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The IntelliU Way

A Slice on Xiaofan Mai, Co-Founder and CEO of IntelliU

What happens when marketing marries technology? IntelliU! The brainchild of the couple-turned-co-founders, IntelliU leverages the marketing and product strategy experience of Xiaofan Mai, as well as the tech-medical background of her husband. Like a lot of other startups and entrepreneurial ventures, IntelliU too fills a void that existed but hadn’t been on anyone’s radar till then.

A sobering statistic: over 1.5 million patients have been injured by medical devices in the past 10 years. This propelled Mai and her team to look at reducing that sort of risk to patients. Simultaneously, they are looking at helping their clients expedite their business commercialization and growth, a win-win for all.

Mai and her husband utilize their combined expertise to address this risk. “I have a business background, he has a technological background. As a Design Testing Lead for software systems for medical device companies, his pain point is that it takes a lot of time to analyze all the design requirements, without missing out on anything crucial. Then, to test, or go to the field with the device is difficult because there are too many complicated design variables for a human brain to process. So that’s where he came up with his invention, combining AI with his own proprietary computer algorithm, to create a digital platform to automate the analysis and test case generation for product designers.”

Mai is very bullish about their product, especially about the way IntelliU brings in a high level of reliability and robustness to every aspect of the requirement, big or small. What works in their favor is the fact that they have the perfect pedigree (in terms of skills, competencies, and experience). Since both co-founders worked for over 20 years in their respective fields before deciding to set up their own shop, they have relevant domain and product knowledge, expertise and a passionate vision, important takeaways for those wanting to start their dream businesses.

Mai has set her aim very high, she is looking at spreading across high-risk industries wherever there is an opportunity to help protect and save lives or financial losses, they want to be there. They are looking at bringing their customized solutions to aerospace, aviation, and anything that works on autopilot, among other industries. They are doing this very smartly, by not aggressively marketing their product. Both the co-founders would rather take a slow and steady approach and build a strong foundation before going all out.

Non-traditional in a lot of ways, their growth strategy reflects this too. They have two pilot projects in the works and a few more in the pipeline. They want the pilot to be successful, then they are going to look for seed funding. This funding will help them take care of their first few clients. Afterward, they will look at more funding for further growth. This strategy of systematic and sustainable growth is serving them well in building a strong and solid foundation.

If location is key, then IntelliU is perfectly placed. Being in the heart of Minnesota’s Medical Alley has helped the founders of this medical startup immensely. According to Mai, the location advantage made it possible for her to connect with their target clients, investors, venture capitalists and industry leaders. Also, the startup ecosystem there is currently very conducive to new businesses offering startups sponsorships, support and more. So, being in the right place, at the right time really does make a big difference.  

Starting a business venture with a spouse comes with its own advantages and peculiarities. For Mai, it is working out well because it is something that they both agreed upon and feel passionate about. The key requirements that one needs in a partner, things like trust, commitment, compatibility, are already there in their equation so things flow way more easily. Plus, they don’t need to tread on eggshells, they can come right out and say what they want to which saves a lot of time and heartburn. Of course, they need to draw the line on being blunt, so as not to affect their relationship adversely. One downside for Mai is the financial pressure they are facing because she gave up her job to focus on IntelliU while her husband works full-time and also focuses on IntelliU. They are also learning to look at each other as partners more than spouses now and, in spite of occasional hiccups, it has been a fun journey for them so far.

When asked about challenges, Mai says that sourcing cost-effective vendors is really important. Another challenge is finding the right talent at the price they can afford. Finding clients is primarily her responsibility where her years of networking are proving to be an asset. Minnesota’s ecosystem and the support the Minnesota Medical Alley Association offers, work in their favor too. Of course, being patient and determined helps.

Mai’s advice to those starting out is simple. She says, “I think you really want to have a great idea. That idea is so unique that you don’t have a lot of competition or no competition. Then, test the idea; find the market fit; find the right partner that can work with you. If you are a business person, find a great technical person and vice versa. And then, just network, network, network! Strategize well before every meeting. Also, don’t be afraid to ask for help, advice, or feedback.”

She measures her success by how she feels about her efforts. If she has done everything she can, then that is good. If she is helping her clients solve their problems, that is a success too. Every time she provides value she is succeeding. Making a difference, leaving behind a rich legacy, are what really matter to her.

Founder Bio

Xiaofan Mai received her MBA in Marketing from the University of Minnesota. Previously she has worked for companies including Honeywell, Seagate Technology, Cummins Inc., Leroy Somer and Raytheon Technologies. Currently, she is the Co-Founder and CEO of IntelliU. Connect with Mai on LinkedIn.

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