On Wednesday, January 17th, Residents of The Garage gathered together for family dinner and to hear from Patrick Flynn, McCormick ‘15. Patrick is a founder, executive, and investor who spoke with students about his entrepreneurial journey and the lessons he learned from the process of launching a tech startup. He is a co-founder at Hazel Technologies, an AgTech company that develops products to prevent food waste and protect food quality in the global supply chain.
Patrick’s interest in entrepreneurship was sparked in 2013 while he was studying at Northwestern. He had a deal with a local event venue that would pay him $1 for each student who attended concerts at the location. To spread the word across campus, Patrick eventually had 10 student employees and had to develop business plans to promote over 300 events and optimize student attendance numbers.
From there, Patrick joined a NUvention course in the Fall of 2014. It was there that he met the other 4 co-founders of Hazel Technologies, Adam Preslar, PhD ‘16, Aidan Mouat, PhD ‘16, Amy Garber, JD ‘15, and Yuvaraj Kundasi, MS ‘15. Realizing how much food waste occurs in transit from one destination to another, the idea for Hazel’s proprietary technology was born. The food packaging releases anti-fungal ingredients, ensuring fruits and vegetables stay resilient throughout an unpredictable, global supply chain.
To begin their journey, the team went to distributors of produce around the Chicagoland area to conduct customer research. They hoped to learn more about the food distribution process and understand the needs of the packagers and retailers. It was through those conversations that the team recognized their business plan needed to change. Distributors of the product only had the produce for 2-3 days, making the invention unnecessary to that segment of the supply chain. In order to secure interested customers, the team would need to pivot to talking with the suppliers of the produce, or the start of the distribution chain - which proved to be a more successful approach.
After graduation, Patrick moved to California where much of the nation's produce is grown. From there, the company was able to start creating connections with potential customers and began to sell Hazel’s products. Investors became interested in the size of the market and the company’s initial sales, which led to a seed round in 2017. From there, the team rapidly expanded the customer base and team of employees. They raised a Series A to expand in 2018, a Series B in 2019, a Series C in 2021, and in that same year, surpassed 300 B2B customers such as Mission Produce (Nasdaq: AVO) and Sysco (NYSE: SYY).
While that timeline can fit into one sentence full of highlights on paper, in actuality, the team faced numerous challenges along the way. Patrick was eager to share a few key insights with the student founders that he wished he would’ve known when he was in their shoes. First, he advised to not overcomplicate. Every startup should select 3-5 key goals to drive the business and work backwards from there to determine the steps needed to achieve that goal. Next, he emphasized that a startup is still a business. He told Residents that they should focus on unit economics and cash flow more so than funding and team size. Finally, he shared that hiring effectively is crucial and that you should only hire when absolutely necessary.
Patrick emphasized throughout his talk that founders should enter all conversations with a “bias for curiosity and discovery.” Coming from a business development background, he shared how important customer research is to the selling process and overall success of your company.
Students walked away from his lecture with an excitement to speak with potential clients with the intention of learning and improving as a company.