April 5, 2022 BACK
Presenting This Month:
Seatrec, Yi Chao
Featured in this issue:
Sashee Chandran, Founder & CEO at Tea Drops
Seatrec, with Yi Chao
Susan Marki, Pasadena Angels' member profile
This month we have two presenters and one update. Below is a brief summary of the companies presenting on Wednesday. Then you'll find a profile of a founder (Sahsee Chandran), a maritime platform/energy company (Seatrec), and a member of the Pasadena Angels, Susan Marki.
Startups Presenting Wednesday, April 6th
COMPANY: Elemeno Health
Presenter: Arup Roy-Burman, M.D.
Elemeno is a B2B SaaS that transforms team-specific practices into concise, actionable guides delivered just-in-time at the point of need. A playbook in your pocket, specific to your own team, for your business priorities. EH helps healthcare institutions drive frontline adoption of priority practices at scale, improving consistency and outcomes.
Presenter: Wayne Rickard
Terecircuits has developed assembly techniques that allow microLED panels to be built up to 10,000x faster with 10x greater accuracy than today's best practices.
Company Updates, Wednesday, April 6th
Presenter: Yi Chao
With patented technology, Seatrec designs and sells proprietary power generation systems that convert temperature differences into electricity. The third party products using a Seatrec power system are more capable, cost-effective, and environmentally friendly. With equity free grants from government and family foundations, Seatrec will deliver next generation power stations for charging of underwater drones without costly manned ship operations.
Founder Profile - Sashee Chandran, Founder & CEO at Tea Drops
If you’ve spent some time in a kitchen, which Sashee Chandran definitely has, then you know that there are many combinations of ingredients that don’t work. In other words, there are many ways to ruin a recipe, and relatively few ways in which they succeed. And yet, there are many different successful recipes, and they all seem to have some logic to them.
Entrepreneurs are similar in that you can look at their qualities and experiences and think: no wonder this person is crushing it. And yet, there are many different combinations of qualities that seem to work. Some are scientists trying to commercialize their expertise, and others are derivatives traders with a love for learning and helping.
Sashee Chandran’s combination dates back to before she was born. Her parents were both immigrants who came to the U.S. to escape hardship and danger. Seeking a better life, each one navigated their way to UCLA. In anticipation of a Back to the Future plotline, they met at a school dance and eventually married and had two children.
Despite finishing near the top of his MBA class from the Anderson school, her father had to start on the sales floor of a department store and work his way up. Her mom was an accountant at J. Paul Getty. But, neither one of them was content with their day jobs. Both cultivated side hustles. Her father dabbled in real estate, eventually buying income property, and her mother sold Capodimonte at swap meets, where Sashee experienced selling and negotiation first hand.
In the fifth grade, Sashee was retailing jewelry to classmates. In middle school, it was CDs. There was always something on the side.
Her parents’ vigilant search for opportunities uncovered a hidden gem of a home in Malibu, which enabled her to attend Malibu High School. Later, a layoff would result in them having to sell the home and downsize to a modest apartment. It was humbling. She learned to adapt and not to get too attached to things or plans. Life has ups and downs, and you have to be able to cope with them. She also learned to save and have a fallback plan.
At UC Irvine, she studied Economics and Management, and she spent a year at the London School of Economics. After graduating she worked at a market research firm, but the financial crisis cut that short. So, she printed business cards and marketed herself as a one-woman market research firm to small businesses. I think it takes some chutzpah as a 22-year-old to pitch to businesses that you can help them understand their customers better, but she landed 3-4 clients and was making ends meet for a year and a half.
That's when she got noticed by a former colleague who had moved on to eBay. She got an interview and an offer to relocate to the Bay Area to join eBay’s leadership training program. She spent six months in different departments within Marketing. Five years later, she had a thriving career at eBay, and probably would have stayed for the long haul if it wasn’t for that indefatigable need to always be hustling.
Who doesn’t love cookies? Nobody. And, Cold Stone is a fun treat. Sashee’s side hustle was to apply the concept of Cold Stone, with its infinite combination of mix-ins, to the domain of cookies. She had a professional portable convection oven, and she was traveling on weekends to events to set up a booth and make custom cookies.
But - here’s the kicker - even her side hustle had a side hustle. Sashee inherited a love and appreciation for all things related to tea. But she wondered why tea had to be such a chore, especially in our instant gratification world. There should be a capsule that you can drop into hot water - like a bath bomb - and let it dissolve into the perfect cup of tea. But, she searched and searched, and nothing like that existed. She bought an industrial grinder and experimented with recipes, finally developing a recipe she liked.
