Making Something From Nothing: Carina Steinbakk of Aevi Tech On How To Go From Idea To Launch

An Interview With Doug Noll

Doug Noll
Authority Magazine

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You will never feel like you are qualified. Some call it imposter syndrome, others just feeling out of their depth. That is in my opinion the life of startup founder. You are venturing into unknown waters, trying new things every day, not knowing where your next steps are. I then find it comforting to hold on to what I do know: My strengths, my idea, and how exciting it will be to see that next step when I find it!

As a part of our series called “Making Something From Nothing”, we had the pleasure of talking to Carina Steinbakk.

Meet Carina Steinbakk, the innovative mind behind Aevi Tech, and their product CertMate. As the Founder and CEO, she brings a unique blend of resources and energy industry expertise and entrepreneurial spirit to the forefront. With a passion for the environment, Steinbakk is on a mission to revolutionize the biosecurity management landscape.

Carina Steinbakk holds an Energy and Environmental Engineering MSc from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology where she honed her skills in everything energy, and went on to study an MSc in International Business Management at the University of Aberdeen. She then embarked on a dynamic career, journeying to Queensland, Australia, and took on impactful roles at Schlumberger and Origin Energy. During her tenures, Steinbakk got hands on with Australian biosecurity practices and constraints, developing her own MVP, and seeing the same problems arise across the renewable energy sector. With a passion for making positive change, she founded Aevi Tech in May 2021, and is now looking to take the first product to market, CertMate, which aims to revolutionise how companies manage vehicle biosecurity. She also has a passion for writing, and finding the magic in the world we live in, which has morphed into her first novel, Flames of Eader, an urban fantasy view on how the world we live in is in the precarious balance of light and dark, with humans determining which way the scales will tip.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dive in, our readers would love to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us a bit about your “childhood backstory”?

I grew up a bit of a nomad up until I was 6 years old, with a father working in the oil and gas industry. We moved around within Norway, and also living in England for 3 years. I think this has allowed me to be more open to change from an early age, adapting to new places and people, as well as giving me ‘restless bug’. I am never not doing something! Having an early interest in books and learning, I easily took to school and loved all the subjects, and would be diving into movies, listening to music and puzzling with different project, especially taking to technology. Helping my family with setting up technical solutions at home, trying out new iterations of mobile phones and computers, learning how it all ‘thinks’ and hangs together was a big contributor to me choosing to follow the path of my father; becoming an engineer. He has always been a big inspiration of mine, showing me I can have wings, while my mother was the one who grounded us all, reminding me of the importance of having strong roots. I grew up with two sisters, who are both strong women in their own right, and I ended up as the stereotypical middle child, ambitious and with sharp elbows!

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

I grew up with my personal mantra being: ‘Du må ingenting’ — or translated from Norwegian to mean ‘You don’t have to do anything’, with emphasis on have to. Other than being the bee in my mums bonnet when we had our little tiffs over housework and eating all my dinner, it became my sneaky way of telling myself I could make my own choices, and my own path. In later years, especially when starting my career, this evolved in to ‘Things don’t have to be the way they are’. This came from one of the most annoying statements I heard in my career so far, namely ‘it just is the way it is’. I took that as a challenge, and kept looking for those opportunities, a little bit of magic wherever I could find it to make improvements or find new ways of solving a problem.

Is there a particular book, podcast, or film that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?

I grew up reading all the books, mainly fantasy. It was a fantastic escape, as well as seeing all the extra opportunities that existed. If I had to pick one, I will be a little cliché and say Harry Potter. This is because of Hermione. She is smart, resourceful and always looks for the opportunities around her. She is also an entrepreneur, starting S.P.E.W (maybe not the greatest business name), or Society for the Promotion of Elfish Welfare. This part is left out of the movies, though she saw a problem, and set in motion a plan to solve it. While it turned out this wasn’t a problem that needed solving, she was one of the fictional women I looked up to while growing up.

Ok super. Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion. There is no shortage of good ideas out there. Many people have good ideas all the time. But people seem to struggle in taking a good idea and translating it into an actual business. Can you share a few ideas from your experience about how to overcome this challenge?

