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April 25, 2023 | Tom Ballard

Hicham Ghossein stresses importance of listening to customers

The founder of Endeavor Composites Inc. and a participant in Cohort 3 of the "Innovation Crossroads" program shared his lessons learned as an engineer turned business person in the latest "Founders' Forum."

There was a recurring and consistent message from Hicham Ghossein, Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Endeavor Composites Inc., when he spoke at the most recent “Innovation Crossroads Founders’ Forum.”

In a variety of ways, the participant in Cohort 3 of the program operated by Oak Ridge National Laboratory reminded those in attendance that it is always critical to listen to their clients or customers.

Ghossein started by posing an obvious question for founders to consider: “Why would people buy this?” His answer was simple: “It was always driven by their customers,” a reference to those companies that he targeted to buy the nonwoven composites that Endeavor is developing. They cover a broad industry spectrum – automotive and other modes of transportation, aerospace and defense, marine, sports and leisure, and general industrial.

Later, he explained that, as he pioneered the development of high-performance, low-cost, and zero-waste composites, he kept his eyes on helping solve the most difficult materials challenges manufacturers face while also ensuring that the technologies met the long-term needs of society.

“The first lesson I learned was that occasionally market push can work, but there has to be a market” that wants to purchase your product if you are going to be successful, Ghossein said.

As he developed the technology, he was mindful of making sure the material itself had as little impact as possible on the plant’s operations to avoid a need for the customer to make a significant investment. That lesson learned was coupled with the need to understand the capabilities of the plant engineers so that retraining them was not an issue.

Noting that “there’s a lot to think about as a founder,” Ghossein reminded those in attendance of the maxim that “cash is king.” He also said that entrepreneurs should allocate at least two hours for personal time on a daily basis.

“Entrepreneurial life is lonely,” he said. “Consider getting a partner but the right one. It’s like a marriage.”

Ghossein offered a couple of interesting insights that you don’t hear that frequently. One was an admonition in relation to strategic partnerships. “Who you say yes to affects your own credibility,” he advised. The other was to be as active in the community as possible.

What was his biggest challenge thus far? You might think the technology development, but he said it was shifting from being an engineer to focusing on the business, fundraising, and growth.

If everything stays on schedule, Ghossein says he will be able to produce 90 square feet of nonwoven composites a minute starting in January.

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