UD grad and founder of multiple firms to provide education in entrepreneurship and resources for startups
When Sean Wang came to the United States in 1985, currency exchange restrictions in China limited him to exchange a maximum of $50 U.S. from Chinese Yuan.
After spending $30 his first night in New York, the young Ph.D. student went to the bus station to buy a ticket to Delaware. He was $2.50 short but fortunate enough to cross paths in the station with another University of Delaware grad student from China who made up the difference.
Now a successful entrepreneur who has launched more than a dozen tech and medical device startups, Wang knows a lot more about finances than merely how to get a short-term loan to buy food until his funding came through. And he is dedicated to giving back to the country and the community where he got his start.
The new venture will focus on photonic-based medicine (PBM), which involves the use of optical techniques for medical diagnosis and therapy. He will also take on a new role as entrepreneur in residence, which will enable him to share his vast knowledge of technology innovations, business development, marketing, sales, mergers and acquisitions, and other topics in entrepreneurship with students and faculty.
“As entrepreneur in residence, Dr. Wang will meet regularly with students in our Vertically Integrated Projects [VIP] program and the new ECE Design & Entrepreneurialism course sequence,” said department chair Kenneth Barner. “This brings a new partnership and dimension to these programs and provides students with invaluable insights from a proven, successful entrepreneur.”
UDaily caught up with Wang at his company’s headquarters in Newark, Del., to ask him about his plans and philosophies.
You hold 40 U.S. and international patents and have developed many technologies and products. Which one are you most excited about and why?
“See-Through” Raman, which was developed as a team effort and commercialized several months ago, can identify and measure substances through an opaque barrier such as paper, plastic, cloth, bio-tissue, or bone. This invention, which is basically like an X-ray but delivers a molecular fingerprint rather than just a structural image, has extensive applications ranging from material identification and measurement to non-invasive diagnosis of breast cancer and bone disease.
What is your startup philosophy?
I’m a practitioner, so I don’t know if I actually have a philosophy. Entrepreneurship is neither an art nor a science — it’s a practice. To start and plan, I use the VIP rule: vision, insight, and plan. For founders and management, it’s the PHD rule: passion, humility, and diligence.
What was the first company you started? Was it a success? If not, what lessons did you learn that you incorporated into your next venture?
My first venture, an optical instrument company, was not successful. Just as the three things in real estate are “location, location, location,” in a startup, it’s “customer, customer, customer.” The most important thing is finding the right customers who are willing to buy your product or service and pay for it.
What is the most important piece of advice you got when starting out?
There are four critical questions that anyone considering a startup needs to ask:
1. Who are your ideal customers?
2. What do they want or need?
3. What can you offer — that is, what is your solution to their problem?
4. What is your “because” — for example, because it’s innovative, because I have the right experience, because I can offer this at a lower cost, and so on.
If you can answer these four questions, you’re in business.
What are your plans for the new partnership?
To start, I’ll probably spend two days a month in residence and see where that leads. But I don’t have an actual plan — I believe in exploring and seeing how things evolve. The more I interact with the students and faculty, the clearer the path forward will be. I do know that I’ll be working with ECE on their capstone and VIP programs.
What do you see as the potential benefits of the partnership?
There are many ways you can be successful in business, but there are certain things that you have to do right. University students spend plenty of time in the classroom learning the principles of subjects like physics, chemistry, and math, but they don’t get much training in leadership and practical issues like identifying markets and financing new ventures. I hope to share my experiences with them so that they can learn from my failures and successes. I wish I’d had that type of resource when I was starting out.
How did your experience as a student at UD play into the career direction you took?
At UD, I was given the freedom to explore in the lab and the opportunity to take courses that had nothing to do with engineering but offered me diverse experiences. All of that laid the foundation for me to be an entrepreneur.
UD is a great school — if you want to learn, there are great resources here. If you want to do research, there are great professors to do it with. My advice to students getting ready for college: choose a school that gives you the chance to explore and grow.
About Sean Wang
Sean Wang earned his doctoral degree in electrical engineering at the University of Delaware in 1992. Since then, he has launched, incubated, and financed more than a dozen companies, most of them based on photonics, or the generation, manipulation, and detection of light.
Wang’s honors include the 2014 Innovator of the Year Award from the Delaware BioScience Association, the Presidential Citation for Outstanding Achievement from UD, and the Outstanding Alumni Award from the UD Engineering Alumni Association. He also received the Entrepreneurial Innovation Award during ECE’s 125th anniversary celebration in May 2017.
B&W TEK produces analytical instrumentation with a focus on mobile spectroscopy solutions. The company is known for miniaturizing large spectroscopy equipment for both out-of-lab and in-lab use.
Their products include NanoRam, which is used by pharmaceutical companies to verify the composition of materials coming into their warehouses, and TacticID, which helps law enforcement agencies, hazmat teams, and EMTs identify narcotics, toxic chemicals, explosives, and other substances of interest.
Wang also co-founded and serves as chairman of the board of a Delaware-based medical device company called Litecure, which will also be involved in the PBM Institute at the STAR Campus.