A lot of engineers are interested in entrepreneurial careers these days. What motivated you to start your own company? At school, I found myself peering through a microscope during one of my classes. The microscope was on an ordinary lab bench. The guy next to me was over 6-feet tall and he had to hunch over to get close to the viewing optics. A woman on the other side of me was so short she had to stand on a milk crate to see. I figured this was a ridiculous way to use a $15,000 microscope. I came up with the idea of the AdjusTable workstation out of that experience. It eventually won an award for best new ergonomic product in 2007.
As an entrepreneur, what’s been your worst decision? When I first started out, I was eager to get my product to market and went to production without fully prototyping the design first. Dissatisfied with the design, I decided to scrap the produced units, costing valuable time and money. Now, I fully prototype and test every function to ensure complete product quality and design.
What things attracted you to an engineering career in the first place? Since childhood I have been fascinated by how things work. As soon as I would unwrap a birthday or Christmas present, I would take it apart to see how it worked. This curiosity went beyond discovering inner workings. I eventually started thinking about how I could improve the design. As an engineer, I am motivated to find simple and creative designs to everyday problems.
And the thing I like most about my job is the opportunity to solve problems and think outside the box. With the development of the AdjusTable workstation, pivot points were a major obstacle. We needed to find an economical, precision bearing for the 14 pivot points of the linkage in the workstation. After months of prototyping we realized there was no out-of-the box solution and engineered our own proprietary acetal bearing. Hardware used to assemble the workstation also proved to be a hurdle. It was necessary to use all-stainless-steel hardware, but we needed to do so economically, while adhering to several sets of industry standards, including NSF, ADA, UL, and ANSI BIFMA.
What does a typical day look like for an entrepreneurial company? Everyday is unique. I spend anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour responding to clients and vendors. The rest of my day is not what could be called typical. I may be traveling to current and prospective clients, responding to RFPs, or working with my engineering team to improve and diversify our product lines based on feedback and special requests from our clients. Because we are a small company, I wear many hats and get involved in every aspect of the business.
What has been the most frustrating aspect of your venture? Thomas Edison said, after many fruitless attempts to create a battery, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” With 16 prototypes under my belt, I now suspect Thomas Edison said that only after he was successful creating that battery. We do learn from our failures, but failing is tough. Each prototype did bring us closer to the AdjusTable, but it is hard not to focus on the cost failings of each prototype that wasn’t quite good enough.
Did you ever consider doing something else with your life besides engineering? I think there is a common, underlying theme among my outside interests and my passion for engineering. Problems create possibilities. In engineering, the opportunity may lie in an innovative design solution, or the application of a design in a new market. Similarly, real-estate investment is about recognizing possibilities.
If a young person approached you for career advice about pursuing engineering, what would you tell them? Engineering is not just a career, it is a lifestyle. Engineers are innovators and to excel in your field of expertise you must always strive for excellence and simplicity. It is easy to design something complicated but you have to challenge yourself to make the design as simple as possible.
Edited by Leland Teschler