Then one day, as always happens in stories like these, she was packing her oven to head out to an event where it was going to be 98 degrees, and she knew that cookies wouldn’t sell. But, she had 50-60 “tea bombs” in ziplock bags, so she took them along. She hand-made a sign that read “Tea Drops,” and they all sold quickly. Customers told her what a great concept it was. You didn’t need to be a market research expert to listen to what the market was telling her… but it didn’t hurt.
It’s six years later, and she just got her first patent. Early on, a SCORE mentor encouraged her to file for a utility patent, so she Googled how to do it and wrote her own. She is now a long way from when she started making tea drops in her kitchen and packaging them in her garage. She’s a long way from going door-to-door and landing 500 accounts one at a time. Now she’s got about a dozen employees and 2,500 retail clients, but most of her business is direct-to-consumer online, where the Tea Drops website has a sizable product line based on a variety of recipes.
Sashee is comfortable experimenting with different recipes, and that quality is part of her personal recipe, along with a big dollop of drive and hustle, a love for tea, a willingness to start at the bottom and do the labor required to make things happen. It doesn’t hurt to have a lot of experience listening to and analyzing customers, either.
Company Profile - Seatrec (and Yi Chao)
Ocean Tech is a wave that’s just starting to build. Even a few years ago, few used the phrase. Now as momentum is starting to build, it might be too late to catch the wave by jumping in now. So, it’s fortunate for Seatrec that CEO Yi Chao already put in decades of work toward building a Blue Economy. He earned his Ph.D. from Princeton in 1990 with a major in Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences and spent the last three decades developing technology at JPL, teaching at UCLA and commercializing that technology with Seatrec.
The technology that he pioneered at JPL uses thermal gradients in the ocean to generate energy for battery recharging. Hence the name: Seatrec (Sea + thermal + recharging). Yi worked at JPL until 2012. By that time, the technology had been proven in the lab and in the ocean.
At that point, Yi assessed the technology and himself, and he determined two things. The technology was ready to go to work in the real world, and he was ready for a change. Being a scientist and working for the government can be rewarding, but after two decades, Yi wanted a new challenge.
But, the technology belonged to JPL, so Yi spent some time with lawyers working out how to license it. In 2015 he started to raise money. Breakout Labs(created by the Thiel Foundation) was an early source of funding, and then an SBIR grant provided funding. In 2016 Seatrec incorporated and soon after hired its first employee. In 2017, the Eric and Wendy Schmidt Foundation provided some funding. So did friends and family. Commercialization of brand new maritime technology gets expensive, especially testing. This isn’t software. You have to build it and rent a ship and haul it out to the ocean, and that’s only after you build a huge tank to test it on land.
So, in 2019, Seatrec went in search of more funding. Without any revenue, VCs were unlikely, but with a founder who has zero successful exits, VCs weren’t even a remote possibility. Existing oceanic industries weren’t interested in proving a new technology - too risky. In fact, that had been the original business plan: to license the energy generating technology to the maritime industry. But, they were used to purchasing products, not developing nascent technologies. This, on the other hand, was a classic Zero-to-One situation, creating a whole new field from scratch, and existing companies were not sure where to start with it.
So, Yi approached the Pasadena Angels in 2019 and got a very warm reception. 20 Angels signed on right away, with another handful joining shortly thereafter, making it one of the most subscribed investments to date.
Just before COVID disrupted everything, Seatrec began generating revenue in early 2020. Expanding that revenue stream ran headlong into the supply chain crisis, which slowed the delivery of components. So, Seatrec’s response has been to restructure to reduce bottlenecks, becoming less reliant on suppliers and insourcing more fabrication. Moving to Vista, CA in the San Diego area has helped by placing them in the epicenter of the “Blue Tech” industry.
The pivot came in 2021. Seatrec is based on a revolutionary new clean energy source, but offering that to the world is not enough. It’s like offering electric batteries to the world’s automobile manufacturers in 1995. What would they do with batteries? Instead, Seatrec’s second generation is a platform for maritime operation. The platform includes its own self-contained power generation, and it can be equipped with whatever sensors and equipment customers need.
Yi describes it like the difference between selling batteries and making Teslas. Seatrec could have made energy systems for the ocean, but companies were slow to take up the new energy source, unsure how to apply it or integrate it into their operations. Now Seatrec aims to become the Tesla of the oceans, creating a self-powered platform that can traverse the oceans.
This summer Seatrec plans to launch its new second generation product and begin a focus on sales. Already they have $300K in presales, and last month they announced a partnership with Nippon Foundation-GEBCO Seabed 2030 Project to map the seafloor of the most remote part of the world’s oceans. “Project NEMO” aims to map the part of the seafloor farthest from any land - more than 1,600 miles from the closest dry land.
