Alumni Spotlight with Ken Sawyer, MEng, MED, PMP, CISSP (and there are more…)
You can tell by the list of certifications after Ken Sawyer’s name that he has a passion for knowledge. As a 2009 IEM graduate, Ken still says it is the best thing in his professional life that’s ever happened to him. So, what has Ken been up to since he graduated the program? We caught up with him following his delivery of a beta product to a pretty big client:
Q: What has changed for you following IEM?
Ken: When I came out of the program, I was working for a company called Valmont Industries and I knew that was coming to an end. While my wife and I already had one business in place, Sawyer Systems, I had a friend come to me and ask me to write some inspection and compliance software. I talked with my son, who shares my entrepreneurial spirit and we formed Sawyer Solutions, LLC with our family and then Blue-Sky-Innovations, LLC with my friend’s company. The product is now in beta and it really wasn’t until last month we started to build some steam. The product is being field tested at the Willis Tower (formerly Sears Tower) and will be in a couple of other locations by the end of December. It’s been a long, slow process, but any start-up is a slow process.
Q: What is your best advice for anyone wanting to launch a tech startup?
Not all IEM clients find their passion in technology – some have found it in food! That is the case with Shane Hill, IEM Class of 2011. His final project was the very successful Alabama Tailgate cookbook. And while his journey has not led him to quit his day job as technical lead at BBVA Compass, it has led to the next book idea and some successful catering gigs. We caught up with Shane to get an update.
This month we go way back to the first IEM class and check in with Todd Miranda, CEO and Creator of NxtDimension Solutions (http://www.nxtdimension.com/default.html), a company that specializes in Microsoft technologies, software and training solutions. Todd ran NxtDimension Solutions on the side for about 10 years, while working full-time. He recently just this past year took the leap of faith and is now doing NxtDimension full-time. In this update he talks about the decision making process to leave his job and follow his passion with his own company.
Alumni Check In with Ruben Martinez-Raposo of RapososGourmet.com
If you are not already familiar with the gourmet goods from Ruben Martinez-Raposo, you need to check out his online store at RapososGourmet.com. Ruben started the IEM program in 2010, and before his first class he already had a passion for food and wine, and planned to start his own business. His first class with Dr. Callahan, director of the IEM program, sealed the deal and he launched the company the same year. Since his graduation in May of this year Ruben says RapososGourmet.com is continuing to grow. What was a company of one, has now grown to a company of two, enlisting his newlywed wife in the business. Here is a quick update from Ruben.
Q: What was the biggest challenge you had to overcome in starting your business?
A: Getting past the fear of failure. Failure is a part of entrepreneurship. Dale helped me overcome that fear and the notion that I had to have everything figured out on paper first. Sometimes you can’t see or answer every question before you start a business. Dale’s advice of “just do it,” gave me the confidence to get started.
Q: How much has your business changed from your original concept?
A: The concept of my company has not changed, but there were some things I didn’t anticipate. For example, having a retail website means you have to have a lot of content. I was not expecting that. I thought I would just post items and they would sell, because they were great products. I did not anticipate all of the imagery, content descriptions, and recipes to get people interested in the products. You have to build a story around your products.
Q: What is the single best piece of advice you would give others looking to start their own business?
A: Be confident in your idea. In the beginning, you are going to feel shaky, don’t let it hold you back. Again, it’s getting past that fear of failure – you truly have to have the mindset of “so what.” If you fail, you can try something else. Some of the nation’s most profitable companies were built after the first attempt failed.
Q: Do you still work at a full-time job?
A: Yes, I work for McKesson as a product manager in the Enterprise Intelligence division, which I was recently promoted to. McKesson has been a great company for me to grow, learn and expand my professional experience and leadership. I am very happy with my progress at McKesson and look forward to continued growth with the company. I used to be a project manager, but now I’m more into business analytics – it’s a more strategic position and I’m very happy. IEM also played a role in helping me find that direction. I really love both of my jobs, otherwise I wouldn’t be doing it.
Support Ruben and RapososGourmet.com by “liking” him on Facebook and “following” him on Twitter. They are also a partner on Amazon.com and you can purchase all of his products there as well.