Arber Ruci is the Entrepreneur-in-Residence at the New York I-Corps Hub. He’s held this role for six years. Prior to returning to CUNY, he was the founder and CEO of an educational technology startup for eight years. He’s now the CEO of Nearabl, an augmented reality startup spun out from his academic research lab that has participated in regional and national I-Corps cohorts.
1. Can you share a recent accomplishment?
First, it’s good to understand my role at CUNY. The role of entrepreneur-in-residence was first created in Silicon Valley for individuals who had exited their company before they did their next thing. It gave them an opportunity to help others along their startup journey. VCs adopted the model first, then accelerators, incubators, and now academia. The idea is to have someone around who has been through it with their own companies, to help guide the teams through the process. Sillicon Valley itself was created by a bunch of entrepreneurial New Yorkers so the term entrepreneur-in-residence is very much borne out of New York.
In my role as entrepreneur-in-residence for the NY I-Corps Hub, I love helping CUNY researchers to evolve ideas from basic research in the lab to really getting traction in an industry. I recently helped with the initial commercialization of two CUNY companies that were awarded a NSF Partnerships for Innovation (PFI). It’s incredible to see the amazing discoveries being made here in NYC and New York State and to be a part of another lab’s journey through our innovation pipeline.
2. What motivated you to become an I-Corps instructor?
Earlier in my career, I didn’t want to teach. I incorrectly thought that teachers weren’t doing the things they were teaching. When the first company I founded started growing and hiring, I realized I was teaching all the time, to help my employees understand our mission and our goals—I really got to hone that skill. Every company leader should be able to do that and do it well. Being an I-Corps instructor enables me to continue that path! I think to be a good leader, you must also be a good teacher.
3. What question do you wish entrepreneurs asked?
I wish entrepreneurs were not shy about asking for help or asking where they can get additional specific help from. Often, they spend a lot of time talking about past, present, and future, and they don’t focus enough on where they have progressed to at that point. What it boils down to is, as an entrepreneur, if you don’t know what to do, ask!
4. After learning about so many different customer markets, can you share a market or customer challenge that still requires a solution?
For the longest time, I have seen a big gap in infrastructure and supply chain management. Especially during the past three years, with the impact of Covid, it seems like many new processes were started and then abandoned. The approach to improving those areas seems haphazard. I’ve seen that as an I-Corps instructor and as a person interested in the space.
The challenge has to do with the existing workforce in those sectors—many don’t want to adopt tech and don’t see it as a solution. The technology is there to be adopted to their benefit. But either they understand what tech can do, or they still are genuinely analog and working with paper. That’s a huge gap and so a big opportunity.
My father is a retired architect. I grew up seeing him build beautiful structures but also watched him not use much technology. If you look at infrastructure, you have people who understand the value of technology, and you have people who stick to paper. Somewhere in the middle, there’s an opportunity to onboard the analog folks. Now, with the CHIPS and Science and Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Acts [passed by Congress and signed into law], we have a chance to create value and streamline processes that were ineffective before Covid or have been hit-or-miss since.
5. What are you reading (or hoping to read soon)?
I’ve been hoping to re-read The Score Takes Care of Itself: Philosophies of Leadership by Bill Walsh. I’m from Albania, and when I first moved here 23 years ago, I assimilated by playing sports—baseball, basketball, anything American. That became my first understanding of language and being sociable in a new country and culture. This book really brings me back to that experience. It has lessons for the world of startups as well—it travels well in the world of startups and business.
6. What do you do to relax?
I love being in nature—anything that’s beach-related is peace for me. I generally seek out activities and adventures that have to do with water or the ocean. I’m a big fan of Montauk, New York—just a few hours away. I worked summers out there for years, and I fell in love with it.