On episode 21, we are introducing Nick Wu. Nick is a Research & Design Leader at CW Corp, a California-based technology company developing advanced volumetric display technologies. He has a Ph.D. in electrical engineering with experiences in consumer hardware development from the University of Southern California. He is also the Co-Founder and CEO of N3XTCON, a non-profit company that helps connect young aspiring entrepreneurs. Being an experienced startup investor in the industry, he has successfully invested in 30+ startups. He is also currently an Advisor at Giftpack AI, an AI gifting platform that allows an employer to send personalized gifts to their employees in an easy and clever manner.
He also discusses with us his favorite book that really inspired him to do what he does and the mentality that one should have in order to pursue entrepreneurship. Tune in to hear more!
Angela– On episode 21, we are introducing Nick Wu. How are you?
Nick– Good, good! How are you!
Angela– Good, good! So, Nick is a Research & Design Lead at C. Wesley Co., a California-based technology company developing advanced volumetric display technologies. He has utilized his advanced coding language to develop in-house software tools and built a free-space acoustic optical system for a 3D volumetric display. He also has a Ph.D. in electrical engineering with experiences on consumer hardware development from the University of Southern California. He is also the Co-Founder and CEO of N3XTCON, a non-profit company that helps connect young aspiring entrepreneurs. Being an experienced expert in VC industries, he has successfully He is also currently an Advisor at Giftpack AI, an AI gifting platform that allows an employer to send personalized gifts to their employees in an easy and clever manner. Could you tell us more about it?
Nick– Of course, of course! So, C. Wesley Co. is actually a research spin-off of Birmingham University. We basically license the patent technology and we are trying to commercialize the tech for innovative advanced 3D display. Our technology utilizes thermal optical trapping of invisible nanoparticles- in the air! Using the small particles, we can print out 3D images and objects floating in the air!
Angela– This sounds super futuristic!
Nick– It is! If you have seen Iron Man or Star Wars, the images that are floating in the air! It’s essentially like that!
Angela– That’s amazing! Can you tell us your personal experience in developing C. Wesley Co.?
Nick– So, C. Wesley Co. is an early-stage startup. So, fundraising is the hardest challenge that we faced, and we are dealing with it pretty well. We had fewer successful investments for the past year or two. Another personal experience where I see at C. Wesley Co. is technical, so it’s definitely challenging. There’s kind of a cutting edge technology into real life.
Angela– So, how do you see 3D volumetric displays being used in the future?
Nick– So, when we talk about 3D display or 3D imagine a system, people will have very different perceptions about the tech. Some people might think of AR or VR, so basically to our company, we are seeing it as a potential revolution to replace all the screens out there. Basically our tech is a screenless display, it’s like a projector. Projecting imaging but not to a white wall but in the air, you can even have a wearable projector on your wrist and see it mobile.
Angela– Do you see this being used on phones?
Nick– Yes, it can be. Anything that has a display can be projected into the air.
Angela– So, you have a Ph.D. in Electric and Electronic Engineering, but what inspired you to pursue this path?
Nick– There are a few reasons that I can think of. Personally, I wanted to be the most knowledgeable educator who can drive innovations. So the understanding of technology is like the tool that can really help me to have a bigger understanding of logic and IMD, and the training that I got from Ph.D. helped me a lot in my ability to do due diligence or technical due diligence. I am investing in some of the technology startups. Another thing is more like you can think of a professional way, so I am always very amazed and inspired by the people from the tech industry so I want to learn how they got the inspiration and how they get their creativity. Basically, my knowledge and my training from Ph.D. had helped me to build a better connection in order for me to work like a peer to peer with those in the evolving tech industry, and have a much decent conversation and I can learn how they think and got inspired.
Angela– Of course, you also started a non-profit event service that aids young entrepreneurs to discuss their ideas and to feel empowered. What would you say your experience was like?
