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Lokvani Talks To Shakeel Avadhany

Ranjani Saigal

Shakeel Avadhany is President, CEO, and co-founder of Levant Power Corp. Previously, he worked with MIT Prof. Yet-Ming Chiang, founder of A123 Systems, on the DARPA funded microbattery program for reconnaissance devices. Mr. Avadhany joined Lux Research in 2007 to survey the global energy landscape and perform due diligence on emerging cleantech solutions. 

A talented tabla player, Avadhany also performed research on the physics of drumming under MacArthur Fellow Prof. L. Mahadevan at Harvard University's Applied Math Lab. Mr. Avadhany is the recipient of numerous honors and awards, including "Innovator of the Year" by the Entrepreneur's Organization, 2009 and Forbes 30 under 30. He earned his S.B. degree in Materials Engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.  

Avadhany talked to Lokvani about his entrepreneurial journey.

What motivated you to start Levant?

I was driving over a bumpy road and conceived the idea to smooth out the ride while generating power from shocks.  I love mechanical things, which is why I wanted to build a hardware technology company.  Besides that I have always thought of myself as one to bring great people together to create products and experiences we want for ourselves.  

Can you tell us about the technology your company is developing?

We are the creators of GenShock, a groundbreaking suspension technology for cars and trucks.  It virtually eliminates the feel of road bumps for autos while maintaining Ferrari-like handling.  It saves money for trucks between fuel, maintenance and freight efficiency. Levant works with the world’s largest vehicle makers, fleet owners and auto part suppliers. 

What is your vision for the future?

We want to vastly enhance the joy of driving, and to do it through unprecedented ride control.  This business is very large, but very stale. We hope to infuse automotive technology with a breath of fresh air, and so far we’re doing it well. 

You are very young and the CEO of a successful company. What factors contributed to your success?

No fear of failure, unrelenting work ethic, and an instinctive habit to hangout with people smarter than I.

We heard you were stopped by police for driving an Humvee in Boston. Could you share that tale?

We do significant work for the U.S. Defense Department.  About a year ago we were shipped an up-armored Humvee (turret included) for demonstration purposes.  There was a party being thrown for New England entrepreneurs on the Boston Harborside, so we thought it would be fun to drive our Humvee to the event.  Police promptly stopped us on our way there, seeking to inquire how we secured this government property.  We caused a big scene; scores of people gathered around dozens of squad cars called for backup. Police were concerned about an urban assault vehicle rolling around the streets of Cambridge.  We ended up receiving a full police escort to our destination—two squad cars in front and back, with motorcycles flanking our sides while cutting through traffic. How’s that for a story?

What challenges have you faced in building Levant?

Any venture capitalist or financier will tell you they’d always pick an A team with a B idea over the opposite. Brilliance alone does not make a good team.  Communication and team dynamics are crucial in the early days, and both were neglected as we started the business. Always, always, always…over-communicate.  And surround yourself with advisors that know what they are doing, technically and in business.

Any advice for Indian-American parents?

Make sure your kids are truly inspired by something or someone. Encourage them to take risks. Don’t make them fear failure. 

You are also an accomplished tabla player. What role does music play in your life? 

Hindustani classical music is close to my heart.  I was raised with this art form and I credit it for my cultural grounding. 

Any advice for aspiring entrepreneurs?

Young companies are oftentimes opportunistic rather than strategic.  What is your value story? Is it robust? If so, stick to it and focus. Make sure you are dealing with a problem in search of a solution, not the other way around.  Have an idea? Built it. Scared of failure? Never. If you have to fail, fail fast then pivot. End of the day just have fun, and keep your sights on being the tail that wags the dog.  

Thank you for you time.

Thank you.

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