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Getting rid of innovation and building a fast-growing company

by Ana Lopez
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When he started his master’s degree in computer science at George Washington University, Amit Kapoor didn’t quite believe in the Silicon Valley dreams of his classmates. He sought his own path and when the terrorist attacks on 9/11 happened, he found it.

Amit noticed that the equipment many first responders used to protect themselves actually made their job more difficult. It was often heavy, unwieldy and overly complicated. Before graduating, Amit founded First Line Technology to import better equipment from European manufacturers and sell it to first responders in the military, municipalities and the newly created Department of Homeland Security.

Reselling equipment to the US market was a good first step, but Amit also wanted to innovate. The problem? Technological innovation can be a costly and time-consuming process, often with more misses than hits. As a young company, First Line could not afford the risk, at least not without millions of outside financing, that would jeopardize the company’s pragmatic mission.

“Part of the business that really helps us grow strategically very quickly is finding unique technologies from university labs or government labs,” Amit explains.

While First Line made products designed entirely to its own design, Amit employed a strategy that reduced the need for costly and time-consuming trial-and-error innovation: He actively sought out the ideas of others, usually academics. “Part of the business that really helps us grow strategically very quickly is finding unique technologies from university labs or government labs,” he explained to CEOminutes. “They are very good at innovation, but they do a mediocre job at commercialization. That is where we excel.”

Kapoor and his team travel to trade shows, conferences and research symposia to discover innovative opportunities. “I’m a patent nerd, so I’ll read the US Patent and Trademark Office website and the Federal Register to see what’s being awarded. I also google a lot for patents and what people post for patent applications in our space. Using that information, First Line builds a relationship with the original researchers to better understand the use cases and commercial prospects of their discoveries. If there is a match, the company licenses these technologies and even finds ways to combine them with internal or third-party technologies to develop a final product. They then present a prototype to first responders to evaluate. If it jumps all these hurdles, they put it into production.

One of the products that Amit is particularly proud of is the company’s growing line of sanitizing products, specifically products designed to protect first responders on the front lines of the opioid epidemic. “One of our technologies that we license is called Dahlgren Decon. It’s a liquid you can spray on yourself that actually destroys fentanyl and makes it safe. First responders can treat a patient with an overdose or raid a drug lab without putting themselves in danger. I call it Tide plus OxiClean,” he jokes. However, the usefulness of the products is no laughing matter. According to the National Safety Council, synthetic opioids like fentanyl were responsible for 33,725 preventable deaths in 2019. “Before Covid took off, fentanyl was a big problem in the country. We were distracted by what happened with Covid, but fentanyl didn’t go away.” Indeed, by 2021, the CDC reports, the number of deaths will reach more than 71,000.

For Amit, mission is central to what he and his team do. It inspires by being a North Star helping them through tough times and making weighty decisions. But mission, no matter how worthy, doesn’t make a business. Amit understood early on that the real challenge is fulfilling that mission.

Do you have a great idea that could benefit from outside expertise? Perhaps you should take a look at the kind of strategic partnerships that First Line Technology thrives on. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Entrepreneurs don’t have to be experts in everything. But they must make the right connections to complete their mission.

To learn more about Amit’s story and how other entrepreneurs have built high-growth companies, Register for free How I did it monthly video series.

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