“But I think what will really drive people through the success and the hard times…is just passion and obsession for that particular thing.”
Ricky Solorzano, founder and CEO of Allevi
Ricky Solorzano is the founder and CEO of Allevi, which creates 3D bioprinters and bioinks to aid medical researchers around the world. Driven by an intense passion for the work that Allevi does, Ricky recognizes the high stakes — youth, money, work-life balance — on the line not just for himself as founder, but for everyone at the business.
Did you have any fears about becoming an entrepreneur?
When you graduate college, you’re like, “Okay, what am I supposed to do with my life? What direction do I go?”
Even getting into [creating Allevi], my parents were very involved, saying, “How are you going to make money?” My only defense against that was, I don’t know if I’m going to be able to make money. But I also don’t have a family, and I can still go to med school, so I’m going to give it a shot for a year and see how it goes. So I think the timing was really good because I didn’t have a lot of major responsibilities or commitments to anything, and that allowed for the opportunity of the risk.
What has been your greatest struggle in founding Allevi?
In the summer of 2015, we raised our first seed round, and we raised $1.5 million. You’re a college grad getting $1.5 million, and it feels like you’ve won the lottery. The flowers are blossoming. The sun is shining. You could go out and do happy hours endlessly. We were investing it well, but at the same time, I think you never realize how quickly you could go through money.
You come to realize you’re beholden to individuals you’ve hired and investors who have given you the money. Those are the times when decisions were the hardest. We had to let people go at some points. Those were tough moments, as well. But at the same time, those were the times of greatest reflection.
You invest your youth into it. And you’re also getting other people to invest their youth in it. You want to reflect on if the problem is important enough, whether you make it or not. You’re kind of saying, “Well, we’re gonna take shots on goal to try to solve problem, but is the problem important enough? And do I continue to put things on the line?”
What has been your greatest triumph in your founder’s journey so far?
There’s this weird thing amongst humans in creating something and then having someone else use it and finding some kind of benefit in it, it makes you feel useful. I did a customer tour once upon a time, and it was awesome to be able to walk into some random country in some random lab and be very welcome given the fact that they bought something from you and they enjoyed it a lot. Just having users be successful in what we do is awesome, and then building that community and being welcomed by that community.
“With a young company you definitely have to live life day by day.”
Ricky Solorzano, founder and CEO of Allevi
What has been your biggest sacrifice?
Especially when we were first starting, with a young company you definitely have to live life day by day. You plan for the future and you have your predictions, but especially in starting a company, you don’t know. You definitely need patience and to let go of security. You let go of the security to know that in six months there’s going to be this or in eight months there’s going to be this. You just have to accept the frugality and be comfortable with that.
Has anyone in your personal life been a constant source of support throughout founding Allevi?
My family, as speculative as they were, they were supportive. And you just have to grab onto the people who are supporting you and ignore the people who are not supporting you.
Did you ever come close to giving up?
I think it wasn’t about whether I wanted to give up, because I feel conviction about the challenge and the problem, and the necessity within the industry and the market. And I feel conviction that the solution we provide is one that should be exposed to the world. Personally speaking, I feel conviction about the direction [of the company] and what we do. And I hope I channeled that correctly, and I hope I continue to channel that correctly.
What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned as an entrepreneur?
Obsession is pretty important, and passion is very important, as well. There’s the granularity of starting a company, the business model and all the terminology. But I think what will really drive people through the success and the hard times, the ups and downs, is just passion and obsession for that particular thing. If you want to be an entrepreneur, you just got to be obsessed with one specific thing and really drive at that.
I think you just hold yourself up to personal standards. Part of that is to be able to predict what’s going to happen. And sometimes you don’t predict stuff, and that always feels like failure. You can’t think of things as failures. You’ve got to think of them as learning experiences because you’ve got to just continue to move forward. If you’re not learning, it’s a tough mindset to be in as you try to push things forward.
This interview has been lightly edited from an in-person conversation for clarity. Capturing Lightning is a project from Woden, a strategic storytelling agency in Philadelphia that helps organizations articulate who they are and why people should care. To learn more about how to tell your story, visit us at wodenworks.com.