Brandon Bruce, Co-founder of Cirrus Insight led an engaging discussion with Jenna Johns, COO of RDI Technologies and Dr. Graham Taylor, President of T&T Scientific talking about customer development and customer acquisition during a recent Innov865 Happy Hour hosted by UTRF.

Both Johns and Taylor are established entrepreneurs in Knoxville. Each of them are Startup Day veterans having pitched before a panel of investor judges and the greater Knoxville entrepreneurial community in years past.

They were nominated for the 2017 Innov865 Traction Award, presented by UT Federal Credit Union. The award is given to a Startup Day alum who has gained the most momentum over the past few years, and Johns won the award back in September.

RDI Technologies has patented a noncontact video camera-based technology platform that allows users to measure motion, vibration, deflection, and displacement not visible to the human eye. Unlike traditional contact monitoring systems, RDI’s technology measures data in real time, turning virtually every pixel in the camera’s view into a sensor capable of measuring vibration or motion with sub pixel accuracy.

Meanwhile T&T Scientific is a company that produces low-cost, single use liposome extrusion devices that simplify the process of preparing liposomes for research laboratories, manufacturing facilities, and clinical settings. Compared to other commercially available extrusion platforms, T&T Scientific’s NanoSizer (formerly LipX) technology is ready to use out of the package and does not require any assembly or cleaning.

During the Innov865 Happy Hour, Bruce asked Johns and Taylor when they received their first customers, how many customers they have to date, and if they experienced any pivots in the customer discovery process.

Johns elaborated that RDI Technologies first clients started coming in in August 2016, and they’ve since grown to 120 customers to date. But during the process, they did have to pivot.

“We started as a service company. We were taking out what we had invented and we were testing it and figuring out how the customer and end-user would want to use it. We got paid for that service, and we did it for about a year,” said Johns. “But every customer we had we heard ‘Well this looks so easy, why can’t I do it myself?’ So, we decided to take some time to work on our patenting strategy and made sure we had everything locked up in development, and we created the product and launched it for our customers and now we don’t do service at all,” said Johns.

Johns said that their product is sent to plants all across the U.S. and internationally, and 120 customers may not seem like a lot but since RDI Technologies’ systems run in the range of $30,000 each, it stands out. Dr. Taylor went next.

“T&T Scientific technically was founded September 1, 2015, so we just hit our two year mark,” said Dr. Taylor. “We consider April 2016 our first launch, and we started with manual, handheld extruders marketing to researchers in government labs, academic labs, and universities,” said Dr. Taylor.

Dr. Taylor elaborated that a perk with his product was that they didn’t have to go through the FDA to begin selling it, and they were able to complete a few preliminary trials and get some feedback to make them better.

“Just this past summer we officially launched our extrusion equipment, they’re automated devices,” said Dr. Taylor. “It’s nice to start with a manual, handheld extruder and when customers are ready we can take it to the next level with an automated machine,” said Dr. Taylor.

Dr. Taylor has already acquired 150 customers for T&T Scientific’s manual extruders and a few customers for the company’s automated devices as well.