Conversations with Innovators — Q&A with John Miller of NTEC
This week we are talking with John Miller, Executive Director of NTEC.
In the past twenty years, John Miller has led three companies from inception and early-stage to achieving $100M to well over $1B in revenues. His industry operating experience is broad-based and includes technology, renewable energy, global manufacturing and related services. He has also structured and led financing transactions in the public markets, venture capital, and private equity for companies at nearly all stages of development. His roles have included CEO of YLG Holdings, Inc., a national leader in the landscape industry, Managing Director of WTCG, a wind energy technology development company, and an executive leader for the LeBlanc Group, a billion dollar diversified technology telecomm/broadcast equipment company.
1. What exactly is NTEC?
NTEC stands for the North Texas Enterprise Center. We are a nonprofit organization that operates as a type business accelerator in partnership with the City of Frisco and the Frisco Economic Development Corporation (FEDC). We primarily work with later-stage entrepreneurial companies to help them develop further, faster. Our goal is to help our members become operationally independent companies who will, ideally, launch into Frisco, furthering the city’s economic development.
2. How did you get involved with NTEC and become the Executive Director?
I received a call from an executive search firm, which led to a meeting. At that meeting I presented a one-page strategy, operating plan overview with a timeline, and the expected results. I joined NTEC shortly thereafter and decided to bring in Jason Wilkie, a former executive with whom I had worked in two prior companies, to help make the strategy a reality. A few months later I added, Christina Carlisle, also someone with whom I had previously worked, to help deliver the programming. NTEC’s success is attributable in large measure to Jason and Christina’s talents and efforts. They are a constant mentorship with unique expertise and have contributed significantly to our members.
3. Dallas has become a hub for entrepreneurs. How is NTEC different than the other technology incubators and accelerators in the DFW Metroplex?
Well, you have to start by defining incubator and accelerator. There are many definitions and uses for these terms being used today. For our purposes, let’s use TechRepublic’s definition, which is that Accelerators "accelerate" growth of an existing company, while incubators "incubate" disruptive ideas with the hope of building out a business model and company. So, basically, accelerators focus on scaling a business, while incubators are more focused on innovation. Both share the ultimate end goal of helping to create successful brands. Accelerator programs are usually structured within some kind of timeframe. While Incubators typically do not operate on a specific program schedule.
NTEC is unique because our reality is we actually do some of both, we’re a hybrid. Our primary focus is on helping entrepreneurial ventures we believe will have a positive impact in Frisco, and our North Texas community. We do call ourselves a “later-stage” accelerator because most of our companies are already legally formed and have some kind of funding. However, our program does not have a hard and fast defined structure or timeline. Each of our members have a customized timeline that is unique to their needs. We think some of our greatest strength is our ability to stick with our companies longer, to be flexible and adaptive with them through transitions and growth periods because the end goal is for them to become truly self-sustaining, ready to launch, and continue to grow.
4. How many member companies are in NTEC?
Currently, we have a full house with 23 companies.
5. Are there any plans to expand your capacity?
There is always opportunity for expansion. I would love to create a “transitional” building next door to NTEC that could serve as a temporary space for those companies who are self-sustaining but need additional time to locate permanent space in Frisco.
6. In which industries are you seeing new activity? If you had to bet on three industries to emerge in the next five years, which ones would you choose?
Currently we have a wide variety of industries housed in NTEC, from esports to medical sciences, and are always open to industries that need innovating.
The future of drones has been a fascination of mine lately. I’d love to see how the technology will advance and in what other industries it can be utilized.
While I have reservations about “self-driving” cars, I see the potential advantages of applying technology to the automobile and there are so many possibilities for the future. I’m really looking forward to seeing its advancements.
And, battery technology has advanced but we need a breakthrough in both capacity and time to re-charge. The functionality of batteries are limitless and innovations to them affect countless industries from cell phones to aviation.
7. NTEC appears to have a great culture. What’s the secret to maintaining such a positive vibe with so many different people and companies under one roof?
