Dr. Vijay Jayachandran is CEO at ACW Analytics, an innovative startup that uses artificial intelligence (AI) to create situational intelligence during extreme weather events. MetroHartford Alliance Content Manager Nan Price spoke with Vijay about the company’s involvement at the University of Connecticut Technology Incubation Program (Uconn TIP) and how business advisors help researchers create viable businesses.
NAN PRICE: Tell us a little about how your past experience helped to set you up for this role.
VIJAY JAYACHANDRAN: Throughout my career, my passion has always been to build great products and bring great technologies to market.
I spent 21 years at United Technologies Corporation (UTC), which is now Raytheon. Before I left, I was working on the whole concept of how established, traditional companies can rejuvenate innovation in the new world. Companies like UTC are very strong in what they do, but with all the new tech that’s coming out, research and development and innovation can’t follow the same techniques of doing everything inside, they need to find the best partners outside.
There are a lot of startups doing innovative work. How do you integrate the best solutions to create the most innovative products? I was putting together that philosophy before I left and spent a lot of time thinking about disruption, next-generation technologies, and how people and companies can stay relevant and move with the times.
When I left UTC in 2019, I left with no plan. I wanted to give myself some time to figure out what was next. I knew I wanted to bring back the passion I had when I had started my career and find that next thing to keep me motivated and happy for the following 10 to 20 years.
After some reflection, I decided I wanted to work in a smaller setting with a mission-focused team to build something meaningful to humanity. I thought a good way for me to do that would be to find an early- to mid-stage company that was established but needed experienced people to help them scale and figure out how to take things to market. I knew a lot of my experience could be very useful for a company like that.
NAN: How did you get involved with the UConn TIP?
VIJAY: Through networking, a colleague introduced me to Mostafa Analoui, Executive Director of Venture Development at the University of Connecticut, who also runs the UConn TIP. Mostafa recommended that I help some startups in the Connecticut area, which I agreed was a good idea. So, in 2020, I joined the UConn TIP as one of their entrepreneurs in residence. There are several at the TIP, some are entrepreneurs, others have relevant industry experience. The startups are technically very strong, but many don’t know how to monetize or how to bring their tech to market and make a successful business venture out of it, so we help them by advising.
It was a perfect opportunity for me to mentor some companies while I figured out what I wanted to do next. I also worked with Mostafa as he was defining the strategy for the new TIP location in Stamford, which was launched earlier this year.
NAN: How did you become involved with ACW Analytics?
VIJAY: I met the founders at a pitch event last year. I saw what they were trying to do and I wanted to become involved. I started as an advisor and took on the role of CEO after a few months.
To provide a little history about ACW, the company was started by researchers in the environmental engineering department at UConn who have spent more than a decade combining their deep knowledge about environmental atmospheric sciences (weather) with machine learning to help local electrical utilities predict what’s going to happen before a storm hits.
Last year, I advised them as they built a proof of concept (POC) that showed an order of magnitude in improvement in the predictions of weather impact, using real-time weather sensing data.
NAN: How are you helping bring the company’s technical research to market?
VIJAY: Technical ideas are great. They show a lot of promise, but you have to actually convert them into something somebody cares about and will pay for—that’s when it becomes a product. When we built the POC and showed that we could do a good job of estimating impacts as they were occurring, we thought we could convert it into a decision support tool that could help electrical utilities restore power more quickly after weather-induced outages. Our techniques are extendable and can also be used by others with physical infrastructure assets affected by weather events, like mass transit systems and telecommunications companies.
NAN: What’s next for ACW Analytics?
VIJAY: We’re working on building something that serves the customer’s needs. Since we finished the POC, we’ve been having conversations with several infrastructure owners, explaining the benefits of our technology and what we could potentially build for them. Our process is to start by proving the value of our technology through a pilot project and then converting it into an annual subscription that provides insights on an ongoing basis.
In the next five years, we’re hoping we can work with two or three key customer segments in the infrastructure space to build out solid products that solve real problems and create a foundation to continue to expand from there.
NAN: Any advice for other technical startups?
VIJAY: Don’t build everything and go before really determining your customers’ pain points, because you won’t know exactly what you’re solving for. It’s best to partner with the customers to build something useful. Once several customers have found real value and the product is commercially viable, then you can scale up your development efforts and approach other customers. That’s the process of bringing technology from something that looks promising to something that becomes an actual product.