Two recent NC State Andrews Launch Accelerator participants – Zachary Fearnside and Steven Guido, both NC State College of Engineering graduates – had a bit of a surprise a few weeks ago.
They began receiving email messages from craft distillers around the state, congratulating them on an article about their startup Aeva Labs that was published in the May 15 2019 edition of the American Distilling Institute’s newsletter.
Fearnside, Aeva Labs’ chief technology officer, and Guido, CEO, had co-founded the startup in February 2018, aiming to find a way that would enable distillers to accelerate the production of liquor.
They did their homework – lots of it – tapping NC State’s library resources to see what research has been done in the area of liquor production, while they also continued working toward their bachelor’s degrees.
It began with Guido’s curiosity about liquor production. “I was interested in learning how it works,” he said, and began “looking into the whole process and realized that one part of it takes over 99 percent of the time of production – that was when liquor sits in the barrel just to interact with wood. So we got together and started looking at ways to expedite that process.”
Their startup “was the culmination of several months of research, just trying to better understand how these industries, processes work,” Guido said. He also “started looking into the economics of it a little bit, and realized that “this particular part causes quite a few issues for these producers, whether it’s the supply chain side, or (creating) problems when testing and creating new types of beverages. Sometimes it’s a growth problem that limits how fast they can go forward.”
They also used their concept as the base for their joint senior design project, a requirement for their bachelor’s degrees. Fearnside double majored in electrical and computer engineering, and Guido, in mechanical engineering.
The team further strengthened their concept when Aeva Labs was accepted into the 2018 Andrews Launch Accelerator, which takes place in the summer at the NC State Entrepreneurship Clinic, providing workshops, mentorship and funding for select NC State students and recent alumni who are starting entrepreneurial ventures. The team also participated in RIoT, the Raleigh Internet of Things accelerator. Both are located in HQ Raleigh in the city’s warehouse district.
“Through those two programs, we learned quite a bit about what we need to be doing, the things we’re doing wrong, the things we’re doing well and, long story short, now we’re at the point where we’re actually in several customer facilities,” Guido said. “The first liquor made using Aeva launches on June 15. That’s going to be the first liquor out there with our technology, which is awesome.”
While “a couple of others have been involved in this space,” Fearnside said, “Aeva Labs is making the technology available for inhouse production.”
“We want to democratize the technology with the intent of changing how business is done in their facility,” Guido said.
“It’s been an adventure,” Fearnside added. “We’re now patent pending and I think we’ve been to at least 25 distilleries, had great conversations, taste tests done, even have distillers testing and seeing good results, so we’re happy there.”
“The Andrews Accelerator was a great way for us to really jump into this right out of school,” Guido said. “We were able to quickly get involved in the local entrepreneurship community and it helped set the foundation for our company. The people we’ve met and the relationships we’ve built through the accelerator will carry on with us far into the future.”
They have also hired their first employee, Kevin Jeanneret, as vice president of product development. Jeanneret also graduated from NC State with dual degrees in electrical and computer engineering.
Also on their team during the accelerator months were NC State students Weronika Nowak and Warren D’Costa, both seniors in computer engineering at the time, and Lauren Rapier, then a junior in NC State’s College of Design.