We Design: People. Practice. Progress.
We cannot think about all startups in the same way. I believe that companies are living entities like humans. People are very different based on different stages in life, and each distinct stage of growth has different challenges and opportunities. If you want to develop a startup, incubator, or accelerator, you need to be clear at what stage you want to support companies at.
Fady is the co-founder and director of corporate partnerships at MassRobotics; the first and largest robotics/AI startup escalator in the world. He coined the terms “startup escalation” model and “startup escalator.” Previously the strategy, research, and business development director of Vecna Robotics, he supported the development of the company’s robotics R&D strategy, funding, and commercialization. He was also the co-founder and strategist behind ePowerhouse’s business model, go-to-market strategy, and customer acquisitions.
The best way to learn about companies was to start one.
The youngest of three sons, Fady grew up with parents that put a strong emphasis on education. He went through the Egyptian public school system, all the while being encouraged by his mother to achieve high standards and attend American University in Cairo. Fady has an educational background in complex systems, management, industrial engineering and design, and completed his graduate studies at the MIT System Design & Management program, where he focused on designing and modeling startups as adaptive complex systems, and understanding the effect of entrepreneurship ecosystems on these startups’ viability.
Before attending MIT, Fady was a regional manager of Nokia Siemens Networks in North Africa and Europe, and before that, he was a business development associate at the company, where he was part of the team who led the merger of 700+ employees between Siemens Com and Nokia Networks in North Africa. Fady has been a frequent speaker, advisor, judge, panelist, and mentor in leading entrepreneurship organizations and events, and he has written numerous articles on investing and innovation.
A Pivotal Moment
“Starting my college education was a pivotal moment in my life,” Fady said. “I majored in mechanical engineering, but my passion was really industrial engineering and design. I also fell in love with business and learning about leadership and organizational design. When I graduated, I revamped a whole industrial automation lab using blocks from fischertechnik — kind of like legos but more advanced — with my advisor. We wanted to change the lab to be more interactive and hands-on. I went back in 2017, and it was an amazing feeling to see students still using the system we made.”
Scouting out the Future
“At university, I became involved with the National Federation for Boy Scouts in Egypt. I was establishing units in my church, which is basically an exercise in innovation building, and the same process you’d follow to start a company. This was my first “enterprise” experience,” Fady said. “I figured out how to build the group, learned marketing, created a website, kept records — the basic systems you need in any organization. I thought there was a way to systematize that. I became invested in the idea and wanted to dedicate a big part of my life to pursue this, and I thought an MBA would help me do that.”
“A Perfect Fit” at MIT
“I saw a master’s program for systems design and management at MIT, and it was an “aha” moment; this was the program I wanted to do and was a perfect fit,” Fady said. “It was already past the application deadline, but for some reason I decided to email the administration telling them why I would be a good fit, and they got back to me and said they would make an exception so I could apply. After a lot of rejection and disappointment from other schools, it was a moment I’ll never forget, getting my acceptance letter from MIT.”
The First “Startup Escalator”
“Out of my thesis, I built one of the very few comprehensive simulation models for startups, comparing the effects of innovation ecosystems of the same businesses in Boston vs. Cairo,” Fady said. “It simulated the behavior of companies within the first five years, and quantified data like HR and productivity to measure growth potential.”
Fady and his boss at Vecna, Daniel Theobald, concluded that this model was exactly what was needed to help cutting edge robotics companies move from prototyping to the commercialization phase. Rather than a typical “accelerator,” Fady said the model was, “more like an escalator—taking companies from one level to another, and always running.”
In the beginning, funding for MassRobotics was at a standstill. “It was an idea that was dying. The whole community was about to give up on it because it was taking so long,” Fady recalled.
After shifting focus from the government to the private sector for funding, Fady made a chance connection over Linkedin with Desh Deshpande, a well-established billionaire and an early supporter of MassChallenge, a global, zero-equity startup accelerator, founded in Boston in 2009. Desh agreed to both advise and write the first check for MassRobotics. Within months, they had 11 founding partners and acquired seed funding to pay staff and negotiate a physical space.
Fady Saad with a few of the other co-founders of MassRobotics
Today, MassRobotics’ mission is to help create and scale the next generation of successful robotics and connected device companies, by providing entrepreneurs and innovative robotics/automation startups with the workspace and resources they need to develop, prototype, test, and commercialize their products and solutions. In January 2017, they began with 11 founding partners and just two companies in their space. The government has since invested
$2.5 million in their expansion, and they are currently the largest robotics commercialization organization in the US, with over 30 partners and supporting 32+ companies and counting.
I was really passionate about starting MassRobotics; it was the natural evolution to my career which focused on designing and scaling companies. I saw it as a machine that will produce more and more companies. I couldn’t cast the idea aside.