Tell Us About Your Journey with Silverside
Following her undergraduate studies at Duke University, Sarah Baker returned home to live in Boston for a few years. With her interest in international development, Sarah moved to China and spent the next five years overseeing microfinance companies, with her focus on researching civil-military interactions in Afghanistan.
Sarah then returned to Boston and connected with Andrew Inglis, a then postdoctoral physics researcher at Boston University. Andrew had been looking at different ways to reduce the cost of neutron detection protection by an order of magnitude. The US had been interested in preventing a nuclear bomb or a nuclear terrorist attack in the US, and since 9-/11, the demand for that had severely ramped up.
Sarah and Andrew co-founded Silverside in 2013. She shared her perspective coming into Silverside with “a background in business and in international development and eager to learn something new. I’m always looking for a challenge. I like to say that I never want a job for which I’m qualified.”
When Sarah met Andrew, the challenge was taking technology out of the Boston University laboratories and commercializing it. Despite the challenge of commercializing for a government customer, Sarah and Andrew were up for the task.
“The fact that it was a nuclear threat reduction, a detector that would tell you if there’s plutonium, the material in a nuclear bomb somewhere, that was a bonus and something that really piqued my curiosity”.
What Are Some Inspirations That Motivate You in Your Day-to-Day Life?
For Sarah, the Psalms from the Bible are some of the most beautiful poetries and something that inspires and motivates her daily. She explained the human experience connection to the Psalms. For Sarah, when reading scripts from that era, the scripts coming out of war, famine, hardship, family and love, there are a lot of earthy and human experiences that go across the centuries. Sarah connects these stories to the challenges of hiring, delivering products or even getting an email out that she really didn’t want to write, all of which are ultimately relational.
What Challenges Have You Faced In your Journey?
Sarah describes Silverside’s biggest challenge as being how small and niche the market for a neutron detector is. She remembers someone telling her, “Only the government wants to know if neutrons are present… and that’s, unfortunately, a little bit true.” Finding a market for these things beyond the security industry, as represented by the Department of Defense or Department of Homeland Security is a challenge Sarah and her team have been trying to solve for over eight years.
One of the unique directions they’ve recently explored is the cutting-edge area of soil moisture monitoring and how scientists are using neutron detectors to figure out how much water is in the ground. To test this, Sarah has spent the last year doing experiments throughout Las Vegas and Arizona on golf courses to figure out if you can accomplish more efficient irrigation of fairways of large areas using neutron detectors to understand the groundwater.
Despite the challenge of finding a new market for a device that has been developed to detect nuclear bombs, it’s one that Sarah finds both rewarding and exciting at the same time.
Where Do You See Silverside In 3-5 Years?
“In 3-5 years, Silverside, I hope, will be the preeminent manufacturer and seller of neutron detectors for all the applications that are out there,” Sarah explained. Due to the size of the market, Sarah is determined to own the entire landscape.
The market for such security systems is continuing to grow and Sarah sees these systems being utilized more and more by researchers. Silverside will be continuing several additional R&D programs with the Department of Defense with hopes of commercializing more of the research efforts into products within the next few years.
What Advice Do You Have for Woman Entrepreneurs?
“For women entrepreneurs, for the women lawyers, for women teachers, for women, for everybody, I think the biggest lesson I’ve learned is that I don’t need to prove myself. When I walk into a room and feel like I need to somehow subtly demonstrate to everybody that I belong there, I’m setting myself up in an adversarial posture to everybody there”.
The lesson Sarah learned at Silverside through both great mentorships and her co-founder, Andrew, is to ask yourself the question, “Why are you trying to prove yourself?” At the end of the day, relationships matter most for entrepreneurs. She shared her focus on finding herself in a place where she can align with someone, as opposed to sitting opposite of someone, however adversarial they are, as that’s where traction comes. Don’t try to prove that you belong there, rather go in believing you belong, and letting other people come along has been a great lesson for Sarah.
What Value Has Gesmer Updegrove Provided You?
Sarah expressed how Gesmer Updegrove has provided “tremendous” support in both the legal and business side of things. On the business side of things, “as I’ve said multiple times, everything’s about relationships. Gesmer has provided access to a network of entrepreneurs – and even friends – in the Boston area. I know people to call, I know people with whom I can commiserate, I know people with whom I can celebrate and that’s an important community to have,” Sarah shared.
“We’ve also worked with multiple partners at Gesmer for everything from our cap table and our share structure, to leases and important contracts with our customers. I love the insights that the Gesmer team brings, their responsiveness and the efficiency of working with them. It’s great to work with a firm that knows exactly what we’re trying to accomplish and truly cares about you.”
Why Go with Gesmer?
“Go with Gesmer because they are going to join you in what you want to accomplish. They don’t have their own agenda that they’re trying to fit you in, but they’re going to meet you where you are and move forward where you want to go.”
– Sarah Baker
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