To this I would say, do not try and solve a problem you don’t have experience with. Having been hands on with the problem Aevi Tech is trying to solve, it was very clear to me what shape my business needed to take to help resolve this, and from here, the Aevi Tech platform has grown, to incorporate more industries and other biosecurity problems. Also, do your market research, and talk to other founders who are trying, or have tried to solve a similar problem. As entrepreneurs, we are not trying to reinvent the wheel, but rather to break it!

Often when people think of a new idea, they dismiss it saying someone else must have thought of it before. How would you recommend that someone go about researching whether or not their idea has already been created?

Google. Google really is your best friend when it comes to start up research, as well as speaking to the market. See what other solutions your potential customers are using today, and check in with local incubators to see if the community is looking at or have looked at this problem before. Note that having competitors is not a bad thing, you just have the opportunity to make a better solution!

For the benefit of our readers, can you outline the steps one has to go through, from when they think of the idea, until it finally lands in a customer’s hands? In particular, we’d love to hear about things like how to file a patent, how to source a good manufacturer, and how to find a retailer to distribute it.

Do your homework. I set up a company in Australia in 2021, and like many other startup founders, I had no idea what I was doing. So I did my homework. I had my DIY MVP, though needed to get it iterated into a practical solution for the market, so I started researching (Googling) tech developers. This is where I didn’t do my homework well enough. I ended up in a 2 year slump with a developer who did not deliver as contracted, and then turned into a legal battle to get my company back. In startups time is currency, and I lost 2 years, though gained a lot of experience on how to deal with the tech world, and also how to be firmer in my decision making. During these two years, I had joined River City Labs, a fantastic startup incubator in Brisbane, where I had met the director Pauline Fetaui. She helped source legal aid for Aevi Tech, and also referred me to a great developer, now turned co-founder. So in short, a startup path is not straight, and it is all about learning as you go. I joined several accelerators, building my knowledge base and my network, which has led me to where I am today — ready to go to market with my first product, CertMate. I have through my career cultured a strong network, which is helping me get my first customers, and also getting good feedback on the solution.

What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me When I First Started Leading My Company” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)

1 . You will never feel like you are qualified. Some call it imposter syndrome, others just feeling out of their depth. That is in my opinion the life of startup founder. You are venturing into unknown waters, trying new things every day, not knowing where your next steps are. I then find it comforting to hold on to what I do know: My strengths, my idea, and how exciting it will be to see that next step when I find it!

2 . There is no right or wrong way to start or lead a company. No one has the answers. If anyone tells you that there is one right way to be a startup founder, run away. I have always been a firm believer in optimising, finding the best way and so on, so this realization was a hard one. There is no rule book or flowchart. There are best practices, and then you just find your way. I would say to have good people around you, and always ask for help and support when you need it. Being a startup founder is not a one-person game. It can start out as one, but if you want to grow, ensure you have input and support from other amazing people.

3 . You will have to be good at failing. As a person I am used to knowing the things, or being good at figuring them out. As a CEO of my own company, I still keep doing this, though have had to learn that not everyone will believe in what I am doing. An example of this was my first pitch for angle investors. I have been bootstrapping my company since Day 1, though a friend set up a meeting with angle investors to help get my pitch deck up to scratch and for some feedback on my pitch, though it turned into a full blown investors pitch. Needless to say, I was not ready. I went in, pitched my heart out, and I was picked to pieces. “This is never going to work”, “you need to change your whole approach”, “what even is this?” what some of the feedback from a room of crossed arms and frowned faces. I was crushed, but held my head high, noted the feedback, then went to the bathroom to cry. Needless to say, I didn’t get investors that day, and also realised that not everyone would, or needed to get my idea.

4 . Time will be your most important resource. Being a renewable project development manager for Origin Energy full time, author and startup founder, I have found that time is a luxury. Juggling priorities and passions is also a luxury problem I love to have, so it gives me energy. Using time as an asset is something I learned early in life, and it is paying off now as an entrepreneur. As mentioned in my bio, I am never not doing something. Instead of this leading to burnout, it is giving me a boost, with a few tea breaks and walks with the dog on the beach.

