Carlos Estrada was recently named Managing Director for NMotion, a startup accelerator located in Lincoln’s Haymarket District. Estrada brings a wealth of entrepreneurial experience to the position, something he began developing at an early age.
“My very first entrepreneurial gig was when I was in high school in Houston,” he said. “My parents got me a computer and I started playing around with it, doing my own software and hardware upgrades and learning a lot about how to fix them. My friends’ parents started asking me to fix their computers, paying me 10 or 20 bucks.”
Estrada attended the University of Houston, initially studying electrical engineering.
“I was ready to build things,” he said. “Midway through, I realized the electrical engineering program wasn’t going to teach me how to build robots soon enough. It was the right track but I’d have stayed many more years before I built an entire robot from scratch. I was ready to build things year one.”
After checking out several other programs, Estrada came across an entrepreneurship club in the College of Business.
“They told me they would teach me how to launch my own company,” he said. “I felt my electrical engineering was missing its better half, so they assured me entrepreneurship applies to any field. I joined the club and started down the path.”
Discovering his entrepreneurial path
The path led to the Wolff Center for Entrepreneurship within the UH Bauer College of Business.
“Joining the club really helped bolster my natural abilities while learning new hard skills that enhanced my application to get into the entrepreneurship program,” Estrada said.
“We started out building websites and apps for individuals,” he said. “We soon realized our product was a ‘good-to-have’ solution, not a must. It made me think about what kind of problem we were really solving and who had the problem.”
Estrada discovered oil and gas companies needed to enhance their presence online, so he hacked his way into get customers in that space by becoming a student volunteer at a professional organization for oil and gas executives.
“Their teams always built the products with the end customer in mind,” he said. “They were helping enterprise customers solve the right problem with the best solution. Their revenues increased dramatically.”
Diving deeper into the entrepreneurship process
After growing the digital product consulting company with a humble exit, Estrada joined 3 Day Startup, an organization launched at the University of Texas at Austin in 2008. Estrada came on board in 2013 as their third employee to manage and facilitate programs and lead its global expansion to various countries that included Colombia, Guatemala, and Poland.
“That’s where I gained deeper learning about the entrepreneurship process and how it was done in Austin,Texas,” he said. “From ideation, team formation, brainstorming, problem identification, validation, solution testing, rapid prototyping, investor-ready demos and pitches and most importantly, how to collaborate with diverse talent from diverse backgrounds including gender, career, experience, age, country of origin and location.”
The position provided Estrada an opportunity to travel and experience entrepreneurship in different ecosystems.
“I got to travel to South America, Eastern Europe, and over 25 states in the U.S.,” he said. “It really opened up my world, how to see a problem in the market and how to solve big pain points, especially after collaborating with entities like Cornell, UCLA, Wharton Business School, Universidad del Rosario in Colombia, the U.S. Department of Energy, and Fortune listed companies.”
Founding his next company
During his tenure at 3 Day Startup, Estrada found a problem worth solving that led to another venture that took him to Seattle, San Francisco and Los Angeles.
“Large companies are often disconnected from the end customer,” he said. “Even in the B2B world, there’s an end customer.”
This led to the creation of Unicornable, a company focused on Fortune 1000 company innovation with the end customer in mind, allowing C-level executives and business unit teams to execute at startup speeds and develop processes that shift corporate culture forward.
“Our process begins with ethnographic research to understand what makes people tick, what drives their emotions and decision-making while synthesizing and creating insights,” Estrada said. “Moving large companies forward requires bold, audacious, and empathetic moves with a deep understanding of markets and the trends that make those markets move forward.”
Making his way to Nebraska and NMotion
An entrepreneurial opportunity led Estrada to Lincoln and UNL in 2016.
“I have a passion for nurturing people because they are at the heart of the ecosystems,” he said. “That’s how I met Tom Field via Michael James at Textiles, Merchandising & Fashion Design at UNL, and started helping Tom nurture growth-oriented entrepreneurs by creating diverse programs in the Engler Agribusiness Entrepreneurship Program.”
They took 25 students and 5 faculty members to San Francisco to observe the Ag tech scene in Silicon Valley and the entrepreneurial mindset.
“We had the opportunity to see how those founders who had not been related to Ag industry were launching companies in Ag because they identified big problems,” Estrada said. “That really fueled everyone to return home with high motivation and desire but also equipped with new perspectives to solve Ag-related problems in Nebraska. They have the fluid sandbox to do something really big.”
Estrada served as a mentor for NMotion last year, so his familiarity with the program is high.
“As an entrepreneur who has learned to adapt in different environments, I look forward to helping shape up the entrepreneurship ecosystem in Lincoln,” he said. “I want to welcome, guide, and train entrepreneurs at all stages in the right direction and pave a path forward for global impact.”
Shaoping the future of Lincoln’s ecosystem
In Estrada’s view, there are many who want to help grow the entrepreneurial ecosystem but define entrepreneurship differently and have different expectations. There are many overlapped efforts, like mapping out available resources in Lincoln and surroundings without consideration of different styles and stages of entrepreneurs.”
“We are not speaking the same language yet,” he said. “Entrepreneurship is not about a great idea nor a special gene. It is about a process and a mindset. We need to create a safe environment where diverse perspectives are welcomed, ideas are shared freely, failures are openly discussed for learning, and teams grow together.”
One key area for improvement in the Lincoln ecosystem is making sure support is available for early-stage founders.
“That requires empathy, the right mindset, no big egos, and experience to guide people in the right direction,” Estrada said. “There is a big gap between those who get [a lot of] support and those who don’t. The Engler Program, Turbine Flats, and Youth Entrepreneurship Clinics are great examples of programs designed to support various types and stages of entrepreneurs.”
He said Engler nurtures students at all stages, while Turbine Flats helps early stage entrepreneurs by offering temporary “startup shelter” (roof, desk, chair, and Wi-Fi) and guidance. Youth Entrepreneurship Clinics provide rural youth with opportunities to equip themselves with entrepreneurial skills and help innovate their own entrepreneur communities.
“Entrepreneurs at the bare bones stage often do not receive this kind of support compared to the funded startups,” Estrada said. “However, we need a support system for startups in all stages to build an inclusive entrepreneurship ecosystem where all entrepreneurs are welcomed and supported to grow.”
Estrada plans to collaborate with others to achieve the goals of NMotion as well as NUtech Ventures, the commercialization affiliate at UNL where he will serve as Entrepreneur-in-Residence.
“I’m not planning and cannot to do it alone, it requires an audacious group of people,” he said. “For anyone that aligns with the vision and mission to grow the ecosystem, our doors are open to doing the heavy lifting together.”
Rod Armstrong is the Vice President of Fundraising at AIM Institute and a regular contributor to Silicon Prairie News.