Courtney Gras is a graduate of the University of Akron and was recently named by Forbes Magazine as one of their “30 Under 30” and a “Top 40 Under 40 in Cleantech” by Midwest Energy and by Crain’s Cleveland as one of their “Twenty in their 20s.” She’s also the president of Akron-based Launch League and the co-founder of Design Flux Technologies. In May 2017, she’ll take the stage at TEDx Budapest.
by Chris Horne
It may seem strange to ask someone so young who has already achieved so much what she’d do differently if she could do it over. But that’s what makes Courtney Gras the perfect person to ask. Of course, she’s crazy smart — not only did she work at NASA as a power systems engineer but she left that to launch a clean energy startup whose name, Design Flux Technologies, sounds like something from “Back to the Future,” which is deep as my understanding of science goes. That’s all to point out that she’s the kind of person who learns quickly from her missteps, few as they may be. Now we get to reap the benefits of all that hard-won business knowledge with a little Q&A.
Chris: What is something you wish you knew before you got started?
Courtney: That we know more than we think we know. We put a lot of faith in other people — mentors, advisors, etc — and take people’s advice because we feel like we don’t know what we’re doing. In reality, for us [Design Flux], nobody understood our product and our market better than us, so even though we had a lack of experience, we should have trusted our gut and made our own decisions much earlier. Not doing this right originally led us into some dead ends and a lot of wasted time/headache.
We also wish we would have known about some of the law firms in the areas that offer startup packages for entrepreneurs. Essentially, they’ll give you a deep discount and defer payment until you’re funded. Also wish we would have taken our operating agreement more seriously. When issues with our management team came up, we’ve had more pain from dealing with a “boilerplate” agreement than if we’d put time into it originally.
Chris: Looking back, what are you glad you didn’t know?
Courtney: How long it would take. If somebody would have told me originally that this was going to take six years, I might not I have done it. Even though this has been a long journey for us, we’ve learned so much along the way, made fantastic connections, traveled, and acquired so many unique experiences that I never would trade it for anything. Ignorance is bliss. I don’t want to know how much longer it’s going to take us either — the unknown is the fun in it all. This is an adventure!
Chris: What is something you think you did the right way from the start?
Courtney: We stayed in Akron. We didn’t jump ship and hightail it for the coast. Why? We quickly found out that all that great VC money in the Valley dried up for cleantech about the same time we would have been chasing it — too many VCs got burned on cleantech companies originally, so they’re much more hesitant now. I’m glad that we put our faith in our team, our network and our technology rather than chasing the “startup” lifestyle. It’s affordable for us to be here. We have access to the talent we need, and we have a great network of people who know us and support us. Also, the world is more more virtual these days — we can get access to mentors and companies out-of-state quite easily while enjoying the low cost of living in Northeast Ohio.
The Devil Strip’s small business and entrepreneur section is possible thanks to the support of The Fund for Our Economic Future and the Burton D. Morgan Foundation. You can learn more about being an Akron entrepreneur by visiting akronisforentrepreneurs.org