development is it currently?

The company licensed its namesake technology, multicore fiber (MCF). This technology, developed at UCF College of Optics and Photonics (CREOL) (one of the world’s foremost institutions for research in optics and photonics), proved to be a viable fiber optic technology for sensing applications due to its unique intrinsic sensing capabilities. [Specifically, these sensors can measure conditions such as temperature, pressure, and flow to enable condition-based maintenance (CBM) of industrial resources and facilities through smart sensing.] Numerous journal articles were written by the professors who developed the technology, documenting the attributes and capabilities of the raw fiber.

This fiber technology enabled us to create the first fiber optic sensing platform that can directly compete with sensing platforms historically relegated to electrical-based systems.

Currently MCF has a Technology Readiness Level (TRL) of 6, meaning it has been prototyped and implemented with full-scale, realistic problems. Its Manufacturing Readiness Level (MRL) is 4, meaning it can be capably produced in a laboratory environment.

How was it determined that creating a startup was the best way to get these inventions to the marketplace? Can you walk us through the process of creating a startup company?

Most great ideas/developed technologies never become realized. It’s not because of a lack of merit, but because of a lack of understanding of its place in the commercial world from those who develop it. Just because something has been theoretically proven in the lab does not mean it is commercially viable, nor does it mean that it solves an industry problem. Technology transfer offices exist at universities to act as an intermediary, aligning university technology and commercial partners with the objective of successfully disseminating the technology into the commercial world.

The process [for creating a startup company] varies depending on the technology, application, and [product] placement, but for the most part, it remains consistent. Below is a 5-step approach that I use as a skeleton.

  1. Research – identify the industry problem, opportunity, and solution
  2. Secure IP – file or license [a patent, copyright, or trademark]
  3. Incorporate – S-Corp or LLC
  4. Structure Business Plan – outline strategy, markets, and customers
  5. Acquire Capital – organic, VC, or both

What are the three (or more) ingredients for success when it comes to licensing technology from a university?

I believe the following is required when licensing any technology:

  1. An in-depth knowledge of the industry
  2. A diversified, dynamic, and experienced management/technical team
  3. Established relationships with key players in the industry

Was there anything about starting a company that you found to be intriguing, ironic, or surprising?

The unknown can be overwhelming at times, especially when it is uncharted territory. Ironically, no one person knows everything, even those that have “been there and done that,” so to speak. My best advice would be to find a solid mentor that can grow with you. However, it is highly possible that as you progress in your adventure, you will outgrow him or her. So keep this in mind and prepare ahead of time for a transition in mentorship.

How do you see startups using tech developed at a university different from startups not using university-developed tech?

Leveraging university technology is one of the most stable ways to launch a technology-based corporation. It provides a solid foundation to build upon and offers instant credibility. A startup founded on university technology can [more easily] approach an investor or potential customer by leveraging the startup’s connection with the university to establish a known point of trust to further develop.

Without this connection, other startups will have more difficulty approaching investors or potential customers, as their risk is higher. Before trust can be established, a more thorough due diligence and vetting process must be conducted, which results in a longer lead time. This is assuming, of course, that the startup not licensing technology from the university in this example does not already have established connections and/or relationships within the industry of technology applicability.

Darren Engle, President and CEO of Multicore Photonics, Inc., former VP of Engineering and Global Services at FAZ Technology, Inc. and prior President and CEO of Acudyn Incorporated, is a serial entrepreneur with extensive experience in starting and developing high-growth businesses. He holds a Masters of Business Administration and a Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering from UCF.