In honor of National Entrepreneur's Day, FedTech is excited to share a conversation with Kristina Samonte, Co-Founder of W2 Climatech and winner of "Best Pitch" at NASA's Climate Tech Startup Studio 2023 Showcase.
W2 Climatech is a leading innovator in material coating additives, dedicated to safeguarding critical surfaces in the most challenging and extreme environments.
Kristina Samonte accepts the "Best Pitch" award for her team at NASA's Climate Tech Startup Studio Showcase.
Entrepreneurial Journey and Insights
Could you tell us about your journey to becoming a co-founder? What were some key moments that influenced your entrepreneurial path?
Kristina Samonte: My path to becoming a startup co-founder is a fusion of diverse experiences—an ex-military spouse, a shift from politics to a passion for entrepreneurship, and a return to school for an MBA. The adaptability developed in military life, coupled with strategic skills from politics, has instilled in me a comfort with uncertainty. Earning an MBA solidified my entrepreneurial vision. This fusion of experiences defines my identity as a co-founder, highlighting adaptability, resilience, and a strategic mindset crucial for navigating the unpredictable startup landscape.
As a woman co-founding a company, what unique challenges have you encountered and how did you address them?
KS: As a woman co-founding a business, I've turned challenges into opportunities for growth. Overcoming gender biases led to showcasing competence, building alliances, fostering inclusivity, and addressing these disparities motivated strategic navigation. Being a woman co-founder empowers me to contribute to diversity discussions, paving the way for increased women's leadership in business.
What inspired you to embark on entrepreneurship, and what keeps you motivated in your role as a co-founder?
KS: Embarking on entrepreneurship was inspired by a desire to create impact and turn vision into reality. The constant learning, growth, and the opportunity to solve real-world problems keep me motivated as a co-founder. The collaborative spirit within our team and the chance to make a lasting impact in a dynamic landscape drive my ongoing commitment.
In your opinion, what are the essential characteristics of a successful entrepreneur?
KS: Successful entrepreneurs embody resilience, adaptability, vision, risk-taking, innovation, tenacity, effective communication, resourcefulness, customer focus, and leadership. These qualities collectively define their ability to navigate challenges, inspire teams, and drive ventures toward success.
Leadership and Collaboration
How would you describe your approach to leadership and collaboration within your startup?
KS: My approach to leadership is rooted in collaboration and empowerment. I believe in fostering an open and inclusive environment where every team member's ideas are valued. I aim to lead by example, demonstrating a solid work ethic, adaptability, and a commitment to our shared goals. This approach enhances problem-solving and cultivates a sense of ownership and shared responsibility among team members.
Could you share an experience where your skills as a co-founder were especially tested, and what learnings came from that?
KS: One significant test of my co-founder's skills came with an unexpected market shift during our customer discovery. The experience emphasized the need for adaptability and proactive strategies to anticipate changes. We swiftly mobilized, conducted market research, and redefined our value proposition to meet emerging demands. This taught me the value of resilience, open communication, and fostering an agile mindset within the team. Ultimately, the challenge became an opportunity for growth, reinforcing the importance of staying attuned to market dynamics in the entrepreneurial landscape.
What trends do you see emerging in your industry, and how is your company gearing up to address these changes?
KS: There are numerous emerging trends in the coatings industry including sustainability, smart coatings, digitalization, high-performance coatings, and bio-based materials. W2 Climatech will be focused on sustainability and performance by offering a passive anti-icing solution for wind turbines and an eco-friendly bio-fouling solution for marine vessels.
How do you encourage and manage innovation in your startup?
KS: I plan to cultivate innovation through open communication, cross-functional collaboration, and empowering team members to take ownership of projects. We want to foster a culture of continuous learning, recognizing and rewarding innovative contributions. Embracing the "fail fast, learn faster" mindset will allow us to experiment and iterate quickly. Additionally, we plan to implement innovation frameworks like design thinking to provide structured approaches to problem-solving and product development. This dynamic environment ensures that creativity remains a driving force in our business.
As a female co-founder, how do you promote the empowerment of women within your organization and the entrepreneurial ecosystem?
KS: As a female co-founder, I'll prioritize women's empowerment through diverse hiring, skill-building, networking, flexible policies, and recognition within our organization. We'll also engage in community initiatives advocating for inclusivity in the broader entrepreneurial ecosystem, fostering a supportive environment for women.
What are your thoughts on the significance of diversity and inclusion in the entrepreneurial space?
KS: Diversity and inclusion are vital in entrepreneurship, driving innovation, resilience, and long-term success. Embracing diverse perspectives enriches problem-solving and enhances competitiveness, making it a strategic imperative for success.
How do you balance the demands of being a co-founder with personal life, and what advice would you offer aspiring female entrepreneurs in this regard?
KS: I plan to balance co-founder demands with personal life by prioritizing, setting clear boundaries, and delegating effectively. I am working on cultivating a supportive network, managing time, and embracing continuous learning. My advice is to accept that 'No one is perfect, and you will make mistakes.' Keep learning, pivoting, and adapting on your entrepreneurial journey.
Advice for Aspiring Entrepreneurs
What advice would you give to young women who are aspiring to become entrepreneurs or take on significant roles in startups?
KS: Here are some key pieces of advice to guide you on your journey.
Build a Network: Connect with mentors and peers.
Continuously Learn: Stay curious and informed.
Don't Fear Failure: See it as a step to success.
Develop Resilience: Navigate challenges with determination.
Take Calculated Risks: Be strategic in risk-taking.
Value Time: Prioritize tasks for maximum productivity.
Self-Advocate: Confidently communicate your value.
Build Diverse Teams: Build a team with diverse skills and perspectives.
Stay True: Values and Integrity are key.
Could you share an experience where you faced a setback in your entrepreneurial journey and how you overcame it?
KS: Just before the pandemic, my partner and I launched a consulting business. The onset of the pandemic brought overwhelming challenges to individuals and businesses, making it tough for startups to navigate. Despite our efforts, the business did not take off as anticipated, leading to its closure. This experience underscored the crucial role of timing, adaptability, and external factors in the unpredictable startup landscape.
Vision for the Future
What future goals and aspirations do you have as a co-founder?
KS: As a co-founder of W2 Climatech, my immediate goals involve securing funds for testing, product development, and team growth. Looking ahead, I aspire to establish W2 Climatech as an innovative market leader with diverse offerings.
How do you see the role of women in entrepreneurship changing in the coming years?
KS: The role of women in entrepreneurship is evolving positively. I think we will see increased representation. Supportive ecosystems, role models, and policy advocacy will create a more promising and inclusive environment for women entrepreneurs.
In what ways does your startup contribute to the community, and why is this aspect important to you?
KS: W2 Climatech is focused on the global community by significantly reducing GHG emissions in the shipping industry, enabling more efficient production of clean wind energy while reducing the cost of ownership and maintenance. Our company slogan is “Protecting Tomorrow.” It is important that industry innovates to address the effects of climate change.
How do you effectively manage the dual objectives of achieving success in your startup while also ensuring a positive impact on the community and upholding social responsibility?
KS: Achieving success at W2 Climatech is inherently tied to making a positive impact. Our value proposition revolves around delivering superior performance while fulfilling our customers' environmental preservation goals.
Outside of your professional life, what are your interests or hobbies? Are there any particular activities or passions you enjoy and would like to share?
KS: I love art and design. I truly appreciate individual creativity. I also enjoy beach life and most water activities.
FedTech wishes a happy National Entrepreneur's Day to all of our alumni teams, and we extend our well-wishes to Kristina in the next step of her Entrepreneurial journey!