Debrief: Michael Chiang, mic’d up at Stony Brook SBDC

Resident genius: Few people understand the world of 21st century business-creation like FitBark founder Michael Chiang, the latest Entrepreneur-in-Residence at Stony Brook University's Small Business Development Center.


Michael Chiang didn’t set out to be an entrepreneur. But firsthand exposure to Baruch College professors who were also successful entrepreneurs changed his mind (and his major), instilling a desire to “create something that impacts the lives of many people.” Flash forward: The Long Island native, Baruch grad (BBA, entrepreneurship, business law and mathematics) and Kickstarter success story has done that, as the creative force behind FitBark, MatchPuppy and other commercial successes, (including his latest co-founded venture, Joyride Trivia). And since February, he’s impacted even more lives as the Stony Brook University Small Business Development Center’s Technology Entrepreneur-in-Residence. Next up, he’ll emcee the big $10,000 BNB Bank Technology Entrepreneurship Award Pitch Night on Oct. 7 – different from most “Shark Tank” knockoffs for the quality of its competitors and its networking-heavy crowd, according to the well-known innovator, who senses a recurring theme at the Stony Brook SBDC.

Quick, fail! Twenty-first century entrepreneurism is all about moving fast. The faster you move, the faster you fail, and as a first-time entrepreneur, that’s the best thing that can happen to you. It will allow you to learn what you need to quickly launch the next thing and keep the process going, until you have created a product that the market wants – something called “product-market fit.”

All bark, with bite: FitBark is an animal health company that makes wearable tech for dogs. We launched it with a successful Kickstarter raise in 2013 and later went through the Techstars accelerator program and raised funding from Sprint to propel the product into many retailers, such as Amazon, Best Buy and Target. We are now sold in 125-plus countries and have helped dog parents all over the world better understand their pets.

Ride share: My latest venture, Joyride Trivia, is the first-ever game built for Uber rides. We think making better use of time in Uber rides has yet to be unlocked and that the car is the final frontier for interactivity. So, we’re building entertainment for commuting from A to B.

Traveling show: We started with a trivia game as our [minimum viable product] which lets riders earn cash back while playing trivia, but soon we’ll be opening up our games to include other forms of travel, particularly the 150 million Americans who drive to work every day. We’re currently engaged with major brands such as Starbucks, McDonald’s and Pizza Hut as advertisers for our game.

Missing link: I always felt that Long Island was a well-kept secret to many in the Greater New York tech community. There’s a ton of resources and talent, but it’s missing the right infrastructure to really act as a launchpad for new consumer technology businesses. I wanted to bring a bit of that innovation and startup culture from the city out east, and the Stony Brook SBDC was the perfect platform.

Impressive introduction: I’ve been amazed by the quality of entrepreneurs that I’ve met since arriving here. There are so many startups tackling huge problems, including ones in blockchain and healthcare. The mentality of these founders is very strong. They are very eager to learn and quick to adapt.

Impossible: Chiang is bullish on beef-less. (No comment from Louis the Maltese).

A different pitch: There are tons of pitch competitions, but on a local level, the BNB Bank Technology Entrepreneurship Award Pitch Night is the first that really brings together various tech communities under one roof for one night.

Who’s who: We have invited various organizations that are helping foster entrepreneurship, including LaunchPad, BNB Bank and the various departments within Stony Brook University, including the [Manufacturing and Technology Research Consortium] and, of course, the SBDC to help highlight the many talented and promising startups that we are working with.

Evolutionary stage: As a serial entrepreneur and tech guy in general, I’m really excited about the future of audio and how AirPods can be the first true step in helping humanity achieve trans-humanism.

Meet veggies: As a vegetarian, I’m really proud of how the alternative protein industry has grown in the past year, such as Beyond and Impossible Burgers. But I’m still super bullish on the innovation here. I just recently came across a Finnish startup that can make protein from thin air.

Tech you later: As an Entrepreneur-in-Residence, I’m most excited by the many organizations that are in place locally to help young entrepreneurs succeed in the tech industry. We are putting in motion many partnerships and programs to help create this infrastructure to elevate Long Island as a top tech ecosystem.

Interview by Gregory Zeller