Nick– So, the non-profit is more of an initiative that we started 5 years ago, initially we just gathered a group founders to share ideas and to also see whether there were any potential synergies between those founders in the tech industry, and then we hosted public events, and inviting more seasoned entrepreneurs and also investors- to share their thoughts and insights on different topics that include fundraising and also the challenges that founders may face. Then we had to bring the events into a more private environment, and we focus on the empowerment of minority founders. We currently host a lot of private round table events or private pitch events that can help founders reach to investors or the resources that we need in a more private intimate environment. I think our organization is powerful because our narrative is clear, we want to help underrepresented and qualified founders to find the right contact and resources that are needed to build a startup.
Angela– Has COVID-19 affected your company at all, or has it be manageable?
Nick– So, COVID-19 to me personally, there hasn’t been much impact compared to other businesses since we have been working remotely- and we usually work from home most of the time. But for the company, especially for the CY support, we actually need to come in and do experiments beforehand, so that is challenging- from this perspective. Another point is, for some of my portfolio companies, most of them are e-commerce or mainly digital based; so they are growing pretty strongly. Southland started a new round of fundraising even during the pandemic, for the past 3-4 months. They were able to successfully fundraise, and it is actually pretty incredible because it was almost impossible for investors to invest, and new founders they haven’t met before. Through our virtual meetings and virtual due diligence, we were able to get another investor so it’s been incredible.
Angela– Speaking of that, you have invested in 30 plus startups, what is that number at right now? That’s amazing!
Nick– So, it’s essentially a system and it’s been really good, we have had some good amount of application so it’s a deal flow- which allows you to focus on the companies that you are more interested in or with more potentials. You can virtually meet with them and have a conversation with them to see what they are doing and how they are doing, and what are their potentials. Then you can decide whether or not you are more interested in conducting a more detail by either due diligence or have more conversation and with other employees from within the company.
Angela– Okay, sounds great! Would you mind sharing some of the cases that you’ve helped during your time? (N3XTCON)
Nick– So, as I mentioned N3XTCON is a California 501c3 non-profit organization so basically what we are doing is we try to do our best and use our resources, and try to help young entrepreneurs and founders. I’m proud that our investments and including my personal investments, we have more than 50% female founders and even 20-30% of minority founders (Asian Americans & African Americans). So the way we try to help is through public events, inviting companies to apply for, like a pitch competition. We also have a private round table event, that I can have investors on who have similar synergies and interest in the company. We have the round table so that entrepreneurs can pitch in front of investors, and trigger conversations.
Angela– Do you have any advice for aspiring entrepreneurs, I’m sure you have a lot!
Nick– The bottom line to me is, we are all humans. We need to build some initial trust before we enter into a more formal conversation or to my investments. My advice may be a bit vague but I want to say to young founders to always be authentic in the conversation and to be prepared for different types of setups or people that you’re going to meet with. I am pretty analytical, I want to see patterns and I want to see numbers, “what is your research?” That’s my preference but I need to learn more about business verticals, what is the market size, what is the potential like, the acquisition strategy for you to acquire the market. I am a very number person but for different startups, and if it’s around investment, you need to surprise them and impress them in different ways. I think if founders can learn a little bit from a human or just human perspective, and learning what you’re facing and who you’re going to talk to, and be prepared.
Angela– Great advice! How should people deal with obstacles while building a business? We go through so many obstacles, so what would you say to that?
Nick– So, we host events and we would invite close to 5 founders, and early-stage founders and they all got a few successful sequential investment loans. Maybe CSA or CSB, and they’re all young entrepreneurs all under 40. At the panel, we ask them this question, “how do you as a young entrepreneur deal with obstacles?” And we got 5 very different answers, and it can get personal. So, I would like to say something along the line of the bottom line, the bottom line is things can get very tough, I think the easiest way to deal with it is to find someone who can really understand you, your vision, your challenges, and is willing to talk to you, and maybe even jump with you. Perhaps even becoming the Co-Founder, and I think the human touch is very important especially when you’re dealing with those challenges, that almost no one can think of- it’s better to have someone who can understand.
Angela– Was there a book that you read recently that really impacted you?
Nick– I think the most recent book that I read that really impacted me was “Man’s Search for Meaning,” it was one of the most top selling book, and the book revolves around a psychologist who survived the Nazi’s concentration camp.
Angela– Wow, sounds so interesting, I’ll be sure to check it out. Thank you so much for joining us today!
Nick– Yes, thank you so much as well!a