Kabir Maiga, MsE ’14: Unlocking Innovation with Business Skills
Kabir Maiga, MsE ’14, is the co-founder of PassiveBolt Inc., a company revolutionizing the way we secure our homes. His most popular product, the Shepherd Lock, is a touch-based keyless entry system that works with existing lock hardware and reacts to an encrypted virtual key stored on a user’s smartphone or fob.
“We focused on improving the overall user experience by transforming any home’s existing door lock into a touch sensor,” Maiga says. “Decades of automotive experience and data have proven that ‘touch’ is the most accurate means of measuring user intent in a passive keyless system.”
Several prominent outlets have already featured PassiveBolt and the Shepherd Lock, including Henry Ford’s Innovation Nation and Forbes. Additionally, the product received the CES Innovation Award in 2020 and 2021. Maiga is also garnering personal recognition, being recently named to Forbes’ Next 1000 2021.
The path to PassiveBolt
Maiga is an accomplished engineer with experience in software development, finance, electrical engineering, and more. He conceived the concept for PassiveBolt while working on vehicle keyless entry technology for Continental Automotive, a German multinational automotive parts manufacturer.
In 2017, Maiga submitted a product application through a Continental startup program called co-pace, which allows employees to pitch reinvented company technology for non-automotive use. Maiga's proposal was one of only 10 chosen out of nearly 1,800 received from across the globe to present their concepts to members of Continental’s board and other high-ranking company officials in Germany.
Thanks to his Ross education, “I had a huge advantage going in,” Maiga said: “I was able to craft my presentation in a way that not only conveyed the innovation itself, but also conveyed what quality business can be built around it and scaled.”
Once selected as one of the three winners, he moved to Germany for several months and incubated the concept with co-founder Simon Forster. In 2018, Maiga elected to spin PassiveBolt off as a separate entity because the non-automotive didn’t fit under any of Continental’s current business units. Instead, the automotive giant became an investor and strategic partner. PassiveBolt officially launched in June 2018, and now PassiveBolt is located in Ann Arbor, a city Maiga also called home as a graduate student.
Laying the groundwork at Michigan Ross
Maiga decided to pursue a graduate degree in 2012 after a few years as a software developer and financial analyst. He had learned early on the important role business acumen plays in his field. Throughout his professional background, he had seen that any successful product — no matter how innovative or useful it may be — must be cost effective to manufacture and marketable to the consumer. This understanding led him to enroll in dual master’s programs at University of Michigan, earning a Master of Entrepreneurship from the Ross School of Business along with his Master of Engineering.
“I truly believe that every engineer can greatly benefit from business training,” Maiga says. “Innovative products or software are engineered to address societal needs. The very essence of entrepreneurship is knowing how to uncover a real need, engineering a solution to address that need, and creating scalable business models around the solution. An engineer is mainly trained to engineer solutions. But in order to see the full picture, business skills are necessary.”
At Michigan Ross, Maiga gained the business background that would later help him launch PassiveBolt, including courses in business law, intellectual property law, business operations, marketing, and much more. He also honed his abilities to develop a comprehensive business plan. Just as important, his Ross professors also showed him how to be adaptable and to chart his own course to success as an entrepreneur.
“There is no playbook,” Maiga says. “Having a highly diverse professional background and academic training from Michigan Ross provides me with an improved ability to think outside of the box. My Master of Entrepreneurship training was transformative.”
Without his arsenal of entrepreneurial skills at his disposal, Maiga and PassiveBolt may not be rising stars in a competitive industry. Combined with his engineering expertise, his Michigan Ross education opened the door to launching and leading a new business.