From Corporate Entrepreneur to Founder in a Year

December 19, 2016
Sarah Mauet

Alumni Profile: Adam Tank, Eller MBA ‘15

Adam Tank didn’t necessarily have startups on the mind when he applied for the McGuire Entrepreneurship Program during the first year of his MBA program.  

“I applied for the McGuire Program because I wanted to be more entrepreneurial in nature,” he said. “I wasn’t sure if I wanted to start my own business right away, but I wanted to be more nimble within a big company.”

A year after finishing the McGuire Program, he has managed to do both.

After graduating, he took a prestigious position with General Electric to work on innovative solutions to global water distribution challenges, and six months in, he won a GE-wide innovation competition that awarded him support to launch his own startup.

“It’s incredible. I’m very lucky to be here,” he said.

“I would not have won the competition at GE without having gone through the McGuire Program,” he added.

Before enrolling in the full-time Eller MBA program, Tank, who has an undergraduate degree in Microbiology & Molecular Genetics, worked as an engineer at General Mills and Bazzar Foods, a gourmet food retailer in Brazil. After his first year in the MBA program, he was selected to be a Summer Associate in GE’s Experienced Commercial Leadership Program (ECLP) where he helped launch an eCommerce site for GE Water.

During the final year of his MBA program, Tank teamed up with two other MBA candidates in the McGuire Program to develop Co.Host, a platform that created company-specific networks of business travelers and hosts to bring down lodging costs, develop community, and reward employees through incentives. After winning the 2015 McGuire New Venture Competition, Tank accepted the two-year ECLP offer where he worked with GE Water & Process Technologies to apply entrepreneurial principles and software strategies to solving tough water challenges.

“It included everything we did in the McGuire Program,” he said. “Business plans, marketing and sales strategy, and presenting ideas to senior leadership.”

Tank focused on ways to use data and software solutions to help the water division chart a future path for infrastructure that solves some of the tough challenges that municipalities, government agencies, industry and utilities face.

“America’s infrastructure is facing a lot of problems,” he said. “The water infrastructure –  the components that transport water from the water treatment plants to homes and businesses – is old, breaking, leaking and losing a lot of money. The pipes are failing at a significant rate and that will only increase over time.”

On average, 30 percent of all water treated and pumped is lost before it reaches the customer, Tank said. Aging infrastructure is a major problem not only because of the financial and environmental implications, but also because leaks can lead to sinkholes, water main explosions, flooded homes and businesses, and old pipes create problems like in Flint, Michigan where the water is unfit for human consumption, he said. At GE, Tank collaborated with internal stakeholders to strategize and develop software solutions to meet these water distribution challenges.

Half a year into his new position, GE held a company-wide open innovation competition. Tank’s proposal – submersible robotics for industrial pipeline inspection and repair – was selected as one of the top 10 ideas and he was invited to present to the President of GE Ventures in New York City.

“I was chosen as a winner to incubate my idea as a startup,” he said. “I’m still employed by GE for 12 months, but I’m also running a startup. I feel really, really lucky.”

Tank’s winning new venture idea was to create robots that are small enough to fit into existing water pipe entry points, do inspections, and repair small leaks, rust, and corrosion.

“America’s water infrastructure is in terrible shape,” Tank said. “Trillions of gallons of water are lost to leaks each year. We’re trying to solve that with submersible robotics.”

Tank now has one year to launch and run his startup, Industrial Optic, of which he is the majority owner, founder, and CEO. He moved to Silicon Valley this past summer and officially founded his company about four weeks ago.

“The general feel of Silicon Valley is not overrated,” he said. “The culture here is amazing!”

He is now spending long days working on prototypes and building a mini water distribution system, which will enable him to test how to best detect and repair leaks. His robots, still in digital prototype stage, will eventually be about 4-inches in size. He recently hired his first engineer, and Lemnos Labs, a co-investor in his business with GE, is also providing engineering help.

“This is the best way to do it, to learn by jumping in headfirst,” he said. “It’s very exciting. It’s an amazing opportunity. I couldn’t be happier.”