The “Ocean Tech” wave is building, and Seatrec is out front and paddling hard.
Beware the Tax Consequences of the Convertible Note
TCA has the following longer article on their website
"Convertible Notes: Advantages & Disadvantages":
Susan Marki is Listening
Susan Marki’s career started on Wall Street after she earned her degree from Dartmouth College, but not because of a family tradition or a high society upbringing. Quite the opposite. Her parents were well educated, but chose a life of modesty and service. Her father was a pastor in Hamilton, New York, the beautiful upstate home of Colgate University. There he developed a diverse ministry where all were welcome. College professors, traveling carnival workers, a 90-year-old hermit living in the one room remaining in his otherwise-burned-out home, the students living next door at the football fraternity, strangers who needed a meal or a bed - they were all welcome at the parsonage. Her childhood home was always bustling, and Susan had a front row seat to both the great joys and traumas of this community. Her Dad once commanded her to lock herself in her bedroom to protect against a particularly dangerous parishioner in crisis. She also had two marriage proposals before she was twelve. Her childhood environment was rich in the human experience.
It was also intellectually and artistically stimulating. The schools were good and the libraries full. Her piano teacher was a world-class concert pianist teaching at Colgate. The one thing her life didn’t have was money. And, Susan noticed. She knew what she was going to do: NOT BE POOR.
Hence: Dartmouth and Wall St. She got to Citibank as an analyst in market research and worked like a printing press to get into the training program for trading. Without an MBA she was repeatedly told it was a no go. Days after she got her acceptance to Harvard Business School, the head of the trading floor told her to “Go do the options.” Not even sure what it meant to “go do the options,” she knew she wanted it more than the MBA. She raced over to the options trader Jack and his right hand man Gordon. “I’m here to help,” she offered. Jack took one look at her and said, “I don’t need this. I’m out,” and he moved his seat. Huh. Whatever. She approached Gordon: “OK, what do we do now?” Gordon replied, “I’m going with Jack,” and moved his seat. Susan became the head of the option’s desk before she even officially started as the assistant. She gave herself a whirlwind education reading everything there was on the subject. When she told the big boss that she had made her first trade, he said only, “That’s your job.” She loved every minute of the years she traded options in NY.
In 1990 Susan married Fred, who was then based in Switzerland. Shortly afterwards, they both moved to London, got jobs, and had their three children - Pasha, Russell and Nora. After nearly a decade there and roles at Credit Suisse and Bankers Trust, Susan and the family moved back to New York. At that point, Susan wanted work that matched her lifestyle. She put out the word that she wanted to use her Excel skills, and The Derivatives Research Group, LLC was born.
Life then presented Fred with the chance to work in Southern California, so Susan found herself in Pasadena needing to start her career all over again. Once again, she cracked open the books. First she studied to become a Chartered Financial Analyst. Then she became a Certified Financial Planner, an Enrolled Agent and a Certified Divorce Financial Analyst. She opened Marki Financial Services, LLC eleven years ago and has had the great good fortune to work with people through many different aspects of their financial lives.
A chance encounter with a fellow Dartmouth alum working at the Art Center College of Design got her the unexpected opportunity to teach entrepreneurship in the Graduate Department of Industrial Design there. It was time to get smart again… A Meetup at Idealab introduced her to angel investing. Along with books and webinars she thought that the Pasadena Angels would help her become a better Entrepreneurship instructor, which it certainly has. The education has been expensive, so far, but The Pasadena Angels has truly lived up to its motto. It has been much more about the people than the money to Susan.
Susan has achieved her childhood goal. She is most certainly not poor in any regard. Being “smart and kind” are her goals now, moving full-circle back to the goals and values of that parsonage in Hamilton New York.
March '22: Yezin Taha, Spine Align and Jamie Bennett
February: Phoenix Gonzalez, Repurpose and Marcus Filipovich
January: Ksenia Yudina, BeTheBeast and Larry Uhl
November '21: Roy LaManna, TotSquad and John Keatley
October: Dr. Chorom Pak of LynxBio and former president Al Schneider
September: Luk Network, Brandon Cavalier and Nancy Dandridge
July: Electrum, Jose Gomez and Julie Pantiskas
June: Ready, Set, Food, Dr. Mirianas Chachisvilis and Joseph Pitruzzelli
May: MagicLinks, Christopher Hussain and Janice Orlando
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We hope you enjoyed this edition of the Pasadena Angels Monthly Newsletter. Any suggestions for future pieces, questions or comments? Please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Dave de Csepel
Chairman, Pasadena Angels