Kevin O’Keeffe, who earned his bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering at University College Cork in Ireland and worked in industry for a year before he joined ESTEEM’s Class of 2015, gained a broad business understanding and his dream job from the program. O’Keeffe is engineering lead for Slipstream, a startup company focused on sustainable power generation and storage.
The company’s Chief Financial Officer, serial entrepreneur Jim Larkin, also sits on the board at EmNet, the company that sponsored O’Keeffe’s ESTEEM capstone project, which involved a sensor for measuring chemical contaminants in water.
“The technology is totally different from what I did my thesis in, but through the thesis I gained the entrepreneurial skills I needed to do this,” says O’Keeffe, who joined the firm when he graduated. “Jim and I liked working with each other. We’re making great progress.”
O’Keeffe brings his ESTEEM expertise to keep in close touch with the market as the product develops.
“The biggest takeaway for me was learning how it’s possible to bootstrap a company and learning about customer-focused design, and prototyping. The tool I use every day when I’m working in my startup is the business model canvass and customer validation,” he says, adding that three beta customers are testing the units.
“Based on their feedback we’re constantly tweaking the design, making it better. It means we’re not going to spend a lot of money up front and put a product out on the market that’s going to be a flop. I didn’t have a good concept of that before I came to ESTEEM. It’s straightforward to me now.”
ESTEEM also prepared O’Keeffe for dealing with intellectual property issues, vendor relationships, negotiations, and even branding as the company shifts its identity to a greener focus on sustainable engineering.
“The intellectual property law we studied and the understanding of structuring agreements around intellectual property – who owns what, how you come to arrangements and reach partnership agreements around intellectual property – is so important,” he says. “Being able to broker deals and manage relationships is really important to a startup. We have to rely on partners, vendors and suppliers to help us grow and succeed.”