Jessica Chosid is the CEO of Nixie-Dip, a start-up that performs water quality sampling and data collection by mounting water sensors on drones and transmitting the data to a real-time mobile platform. It's her second start-up. The first was Reign Maker, which used drones to inspect buildings, bridges, and other infrastructure.
I was born in the Bronx but grew up in Dumont, New Jersey, which is about seven miles from the George Washington Bridge. It was composed of blue-collar workers, cops, firemen, and mobsters. That was pretty much my reality.
My father was a mathematician, and my mother was an English teacher. They wanted me to become a teacher. From a very early age, my dad would pay me to do tasks around the house. I think that might have been the start of my business sense.
My first job was when I was in high school at a place called Making Chocolate. I worked the cash register and helped make chocolate in little molds. In the backroom, they also had these pornographic molds, and I bought a bunch of them and had a side gig selling to my high school friends and even some of my teachers.
I learned I was able to make money on the side by bringing a creative product to my local market.
After high school, I got into the Mason Gross School of the Arts at Rutgers. I wanted to be a famous painter. It was great, except they didn't teach you any practical skills. No business classes, no marketing classes. That was a problem. But it was a great fine art program. My family pushed me to get a bachelor's degree instead, so I transferred to Rutgers College.
After college, I met and married an Israeli. We moved to Tel Aviv, and I had my son. An Israeli newspaper hired me in Tel Aviv – Ma’ariv – to do information graphics. That was very important for that market because you had people coming from a lot of different countries who did not necessarily speak the language and needed to understand critical things very quickly, such as where the bomb shelters were located, what to do in case of a chemical attack, how to put on a gas mask, how to give themselves an injection if there was a biological attack. So that's how I got my start. On my first day, my boss told me, ‘You can’t cry.’
I walked to work every day because I didn’t trust public transportation. In 2001 and 2002, there were 25 suicide bombings within a five-block radius of my apartment. And I had a newborn.
So I moved back to the U.S. I ended up at the New York Post for about six months, then The Wall Street Journal, and then Bloomberg, which I joined in 2005. There were so many smart people, and the technology was really advanced and interesting.
Then came the financial housing crisis, and it was almost like a slow-motion car crash. I started seeing users of Bloomberg Terminals collapsing, shutting down, or laying people off, and I knew it was coming down the line. I knew there were going to be layoffs because the money wasn't there anymore.
I got laid off from Bloomberg in 2010, and it was a defining moment in my career. My big takeaway was that I was in a department that wasn’t revenue-generating.
I remember realizing I wanted to avoid this happening in the future so I either had to be in a revenue-generating department and actually be a revenue-generating employee – or start my own business.
If you're really good at something, eventually, you'll make money.
I was headhunted to become the creative director at Hazen and Sawyer, the largest privately held water engineering company in the U.S. It was a company that improved people's lives in very pragmatic ways.
I started working in the civil engineering department – I found it fascinating and important that they were doing things to clean water and build water plants, which helped humanity. I realized how empty it was being in the data business. You could work for a month on a graphic for a news story, but an hour later, it was old news.
But Hazen was 20 years behind Bloomberg in terms of technology. So was their mindset – they were too tied to the government's way of doing things. One of my jobs there was to pull them kicking and screaming into the 21st century, and it was almost impossible.
And it wasn't only them. All of the engineering companies and government agencies were like that. That gave me the idea to open up a company to bring advanced technologies to civil engineering and the government sector.
I had learned the wild world of government contracting at Hazen and Sawyer. So when I opened up Reign Maker, we started bidding on government contracts.
We started with different things but pivoted almost completely to drone inspections and using different kinds of sensors attached to drones to collect data, such as photographs, thermal imagery, or any kind of data analytics.
I found out what a logistical nightmare it was to collect water samples mandated by government agencies. So I started working on creating a system that could be attached to drones to collect water samples.
I developed Nixie – basically, it's an attachment to off-the-shelf drones. It either collects the physical water sample or holds water sensors and automatically transmits data on up to 21 different water parameters to a mobile platform.
But Reign Maker was a service business, and 90% of all of our work was government contracts. When COVID hit, all the contracts were paused, and we had no more work.
I had lots of time, so I started working on Nixie. The idea was to have more private and short-term work. Now, with Nixie-Dip, we’re focused on private customers and finding markets for water data.
I’ve learned lots of lessons along the way, but I‘ve always followed my interests, and it’s worked out.
This is what I said to my son. He can do anything he wants in life as long as it interests him because then he will be really good at it. And if you're really good at it, then eventually, you'll end up making money from it.
I also told him he should never really say no to anything. You should always take every opportunity that comes your way because you don't always have a plan in life, and life takes you in different directions.
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Jessica Chosid is the CEO of Nixie-Dip, a start-up that performs water quality sampling and data collection.