"It's our future, let's build it together"

5 Questions with Justin Hafner

August 1, 2019

You made a huge transition from academic to entrepreneur. What resources were most helpful as you assumed this new role? 

Justin Hafner,
Co-Founder of KinoTek

Making the change could have been a lot more difficult without the resources at University of Maine. Places like the Foster Center for Student Innovation and the Upstart Center for Entrepreneurship made the transition very easy. As a part of these organizations, I gained perspective on both sides and connected with mentors and professionals who had made a similar transition – this allowed me to grasp my full potential as an entrepreneur.

Is there a phrase, motto, or quote that reflects your philosophy as an entrepreneur?

“You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backward. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future.” – Steve Jobs

KinoTek employs virtual reality, motion capture technology, and a host of other tech capabilities. Do you have a tech background, or did you learn along the way?

Prior to last year, I didn’t have very much tech experience. When I started working at the VEMI Lab at the University of Maine, I got my first taste of emerging technology. Working at the lab, I was exposed to all of this technology and professionals in the field, so I gained quite a bit of experience in Virtual Reality, regularly talked with experts in spatial informatics, and learned about coding and research. With my science background and experience at the VEMI Lab, I was able to create the initial vision for KinoTek, and once I surrounded myself with my team of co-founders, we were able to put the idea in motion.

In your Tech Talk, you mentioned KinoTek didn’t have the option to pursue “friends and family funding”, which investors consider a proxy for consumer demand and/or sales ability. How did you overcome that bias?

By not coming from a family or background with high net worth individuals, I never had any family or friends who would invest in KinoTek.When we first started raising funds, before releasing our tech on a large stage, we were told that we were too early and still in the “friends and family stage”. But when investors saw our product in motion at the Top Gun showcase, the “friends and family” feedback went away. We were also able to finance ourselves through MTI (Maine Technology Institute) and combining those funds with other non-equity diluting sources like Greenlight Maine, Libra Future Fund, and the Big Gig pitch competition. With those funds, we were able to develop KinoTek’s first prototype.

Maine recently won the hard-earned distinction of being the most startup-friendly state in New England. How has your Maine connection helped the success of KinoTek?

The State of Maine provides so many resources for entrepreneurs and startups that I’m not surprised by the win. Our connection to Maine has helped expand our network and allowed us to talk with influencers who grew up here. We learned that people who grew up here or currently live in the state are just great people who are eager to help. The best thing about being in Maine is it seems like almost anybody is willing to at least grab coffee and see if they can help!

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Last modified: June 21, 2021

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