When Nezar Akeel officially became an entrepreneur, he had what many fellow entrepreneurs didn’t have. He had age and experience. A lot of experience.
At 52, Akeel has the solid foundation of a well-established corporate career in engineering management. This experience gave him the chance to test out new ideas and concepts much like an entrepreneur would. “I was responsible for new ventures and new relationships within an often global setting, which helped a lot,” says Akeel. “So I’m not the typical young kid working on an idea with nothing to lose.”
His career experience contributed to his success as he launched MAXPRO, an all-in-one smart gym system that is topping best-of lists. In October 2019, MAXPRO won the “Best of Innovation” award for health and fitness for CES 2020, and Akeel received the award in Las Vegas in January 2020.
The decision to connect with the Southfield City Centre-based Centrepolis Accelerator was highly beneficial to getting MAXPRO to market, Akeel says.
As a small manufacturer and hardware entrepreneur organization, the Centrepolis Accelerator is a perfect fit for Akeel’s MAXPRO, which is a manufactured product with smart connectivity. Akeel felt this match from the first time he connected with Centrepolis Accelerator director Dan Radomski.
“We met at a Centrepolis Accelerator hardware development seminar in Detroit, and Dan understood the concept right away. I went to an additional workshop on lean design where I connected with other entrepreneurs and saw the support infrastructure and services that are available for entrepreneurs who are past idea phase,” says Akeel. “It was really the beginning of me connecting with the Southeast Michigan entrepreneurial world.”
As he was being mentored by younger entrepreneurs, Akeel recognized how much he could learn through these connections, including techniques for leveraging funding.
“The Centrepolis Accelerator helped me write a grant to the Business Accelerator Fund at Michigan Small Business Development Center, which has a high-tech grant and my product qualified,” Akeel says. “I ended up getting $25,000 in support just at the right time in the development process.” Centrepolis Accelerator connected Akeel to other resources, including crowdfunding, legal services, design, development and supply sources.
Throughout the process, Akeel has participated in multiple pitch competitions and match meetings and has learned the art of describing the value of his product for the investor audience. These experiences have resulted in financial support and ongoing conversations.
With his engineering background, Akeel says the ease of speaking a “common language” was a welcome benefit of working with the Centrepolis Accelerator. The rich manufacturing knowledge available at and through the Centrepolis Accelerator meant Akeel didn’t need to spend a lot of time explaining what his product does and how it fit into the connected hardware marketplace.
“My product really was a perfect fit for them,” he says, adding that the Michigan manufacturing ecosystem is a highly suitable place to develop a manufactured product. “In Metro Detroit and in Michigan in general, we have an established infrastructure for hardware and electronics.”
Because MAXPRO is a manufactured hardware product that intersects with the internet-of-things space, the fit was seamless, from both a development and connection perspective.
“The Centrepolis Accelerator was accessible and made themselves known,” Akeel says. “I plugged in and made time to attend their seminars, and that’s all a part of the entrepreneurial initiative.”