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Laser-like focus, plus a bit of luck

Cambridge MBA alumnus Tommy Katzenellenbogen went from Israel to Cambridge to Silicon Valley, where he helped launch a tech startup that protects India’s international borders.

The laser beam in the experiment with quartz prisms

Tommy Katzenellenbogen

Tommy Katzenellenbogen

CRON Systems, a technology startup co-founded by Cambridge MBA alumnus Tommy Katzenellenbogen, is now helping to protect the borders of India with infrared devices and lasers. The company also has eyes on commercial security applications.

Born in Germany and raised in Israel, Tommy came from an entrepreneurial family – his father was an entrepreneur – and Tommy had a 14-year career with Israel’s armed forces, first as an infantry officer and then an F-15 fighter pilot.

Looking for a new challenge, he enrolled in the Cambridge MBA in 2012, landed a role at venture capital organisation Octopus Ventures in London, and then applied and won a US Green Card through the lottery system. He then made his way to Silicon Valley, where he worked as a mentor and the VP of Global Educational Content Development with the Startup Leadership Program in Silicon Valley.

It was there that he met Tushar Chhabra, and that led to the founding in 2015 of CRON Systems by Tommy Katzenellenbogen, Tushar Chhabra and Saurav Agarwala. Tommy is based in San Francisco, while the other CRON founders are based in their native India.

For Tommy, the formula of entrepreneurship, technology and security is one that resonates. “I love being on the cutting edge of new technologies, particularly in security and border defence – a passion of mine since my military days,” he says.

CRON says it has struck agreements with India’s Border Security Force (BSF) and the Indian Army to help secure international borders (and are now looking into securing sensitive facilities such as military bases and airports). The technology relies on sensor “base units” which are placed behind a border fence, 250 metres apart, working with infrared and lasers to communicate with both a central control system and mobile officers patrolling the border.

The technology can detect if something has crossed the border at a particular point in time and location, and also tell whether the intruder is a human or an animal, their size, whether they turned left or right and whether they were walking, running or crawling. This level of detail allows the defending force to work more efficiently and act quickly when an intruder is detected.

On the commercial side, CRON sees application for its system in protecting warehouses, homes and farms, with pilot programmes now in place in India, and in discussion with a number of international clients in Asia, Gulf, and Europe.

The company recently raised pre-series A funding from YourNest, an early-stage investor in India, and plans to use the funding to develop new Internet of Things-based security products.

As well as working with CRON Systems, Tommy mentors a number of startups and works with United Arab Emirates University, Science and Innovation Park (UAEU-SIP) as an Entrepreneur in Residence on their Global Advisory Panel. He is also the Vice President of Global Education for The Startup Leadership Program (SLP).

His advice to anyone with a notion of becoming an entrepreneur? Be persistent and dare. You can’t win if you never apply. You have to go after what you want.

“Make your own luck,” he says. “When I was 13, I won the lottery and got a flight to Disney World. When I was an adult, I won the Green Card lottery first time. But you can’t win if you never apply. You have to go after what you want, no matter what. Every time I pushed myself outside my comfort zone, good things happened to me. If you keep insisting, eventually the universe will concede to your will.”

Tommy is interested in hearing from…

…anyone interested in entrepreneurship and border protection technology.