Origins Of A Company Includes the OEIP SPin In® Team
October 31, 2023 Written by Vanessa Spence
Creating a company started with an innovative idea and an interdisciplinary Spin In® student product development team.
This article is a part of the series “Where are they now?” After a Spin In experience, what lessons carry over? This article shows how the team starts with an idea and creates a product with career-launching opportunities.
When asked about his entrepreneurial mindset, Michael Loveless reflected on his college graduation. “I was eager to get working when I graduated from Cornell University in ‘92, but the recession was in full swing. I was under-employed and not in a good-fit position.” Loveless filled his thoughts with self-employment by thinking of software ideas relating to banks and fairness in lending laws.
Loveless sees his entrepreneurship as taking form in two different steps. First, being creative and then being empowered to carry it out. The second step took place after his seven years with SAP America when he sold one license for a type of tool, to a giant chemical company who just absorbed it. It was a lesson for him that to make something viable as an entrepreneur, there needs to be a market opportunity, a coalition of skills and interests in a team that can enact it. In 2004 he started his own consulting business and quickly began to recognize gaps for the work he was doing. Here is where he started collecting ideas that would fill those gaps. Loveless pointed out, “At a certain point, you realize opportunities through the ecosystems you live in. As I started recognizing ideas, I started pitching those opportunities to others in my same space and was validated.” This period of time was when RAAD360 really began.
What is RAAD360? It is a true risk management methodology and platform that addresses the cybersecurity of supply chain management for any company, in any market. It deals with financial risks, cyber risks, and regulatory measures. RAAD is an easily remembered acronym for Resiliency Applications and Dashboards. Loveless is presently the CEO and co-founder of the company.
Loveless still credits The University of Delaware’s Spin In® Program, in helping advance RAAD360 in 2016. Spin In is an integral program component of the Office of Economic Innovation and Partnerships (OEIP); in that, Spin In showcases the interdisciplinary approach for early startup ideas to grow. Essentially, entrepreneurs or research faculty utilize their innovative ideas as a basis for assembling a product development team, usually comprised of undergraduate students, all eager to apply classroom knowledge in a real-world practicum and build workforce readiness skills. The early innovators and entrepreneurs who participate in this multi-semester experience gain as much as the students they mentor.
Entrepreneurs’ Value for Spin In
Most ideas at this stage have yet to be commercialized, so the entrepreneur, a partner, an intrapreneur and the students must manage expectations. Having an achievable scope of work to prove a concept or a prototype, and being present for the unexpected findings that students may surprise you with.
For the entrepreneur, Spin In assembles a team of students capable of market research, communication, and documentation, developing, prototyping, exploring the market opportunity, and evaluating whether there is commercial value. Most of all, entrepreneurs work directly with potential future employees, showcasing their skills in this setting.
Spin In gives the opportunity to trial potential future employees with a range of skills.
Loveless spoke of the 2016 Spin In team. He remembers the time as pivotal for the company and for the student team experience. Here are his thoughts on the past and future of RAAD360 and Spin In.
So, That Was Then, What Now?
Loveless joked, remembering the early days of RAAD360. He described the company as three people and a lunch pail. The name SeaHawk became a code name for what they were doing. It was developing algorithms to look at data that would then filter datasets to find matching news stories relating to suppliers, components, or locations. Loveless brought this challenge to the [Spin in] team in 2016. “The team showed that RAAD360 had an engine that could. It could fetch news stories, hyperlinks, titles, keywords, and sentiment. To be honest,” Loveless said, “that is actually the starting point for what we built. We now have an internal engine with some of its early DNA from what the Spin In team built. It was a proof of concept (POC) showing the realm and the possibility with respect to the idea.”
In 2016, Loveless had hoped to utilize Artificial Intelligence (AI), but then it was a word full of curiosity. At the time, the Spin In team found that the algorithms alone were sufficient. Now, Loveless is considering a re-look at using AI.
RAAD360 is also growing; for one, the pandemic and subsequent supply chain issues provided opportunities for RAAD360 to help companies through the challenges that still ensue today. RAAD360 positioned itself for growth with a planned move to the UD STAR campus in the FinTech Innovation Hub, during the fall of 2022. Loveless understood the advantage of having access to young, energetic, and locally available talent for how he describes a specific business structure he is working towards. It would operate with a percentage of employment set up in specific opportunity zones. The first being in Newark, DE. Loveless noted that the time difference alone makes expanding beyond a time zone complicated for the company to support its clients.
Looking forward to the future RAAD360 holds growth through a potential sales team and other staff who could help with a go-to-market plan and there is even the possibility of creating a support organization.
In Your Spin In team, how did you foster creative thinking?
I articulated a compelling vision. You can’t get people excited about building with nuts and bolts unless you sell them the vision of a car. Why this is important. Why it's different, HOW and WHAT they're doing matters. It leads to being engaged, and motivated means more innovative. You trust their skills and understanding of what's possible out there.
When did the team engage, and take on team roles;, and what surprised you?
We spun our wheels initially, probably because we did not sell the vision. Recognizing that, we took a step back and did an ideation session starting with an exploration of the path – our vision. Then focus on achievable milestones, and goals for the project. We compartmentalized it, to not overwhelm or get in front of it, but to manage expectations. It became our roadmap.
Encouraging students to think entrepreneurially
Students come in eager to gain confidence and define a place on the team. Suddenly, it becomes real for them. Spin In provides a challenging but never threatening situation, in which I saw students seem to flourish. Along the way, they develop new skills based on real experiences.
Working With Students
Our mentor, Alex Brooks, M.S. ’16, M.S. ’18. Brooks went on to UMPC-Presbyterian Hospital in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania after graduating. More recently, he moved to Mass General in Boston as the Senior Administrative Director for OB/GYN. Brooks's mentor role was more of a layer between the students and the entrepreneur. He kept the students together and on track. It helped accountabily for all but also helped students with how reporting would look like, what information to include, identifying if a particular idea path is valid, and bringing them back on track if necessary.
Loveless concluded with, for me, as the entrepreneur, Brooks kept things running. He was great at filling that intermediary role. He could speak with the RAAD360 team on a business level and interact with the students academically. Brooks was the buffer and the go-between. In my absence from meetings, Brooks could process requirements from the RAAD360 co-founders. He ensured that that was communicated to the student team in a way they could understand and prioritize appropriately. More importantly, Brooks added a layer of organizational hierarchy that the students would experience in their future careers.
Spin In is a unique UD offering funded by NSF (National Science Foundation) EPSCoR and the U.S. Economic Development Administration to advance workforce development in the state and region.
This publication was made possible by the National Science Foundation EPSCoR Grant No. 1757353 and the State of Delaware.
Office of Economic Innovation and Partnerships (OEIP) is an economic development portal that connects outside entities to university knowledge-based assets to stimulate a culture of innovation and entrepreneurship among UD students, faculty, and partners to contribute to the state and region’s social and economic development. OEIP acts as a focal point for resources and advisory services to support the cultivation of early-stage companies and industry partnerships. With a focus on discovery, OEIP assists in the development and commercialization of intellectual property assets into marketable opportunities and/or new businesses. OEIP offers the Spin In® program that stimulates innovation and entrepreneurship and provides workforce development opportunities for qualified students. OEIP’s units include the University’s Technology Transfer Office (TTO), Delaware Small Business Development Center (DSBDC), and APEX Accelerator Delaware (formally PTAC (Procurement Technical Assistance Center)). These units perform as an integrated ecosystem to meet the technology and business needs of the University, the state, and the region.