Innovation Destination Hartford Website Curator Nan Price spoke to James Stalker, CEO The Enterprise Universe, about his entrepreneurial journey—from India, to New Mexico, to Connecticut.
NAN PRICE: Have you always known you wanted to run your own company?
JAMES STALKER: The entrepreneur bug started when I was in college studying mechanical engineering in India, where I grew up. I knew I was going to be on my own developing something, but it took a lot longer than I would have preferred. I went to graduate school, got my Ph.D., and I worked at Los Alamos National Laboratory for several years, first as a postdoctoral fellow and then as a member of the technical staff.
NAN: How, when, and why did you transition into entrepreneurship?
JAMES: Two things happened around 2001. First, I was mentoring students who were interested in interning at Los Alamos National Lab. One day, I was telling a student he needed to follow his dreams and it struck me: I was doing my research and getting a comfy check each month, but I wasn’t really following my dream.
I went home and I told my wife I was going to start something on my own. That’s always been what I wanted to do. She was on board with my decision. The other thing was my daughter’s birth. I realized working at the Lab I was spending too much time away from her. She was only a year old when I left Los Alamos National Lab and started (Regional Earth System Predictability Research, Inc. (RESPR) in 2002.
NAN: How did you develop the business concept for your first startup?
JAMES: I knew I had a good research background developing products. I was already helping some folks in renewable energy and I felt my cutting-edge research could push the envelope in the renewable energy sector.
Between 2002 and 2004 I developed a product line based on RESPR atmospheric simulation technology and launched multiple divisions over the next few years since, including WindForces, SunCloudConfluence, GREEN based Consulting, and PerpetualIdeation.
Two other companies I most recently started are Smart Energy Load Centers Corp. (SELC), which is developing renewable energy technology solutions for personal and business computing, and Weather-Climate Knowledge Rewards, which I started last year.
NAN: All your companies fall under the umbrella of your latest initiative, The Enterprise Universe.
JAMES: Yes. The umbrella company’s vision is to provide the ingredients for technology companies to succeed. The ingredients are: technology expertise, business development expertise, and funding. The proportion depends on the type of business. For example, all my companies tend to have more technologists than finance people. My plan is to eventually start acquiring other businesses that will gel with my overall vision.
NAN: Let’s talk about your evolution from New Mexico to Connecticut. How did you end up here?
JAMES: Again, it was about my daughter—and my family. When my daughter graduated from high school last year, she chose to go to the University of Rochester, which is quite far from New Mexico. My wife is a chemistry professor, and she ended up accepting a position in the department of chemistry at the University of Connecticut. The kind of business I have, I can do it anywhere. That’s how we landed here in August 2018.
NAN: How did you become integrated into the entrepreneurial ecosystem in Connecticut?
JAMES: Being a businessman for 15+ years in New Mexico, I became well-known and built many relationships—from people in government to those in local universities.
I didn’t want to take 15 years to do the same thing here! I was trying to find some shortcuts and I thought there has got to be some better ways to do this. I reached out to Jennifer Murphy at UConn’s Connecticut Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation, who connected me to Joe Ercolano, at the Connecticut Small Business Development Corporation (SBDC).
Joe connected me to Nerac President Kevin Bouley. Joe believed my vision was well aligned with Kevin’s activities supporting the development of technology-based new ventures. He was right. Kevin and I had a 20-minute phone call and that was it. He said: You’re coming here, and we are doing things together. I have an office at Nerac and I’ve been attending some of his XCellR8 meetings.
Kevin, made a lot of contacts for me. I’ve been building relationships with two research groups from UConn engineering. One is focused on weather simulation, the other is in the renewable energy area.
And, through my wife’s connections, I also talked with an environmental group connected to UConn.
NAN: Let’s talk about your future goals—in a sense, you’re building your universe.
JAMES: That’s right. Aside from my personal vision, one of my goals is to help and inspire the entrepreneurial community.
NAN: How so?
JAMES: I’ve developed nine key fundamentals for entrepreneurs to be successful and would like to start presenting monthly presentations for local entrepreneurs. I just want to share my experience.
NAN: How are you building that audience?
JAMES: Kevin has a lot of it already. And I connected with Mike Roer at the Entrepreneurship Foundation. He invited me to talk to them to see if my presentation makes sense for them. They have many universities as members, so I can plug into those resources too.
Personally, my five-year plan is $100 billion investment, with $20 billion going into weather options, $40 billion going into renewable energy, and $40 billion going into world mapping using my RESPR technology to essentially give more capability to companies in many countries to optimize their own natural resources. I want to do that for companies in every country over a period of time. That’s really the vision.
In terms of Connecticut, I want to collaborate with economic development organizations. My technology can help them reach their target. But they need to solidify their vision and goals. If we can pool together the workforce—local entrepreneurs and university professors—if all of us come together we can reach any target. That’s what I want to bring to Connecticut. Not just building my own business, but building business in Connecticut.