For the past couple of years, I’ve been working for KWIPPED, a startup
founded and run by a guy we call RB. RB is a successful and well respected entrepreneur who, in his early 40s, has two successful startup business exits (including one to the holding company of Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos). RB is a high-energy guy and his sentences frequently include bold phrases like:
“let’s be sure to leverage all available resources”
“solving problems and overcoming challenges”
“a passion for making things better”
“create our own opportunities”
“no such thing as failure”
“best practices can be better”
Recently, I had the privilege of meeting another entrepreneur, Spencer Matonis. Almost immediately, I noticed Spencer used many similar words and phrases that I associated with RB. I actually thought to myself, “this guy sounds like RB.” But the thing is, in addition to being an entrepreneur, Spencer is also a 20-year-old undergraduate student at the University of Connecticut (U-Conn).
Spencer may be young and lack experience, but his startup company, Coalesce, is a truly unique and intriguing online business with the all the ingredients for success, including:
An idea born from a problem Spencer experienced firsthand
A large target market made up of other people experiencing the same problem
A smart, tech-driven solution that delivers substantial value to its users
I could go on and on about the sleek Coalesce website, the impressive functionality and the long list of benefits the platform technology delivers. And while the quality and value of Spencer’s product is a major contributing factor in what I believe will be a very successful startup, it is Spencer’s entrepreneurial attitude, passion and mindset that, in my opinion, will be the true success driver for Coalesce.
After stumbling across Coalesce online, I connected with Spencer and spoke with him several times on the phone. I’m writing this article to:
Give a shout out to Spencer, a young entrepreneur with the kind of drive and integrity that gives an old guy like me hope for the future of our world.
Give an additional shout out to U-Conn and all Institutions of Higher Learning that provide an educational platform and environment that stimulates and challenges promising minds and fosters the transformation of innovative ideas into exciting and valuable realties.
Bring some additional attention to his business, Coalesce, which I will briefly describe later and encourage you to visit and see for yourself.
However, the main reason I’m writing this article is to share some of the powerful words and ideas that Spencer expressed during our phone conversations. My hope is that sharing some of Spencer’s feedback might inspire more young people to explore the entrepreneurial path and understand the importance of vision, commitment and perseverance for producing successful results.
Inspiring Ideas from U-Conn Student and Coalesce Founder, Spencer Matonis
I asked U-Conn student and Coalesce Founder, Spencer Matonis, based on his own business startup experiences, if he had any advice for other students or young people thinking about starting a business. I pulled out some of the highlights of our conversations
and summarized them below.
“If you have a problem, and you have trouble finding a solution, you have a potential new business idea.”
The point Spencer was trying to make here is that if you’re interested in starting a business, developing a business around a solution to a real-world problem is a good place to start. People don’t like problems, which us why we value solutions that can take our problems away.
Spencer’s business, Coalesce, is a direct result of his unfavorable experience trying to find out what type of University Labs were available to him.
“Many students searching for Higher Education Institutions are really searching for Labs that align with their education and career goals. It’s no surprise that schools collectively spend billions on research lab opportunities. What is a surprise is that large research universities bring in $300M-$1.2B each for their research, yet they’re doing a less than stellar job marketing their achievements (MIT being the exemption and gold standard in my opinion). In the past ten years, Ed-Tech companies have built powerful platforms that now make up the foundation of modern universities, yet the research market was seemingly left behind in this technological revolution. With Coalesce, we are empowering research labs with the specialized software that they need and deserve – true digital workspaces,” Spencer explained.
Starting and growing a business is more than a full-time job. Success requires an enormous investment of time, attention, effort and usually money too. Day in and day out, it’s much easier to stay focused and muster the energy required to effectively build a business when you are interested in and passionate about the business or industry in which you are working. Keeping up with industry trends and advances is difficult for someone not truly interested in their field of work.
As a lifelong fan of biological and material sciences, Spencer’s University Lab sourcing platform solves problems in a field he’s very passionate about. Additionally, Spencer is passionate about, “…logistics, problem-solving and transforming new ideas into something of real value.” Starting Coalesce requires all of these.
I don’t think passion is going to be an issue for Spencer, and his commitment bodes well for Coalesce.
“Making a positive difference adds another layer of motivation.”
Similar to being passionate about the type of business one may be starting, Spencer emphasized that he gains additional motivation from the positive impact his business has on his customers.