We do, and it is something we take very seriously. We try very hard, when accepting new people/companies into the program, to gauge whether or not they are a “good fit” for our current company culture. For example, we don’t bring in companies that would compete with someone we already have in our program. And, we try to assess whether or not what they are working on could potentially help other companies in the program and vice versa. This is part of, what we call, the “magic,” which is basically when our companies find ways to work together that causes them both to grow and win in ways that neither could have done alone.
8. What piece of advice would you give to a first-time entrepreneur starting out?
Have patience and determination. It’s not just about whether or not you have a good idea. It’s about taking that idea and executing it. You have to plan out the action steps required and turn the idea into a reality, but also to make the idea produce revenue. It requires a great deal of time and effort just to come up with the plan of action. Then, you have to find a way to bring in the right people who are capable and willing to do what it takes to execute that plan, who are just as passionate as you are to bring the company to life.
9. What are some examples of NTEC successes?
Since we shifted our focus in 2013 (from a med device/bio life science incubator to a mixed use “later stage” accelerator) our members have succeeded in many ways, both within their own industries and by completing our program.
For example, a current member, PVP Live, is disrupting the esports industry and has been featured in major publications such as Fortune and Forbes, and just closed over $2M in funding.
Valify, is certainly an industry disruptor as well. They have developed the only web-based solution for hospital systems that simplifies the analysis of non-labor spending to track savings in purchased services. They typically find savings between 10%-20% of a hospitals operating budget. Before Valify, healthcare organizations would have to bring in consultant teams who would take months to analyze spending. Now, Valify can take their data and get them results within five days. Valify’s solution helps mitigate financial risk and reduces the overall cost of operations. The CEO, Chris Heckler, came into NTEC back in September of 2014. Matt Clark, the CTO, came in shortly after – now they have grown to an employee count of 16 people, have recently obtained over 2 million dollars in Series A funding, and will be moving into their own office headquarters in Frisco soon.
True Health Diagnostics, is what we call a true “gazelle”. They created a solution to help physicians and health care providers identify and prevent the progression of early stage cardiovascular disease. They have completed the program and will soon be moving their headquarters into Frisco.
Captured Dimensions is a company that is finally finding some solid ground. They are a company with brilliant minds who use photogrammetry to digitally scan and produce extremely detailed 3D assets that can be used for things like CGI (computer generated images) and VR (virtual reality), etc. When they came into the program, they were a company struggling to figure out where to focus their technology. They ran the gamut, even trying retail, before stumbling upon what appears to be their niche, which is performing scans for the film and entertainment industry.
Guild/SA is a fun one because they are just starting to reach their first success milestone, which is to fill their first code bootcamp class, which starts in August. The founder, Kevin Harris, knows the demand for mobile developers and is working hard to help foster great talent, locally. But he also goes a step further, by offering scholarships to veterans, their spouses, and women interested in technology.
10. How does a company become a member?
The best way to become a member is through our website. There is an application inquiry form that gets you into our system. From there, we will ask you to complete a “needs assessment” form. This allows us to get a general idea of your company concept and needs. If we have the space available, feel you would be a good fit in our community, and believe our expertise and resources can help, we will schedule a face to face interview.
11. Where do you see NTEC going from here?
I would like to see NTEC continue on its current path of helping company’s grow into sustainable business that positively impact the economic growth of Frisco and North Texas. We are continuously gaining traction in being an enormous resource for our members, but we are also becoming an additional resource hub for the Frisco and North Dallas communities.
12. What are your personal plans for the future?
I would like to continue to help champion NTEC in some form, however, returning to the private sector is also a definite option. While I have been presented with opportunities, I have not yet come across the right fit. Under performing middle market companies in the $100MM to $1BB revenue range are of particular interest, but I have a history with emerging enterprises.
13. What’s your “one thing” that most drives your own professional success?
What drives my professional success lies with the right people striving to accomplish what they are passionate about. I base my success on fostering ambition and talent and helping those individuals achieve success by accomplishing the shared vision.
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