NCSU Campus Corner: Aeva Labs’ Zach Fearnside and Steven Guido

Steven Guido (left) and Zach Fearnside are NC State grads and the founders of Aeva Labs, which cuts the aging process for distilling alcohol from years to days.

[Editor’s Note: In Campus Corner, one of the four major Triangle universities—UNC-Chapel Hill, Duke, NC State and NC Central—will feature someone from its entrepreneurial community, anyone from an alum founder to an investor to a professor to a live mascot. Though probably not a mascot.]

It is the classic beginnings of a collegiate entrepreneurial journey… Zach Fearnside and Steven Guido met in their freshman dorm and lived on the same hall for two years while at NC State. They even shared the same internship one summer in Albuquerque, N.M. Steven’s curiosity about the spirits industry led to their recognition of inefficiencies in the distillery process. With this opportunity recognized, they jointly submitted the idea behind Aeva Labs as their senior design project in the Engineering Entrepreneurs Program. They launched Aeva Labs in February 2018. Zach graduated with a double major in electrical and computer engineering and Steven completed his degree in mechanical engineering.

Last summer they received funds from the NC State Acceleration Fund and successfully completed the Andrews Launch Accelerator. In less than two years since launch (being students for half of that) they have two working devices in the market (and a third launching on Sept. 1), paying customers and a robust pipeline of customers waiting for installations to help age liquor in days, not years.

How do you start a successful day?
Zach: A successful day for me starts with a 6:30 a.m. gym session if we’re not in the middle of build season. Occasionally customer visits and upcoming deadlines stop this from occurring. This is a great time for introspection before starting the day. This gives me some time to think about upcoming projects and decisions without feeling the pressure of a normal workday.

Once I get to the office, I have a short stand-up meeting with our engineering team and select personal goals for myself to complete for that day. I don’t let myself go home until those are complete.

Steven: I’m a strong believer that a good day starts with a positive mindset and strong focus. Every morning, I take a moment to lay out a few objectives (personal and business) that I want to achieve, and work towards those goals.

What gets you excited in life or business?
Zach: Growth. Whether that’s personal or business. Sometimes it manifests itself in fitness goals, sometimes it’s reading a new book and having an epiphany. I aim to grow in all aspects of my life and I try not to accept mediocrity in any of it. Accepting mediocrity in our personal life can be easy to do as an entrepreneur because we’re so laser-focused on our business. Taking some time to disassociate from the business and work on yourself is incredibly important from both a mental health and growth perspective.

Steven: Every day, I have the opportunity to spend my time doing something I love. Although there is a lot of time and sacrifice that goes into building a company, I am motivated by the constant learning and personal growth that comes with it. Not to mention, it’s fun to see your vision come to fruition.

What was your inspiration for Aeva Labs?
Zach & Steven: Aeva Labs started out of curiosity about how alcohol production works and what actually makes different spirits unique. Steven was researching the topic when he realized that over half of liquor undergoes a process called aging, where the spirits sit inside a wooden barrel for years until they “mature.” This process imparts flavor, color, and aroma that give liquors like whiskey their key characteristics.

We started reaching out to local distilleries to ask about this process, and discovered these distilleries were having difficulty with aging: It’s time-consuming and expensive. Most of the distilleries we talked to weren’t old enough to even have an aged liquor. This sparked the creation of Aeva Labs.

Who has made the most profound impact on your life or business?
Zach: My Mom. Can’t thank her enough for all the 80-hour weeks she’s put in during my life. She runs her own small-business as a tax preparer and she’s sacrificed a lot to get me this far. I can’t say any other person even comes close to her. She’s been an amazing role model, finding time to raise me while working insane hours. Thanks, Mom.

Steven: I can’t credit a single individual here, but I’d say the mentors and advisors I’ve had along the way have changed the way I see the world. Before graduating college, I was having trouble deciding what I wanted to do with my life. These mentors helped open my eyes to new possibilities and showed me another path, which has led me here today!

What is your biggest piece of advice to budding entrepreneurs?
Zach: Prioritization is king. Don’t spend time doing things that don’t progress your top 3-5 goals. You will constantly play the game of laser focusing while still juggling tasks. It is important to learn how to move several things forward at once, but ensure you’re still completing milestones. This is why I pick 3-5 tasks that I MUST complete by the end of the day, no questions asked. If I finish early, then I work on background tasks and unblocking my teammates’ pipelines.

Steven: Your most important asset is time. Prioritize your tasks, get the most out of your day, and, most importantly, don’t forget to leave time for yourself.

How do you measure personal success?
Zach: I’m always trying to focus on building communication, people management, and project management skills. These are all skills that young founders typically don’t have, yet they’re incredibly important. The easiest way to measure these skills is by asking myself “how happy are people around me?” and “are we all getting held accountable?”

The way I measure my personal growth is by taking a quarter-to-quarter pulse. If I don’t feel like I’m growing at an exponential rate, I’m not succeeding. Every time I look back at myself I should feel as if I was naive and significantly less knowledgeable. If that doesn’t happen, I’m stagnating. The most powerful part of this journey so far is exactly that: the ludicrous personal growth.

Steven: To me, success is following your passion every day.

Alfredo Linguini from “Ratatouille.”

What’s a unique fact about you that only a small number of people know about you (that you’re willing to share with millions of readers :))?
Zach: I was fortunate enough to be a piccolo and flute player in symphonies at venues in LA, NYC (Carnegie Hall), and Atlanta. It was a humbling experience to play in such incredible music venues.

Steven: I look oddly similar to Linguini from the movie Ratatouille.

What’s is the biggest surprise you have faced since launching Aeva Labs?
Zach & Steven: The biggest surprise to date was when our company was featured in the American Distilling Institute newsletter. We woke up to a few emails from local distilleries congratulating us… followed by an inundation of emails of people from across the globe excited to learn more about our product!

What’s next for Aeva Labs?
Zach & Steven: We’ll grow our presence craft distillery market while we gear up to service larger distilleries with our technology. We’ve seen a lot of interest internationally as well (Japan, Scotland, Peru, etc.) which we will capitalize on once we’re a bit farther along! We’ll also be raising capital & getting some key mentors in the spirit space.

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About Lewis Sheats 1 Article
Lewis serves as the executive director of the NC State Entrepreneurship Clinic, an initiative that exposes students to experiential learning, embeds them in the entrepreneurship community and provides the resources needed to execute their own ideas. As a faculty member of the NC State Poole College of Management he is devoted to preparing the next generation of entrepreneurs.