Spencer proclaimed, “From research and peer communications, to grant applications and job search and candidate recruitment, we want Coalesce to be the central hub where research lives. We want Coalesce to open more doors of opportunity for young researchers and minimize missed opportunities. That’s important to us. At the core, it’s really what drives us.”
“Take advantage of your environment.”
Ask yourself, what resources are available to help my business? Some states offer grants, incentives and other forms of support to startups. Some cities have organizations with the primary goal of helping entrepreneurs launch businesses. Some areas, especially those with Colleges and Universities, have heavy concentrations of certain types of talent that may benefit your business.
Spencer realized that as a student, he was surrounded by valuable resources that he could easily leverage, including:
Talented students with similar interests
Free money in the form of grants
Unique research opportunities
The fact that he is physically among his student and professor users
“Time management is huge”
Spencer said, “I know it’s a cliché, especially for college students, and even more so for students that are also working, but learning to manage your time is critically important. The first thing is to recognize your own most productive times. Some people are most productive in the morning and lose steam later on. Others take a while to get going and hit peak production mid-day. And still others prefer to work at night. Know when your most productive times are and set your priorities and schedule so they are properly aligned with your performance levels. As you prioritize, continually questioning why you are doing something is a good way to identify the most meaningful work.”
Spencer also mentioned that the “less productive” times are not excuses to slack off. They are good times to schedule simpler tasks that may require less mental focus and critical thinking. (i.e. responding to emails or updating a balance sheet).
“Do what’s necessary to stay strong mentally and physically”
According to Spencer, “Hearing someone hammer on the faults of your business that you would rather suppress (mistakenly), can make the startup process very taxing on an individual. You have to be able to pick yourself up and maintain your mental health.
Y Combinator makes a point of this to their Founders and I completely agree: take care of your body, eat well, exercise and get plenty of sleep.
Spencer also talked about removing fear by adopting a ‘no regrets’ mindset. He believes that failures aren’t failures if you learn from them and move past them.
Some people go to work each day because they “have to” in order to make a living and pay their bills. These people are primarily motivated by fear and a sense of obligation. Others go to work because they are driven to do something meaningful and achieve specific goals. They are motivated by the desire to succeed and a sense of accomplishment. It’s not hard to guess which group is more likely to succeed.
“You are the average of the five people you most associate with, so pay attention to who you associate with,” stated Spencer.
“Have a clear vision and set goals”
It is impossible to achieve goals if you don’t have any. It’s impossible to reach a destination if you’re not aware of where you’re trying to get.
Spencer expressed a similar idea when he said, “Get clear about what you’re trying to accomplish. Start with the broader, ultimate end goal and then map backwards and add in smaller, more specific goals that serve as benchmarks that guide you towards that final goal.”
In fact, Spencer told me he keeps three to-do lists and a calendar on his person at all times, stating, “The more on paper, the less clutter in your head.”
“Enjoy the journey”
Starting up and growing a successful business is indeed a journey – and it’s usually a long, difficult path with many obstacles along the way. Take some time to look around and soak in specific moments, celebrate small wins and appreciate exactly where you are right now.
Spencer elaborated by saying, “It is important to find fulfillment in your work. In the early stages, you are building yourself as much as your building a company. Make sure it’s being built on a solid foundation.”
The entrepreneurial state-of-mind
Spencer offered up a lot of different and inspiring ideas, but I came away thinking that everything he said stemmed from that successful mindset that all effective entrepreneurs seem to possess. It’s a unique combination of passion, confidence and determination – but whatever it is – it’s powerful.
Launched in 2017 at the University of Connecticut, Coalesce is the first comprehensive scientific database of its kind. Coalesce enables students and professors to search and review snapshots of research labs around the country. Coalesce also increases lab productivity through digital lab workspaces and maximizes student enrollment with a streamlined application process. Their ultimate objective is to leverage Internet technology to connect the global scientific community.
If that’s not ambitious enough, Spencer hinted he would like to leverage his growing network of research groups to engage commercial entities for contract projects and more effective talent recruitment.
Good luck Spencer!
You can check out Coalesce here: coalescelabs.com
Advisors, advocates, and investors are invited to connect with Spencer directly – he welcomes the opportunity to speak with you.
Robin Salter is currently the CMO of KWIPPED, an online B2B equipment marketplace that connects businesses that need to rent or lease hard-to-find specialty equipment with a global network of equipment suppliers. Robin has 20+ years of marketing and advertising experience including 10 years as a freelance copywriter supporting major brands including: Bank of America, GEICO, Capital One, Disneyland, New York Life Insurance Company and many others.