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Tuesday, July 5, 2011

CEO: Don’t give up after one failure, ‘get over it’

As a mechanical engineering major at MIT, Frank van Mierlo found his strategy to success: keeping himself surrounded by geniuses.

“When I arrived at MIT, I quickly figured out most people were smarter than me,” van Mierlo said. “It was difficult for me to do my problem sets, so my solution was to organize a study group.”

To ply the talent, he made sure there was a fully stocked fridge and plenty of beverages.

“I became really good at picking out the good students,” he said. “And I always aced my problem sets. That stayed with me for the rest of my life.”
Van Mierlo co-founded Bluefin Robotics Corp. in 1997 with a fraternity brother, then sold it in 2005 and made a windfall that gave him a buffer to be selective about his next project.
“I knew I wanted to work in energy,” he said. “I wanted to do something that was useful.”
He came upon Ely Sachs, an MIT professor working on low-cost fabrication methods to increase the efficiency of solar cells. He volunteered to work for Sachs for free for a year.

Twenty Power Point presentations and several months later, they had raised more than $12 million from venture capitalists. The duo are co-founders of 1366 Technologies, with van Mierlo the CEO.
Now 51, the casually clad, ebullient van Mierlo usually shows up to work at his Lexington office around 7:30 a.m. — and many of his employees are usually already hard at work. Some are engineers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and all were carefully selected by van Mierlo. Each gets an equity stake, perhaps part of the reason most of them are still there 12 hours later at 7:30 p.m.
This is van Mierlo’s highest stakes study group yet and he has strong feelings about comparisons to beleaguered Evergreen Solar, which also sprang from technology developed by Sachs.
“To me, it’s like, ‘get over it.’ This is the price you pay for having an innovative society,” he said. “The first satellites we sent up to space failed. But we didn’t give up. We’re really getting close. For every failure, we have an American success story.”
How Venture Capital Works Pt. 1

Pt. 2

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