The passions and privations of the start-up entrepreneur

A month or so after first meeting them, I joined Gupta and Nemeth to watch them make a pitch to some prospective investors. They had an 8:15 a.m. meeting with a venture capital firm in Hartford called Connecticut Innovations. It was literally a wild ride, with Gupta driving at about 85 miles per hour, swerving in and out of the lanes, fretting because they were going to be very late. Ironically enough, the alarm on his cell phone had failed to go off.

As we raced down the Merritt Parkway, Gupta and Nemeth told me that they were now collaborating with an industrial design firm that was creating a prototype of their wristband. The initial drawings looked good. Right now, however, what they needed was money.

Nemeth pointed at the car’s clock. It was 8:15 and we were still a good distance from Hartford. “This isn’t good,” muttered Gupta.

“We broke the cardinal rule,” said Nemeth with a shake of his head.

“Never, ever, ever, ever be late,” finished Gupta.

No one spoke for a moment.

“Should we tell them we got lost?” asked Gupta.

“No—that’s no good,” said Nemeth.

Fifteen minutes later we arrived at the office park, and Gupta and Nemeth leapt out of the car. They were unshaven, bleary-eyed, and looking scruffy in wrinkled clothes. We sprinted for the office.

“How about car trouble?” asked Gupta as we ran.

“That’s weak,” panted Nemeth.

“I’m not worried,” said Gupta.

“I’m not worried either,” said Nemeth.

We dashed onward. Nemeth’s pant leg was tucked into his sock, but he didn’t seem to notice.

When we finally arrived at Connecticut Innovations, Gupta and Nemeth met with Charles Moret, managing director of business development. We all sat down in a conference room, and Gupta and Nemeth made a quick, polished presentation on their product. “For just 30 dollars, which is the cost of the wristband and software, you will have no more grogginess or jet lag,” says Gupta.

Moret looked unconvinced. “What’s your arrangement with Dr. Stickgold?” he asked.

Gupta told him Stickgold was one of their company’s founders.

“And what is your measuring device?” asked Moret.

“We have a wristband, with an accelerometer, and it communicates with the software, which has a motion-based algorithm,” explained Gupta.

Moret shrugged, unimpressed, and asked whether they had a patent yet.

Gupta said WakeMate’s legal team was working on a patent. The work, he added, was being handled pro bono by law students at the University of Connecticut.

“Wow,” said Moret, impressed for what seems like the first time. “You must have really wined and dined them.”

But not much later, he called the meeting to an end and thanked Gupta and Nemeth for their time.

“They’re not really interested,” Gupta lamented as we walked back to his car.

“They were interested in the concept, but it needs to be more than a concept,” added Nemeth.

“We’ve considered doing a scientific study,” Gupta told me, “but we feel it is better to get the product out there and let it speak for itself.” Nemeth was silent. “We’re not that disappointed,” concluded Gupta. “We’re not that disappointed at all.”

“I would like things to have gone better,” said Nemeth.

“It didn’t go so badly,” insisted Gupta.

“If it could go wrong today, it did,” said Nemeth, smiling.

They both laughed.