2020 Most Disruptive MBA Startups: Soterias, HEC Paris


MBA Program: HEC Paris

Industry: Water Technology

Founding Student Name(s): Andrew Quinn, CEO and Paul Sayar, COO

Brief Description of Solution: A multi-parameter water quality sensor that is more powerful than market alternatives and comes at a lower Total Cost of Ownership

Funding Dollars: Our technology has received 1.4 million euros in academic grant funding; we are set to launch our initial round of company fundraising later this year.

What led you to launch this venture? In the fall of 2019, I led a project focused on developing a business case for the Soterias technology. After several months of market analysis, conversation with users of current technology, meetings with corporate leaders in the industry, and guidance from advisors, it became clear to me that the Soterias technology was a truly innovative solution with massive market potential.

The biggest “green light” in moving forward from an academic project to a startup was the clear and obvious interest from corporate leaders. Upon hearing about the details of what our technology could do, invitations to visit corporate offices quickly followed.

What has been your biggest accomplishment so far with venture? In February 2020, we were invited to present our technology to senior management (including the CEO) of an international firm that has expressed interest in partnering with us. We will be sending them a prototype for their own internal testing later this summer in hopes that a formal partnership will follow shortly thereafter.

How has your MBA program helped you further this startup venture? The HEC Entrepreneurship program connected me with the scientists who developed the sensor technology and provided mentorship as my team developed a business case throughout the fall term. Our mentor was a successful entrepreneur with a wealth of experience to offer as we struggled through the early details of how to shape the company.

In the aftermath of our initial business case, my program provided several resources to help me connect with additional advisors, startup competitions, and incubators.

What founder or entrepreneur inspired you to start your own entrepreneurial journey? How did he or she prove motivational to you? I’ve always admired Marissa Mayer, who was one of the first Google employees and went on to become the CEO of Yahoo!

During my undergraduate years, I watched an interview in which she advised college graduates entering the job market to follow two rules:

  • Work with the smartest people you can find
  • Take on tasks you’re not ready for

I’ve tried to keep those guidelines in mind, and they have served me well.

Which MBA class has been most valuable in building your startup and what was the biggest lesson you gained from it? I loved my Organizational Behavior class taught by Professor Daniel Newark. It provided helpful insights into the reality that—regardless of how structured and rational some aspects of business tend to be—human beings are, in many cases, anything but that.

What professor made a significant contribution to your plans and why? Michel Safars, the head of HEC’s Entrepreneurship program, gave me a lot of guidance in how to operate once I realized that I wanted to create a startup out of the project that started as an academic exercise in his class. As an entrepreneur himself, Professor Safars was able to offer a perspective based in real world experience, not just academic theory.

How did the pandemic impact your startup plans?

It was a major test of our team’s ability to maneuver in an agile fashion. Once France began to shut down, our team had to completely re-arrange our schedule for the upcoming moths. We had planned a major round of product testing beginning in May, but our testing facilities were closed down on a moment’s notice.

While country-wide closures made it impossible to avoid delays to our timeline, we were quite effective in adjusting our way of working while we were all stuck at home throughout April and May. We have made up ground now that things are up and running again.

What is your long-term goal with your startup? To reduce water waste by providing cost effective ways to monitor drinking water throughout its cycle.


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