5 . It is the most fun you will ever have, and you will always be hungry for more. Some people have asked if I have ADHD, having a brain that never stops, speaking ultrafast, and thinking even faster, so maybe I do, though it is one of my strengths. I crave action, movement and figuring out new challenges, and love being a startup founder for Aevi Tech. Entrepreneurship is part of who I am, and I think it has a lot to do with my upbringing and interest in the impossible, which is probably why I wrote stories about magic and new worlds, such as Flames of Eader.

Let’s imagine that a reader reading this interview has an idea for a product that they would like to invent. What are the first few steps that you would recommend that they take?

First of all, YAY! Then second, do research. See who has done it before; what worked, what didn’t? How is your idea different? When you have this worked out, and the idea is still viable, JUST GO FOR IT! At the end of the day, you don’t know if an idea will work or not until it has been launched to market. If you believe in it, go get it!

There are many invention development consultants. Would you recommend that a person with a new idea hire such a consultant, or should they try to strike out on their own?

If you can do it on your own, do it. Keep as much value as you can in the company, though ensure you doing it yourself is not hindering the growth of the company. When I started my venture, I wore all the hats, and have been up to very recently. I thought I had to have all the answers before reaching out to the world, though this is completely wrong. Talk to experts, ask for support and input, and use your skills where they are the most value to the company.

What are your thoughts about bootstrapping vs looking for venture capital? What is the best way to decide if you should do either one?

I have been bootstrapping all the way, and very happy I have. With currently no investors, and about to go out to market, the plan is to wait until CertMate has found product market fit before Aevi Tech starts seeking investors. The reason for this is that I prefer to look at investment as a scaling tool. When I have product market fit I would have proven the idea, shown the potential of the solution, and have more bargaining power when it comes to investors. Investors become a ‘good to have’ not a ‘need to have’, so I can be more selective and ensure I find investors who are a good fit for the company.

Ok. We are nearly done. Here are our final questions. How have you used your success to make the world a better place?

Being part of the startup community, both in Australia and globally, has been an amazing adventure so far, and as a success in progress, Aevi Tech aims to help mitigate the biosecurity risks for agriculture properties, starting from energy and resources activities on these properties, and then as a tool for the vineyards, farmers and more to manage all biosecurity risks.

You are an inspiration to a great many people. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

One of my core learnings from my time at university is that the only way we can help improve the future of our planet is to inspire change. And when I say change, I mean to teach everyone that change is needed. This is a concept that often makes people uncomfortable. Though that is exactly what we need — we need people to accept being uncomfortable, to change their lifestyles, adapt and adopt new solutions so we can move forward into a more sustainable future.

We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.

Honestly, I would absolutely love to sit down with Whitney Wolfe Herd! She has run the gauntlet as a female tech startup founder and navigated its treacherous water with grace and business savvy. It would be amazing to have a conversation about her experiences, tips and tricks and just in general talk about how to break into the American market.

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.

About the Interviewer: Douglas E. Noll, JD, MA was born nearly blind, crippled with club feet, partially deaf, and left-handed. He overcame all of these obstacles to become a successful civil trial lawyer. In 2000, he abandoned his law practice to become a peacemaker. His calling is to serve humanity, and he executes his calling at many levels. He is an award-winning author, teacher, and trainer. He is a highly experienced mediator. Doug’s work carries him from international work to helping people resolve deep interpersonal and ideological conflicts. Doug teaches his innovative de-escalation skill that calms any angry person in 90 seconds or less. With Laurel Kaufer, Doug founded Prison of Peace in 2009. The Prison of Peace project trains life and long terms incarcerated people to be powerful peacemakers and mediators. He has been deeply moved by inmates who have learned and applied deep, empathic listening skills, leadership skills, and problem-solving skills to reduce violence in their prison communities. Their dedication to learning, improving, and serving their communities motivates him to expand the principles of Prison of Peace so that every human wanting to learn the skills of peace may do so. Doug’s awards include California Lawyer Magazine Lawyer of the Year, Best Lawyers in America Lawyer of the Year, Purpose Prize Fellow, International Academy of Mediators Syd Leezak Award of Excellence, National Academy of Distinguished Neutrals Neutral of the Year. His four books have won a number of awards and commendations. Doug’s podcast, Listen With Leaders, is now accepting guests. Click on this link to learn more and apply.

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Doug Noll
Authority Magazine

Award-winning author, teacher, trainer, and now podcaster.