08 Jan Q&A: The Geek In Residence Helping Startups Bloom
G. Nagesh Rao is the Chief Technologist at the United States Small Business Administration, but his business card reads Geek In Residence. Along with boosting entrepreneurship at the SBA and in partnership with other federal agencies, he’s an advisor for a host of entrepreneurship-related groups including Village Capital and LAUNCH.
Speakerbox: How would you describe your work at SBA?
Rao: Fun, exhilarating, and amazing. I get to work with awesome individuals whom truly believe in the power of small business enterprise and entrepreneurship as pathways towards economic success and prosperity for the country.
Speakerbox: How did you end up in this role?
Rao: A funny thing happened on the way to the forum. I was working on some startup stuff and advising high net worth individuals in the valley on IP and technology readiness when a colleague of mine from the Start Up America days had suggested I throw my hat in the ring for a position at SBA advising on innovation, technology, and policy decision making. I had prior experience in government service and had worked for Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) funded companies in the past, so it made sense for me to see if I could help move the needle at SBA’s Office of Investment and Innovation as it related to efforts around SBIR and Accelerators.
Speakerbox: What kind of companies do you work with, what interactions do you have with startups and similar-sized companies?
Rao: A lot of interaction. They’re all bleeding edge types. We are talking next-generation science and technology. I also get the chance to connect with folks whom have moved on past SBIR funding and have gone on to become a big deal. One of my favorite innovation heroes with whom I have developed a bond since he became a AAAS-Lemelson Invention Ambassador, is Dr. Erik Fossum (I serve on the advisory board of the consortium). Erik was a SBIR awardee via his company Photobit Corporation, where he invented CMOS Pixel. Basically, the mini camera that adorns every mobile phone device known to mankind! Yes, Erik is partially responsible for unleashing the selfie, I also let Steve Sasson know that he bears responsibility too. Another AAAS-Lemelson Invention Ambassador who invented the digital camera when he was at Kodak. Erik just received the QE prize.
Speakerbox: What sort of tech trends have you seen develop in terms of who comes to the SBA, and goes on to success?
Rao: A lot. our programmatic efforts across the agency have helped a number of companies emerge over the years, be it Costco, Apple, FedEx, UnderArmour, etc. SBA is truly a gem in the federal government, and we tend to fight above our weight class.
Speakerbox: What do you see in the pipeline now in terms of tech and business trends to know?
Rao: Anything relating to data and hard science. I am seeing serious advances in Robotics, Agro-Tech, Life Sciences, Energy Solutions; the real R&D science drive. Hard sciences. That’s where it’s at.
Speakerbox: What advice would you give a company that wants to get involved with the SBA? What do you wish they knew before they came to you?
Rao: Be tenacious. Have your ducks in a row. Learn from your mistakes. And, don’t give it up.