Five Speed School undergrads start tech company
by Kevin Hyde, special to UofL Today
For students at the University of Louisville's J.B. Speed School of Engineering, the required one-year co-op each must complete before they graduate not only offers invaluable engineering practice but also a heavy dose of business sense.
For five current and very entrepreneurial seniors, the brush with the "real world" they received during their engineering co-ops was downright inspirational and led them to start their own technology firm-Inven LLC.
They founded Inven - whose name is a combination of the words "innovation" and "venture" (and coming very close to "invent") - on Jan. 1 as a service-based firm that specializes in technology and product development. Its services include patent searching, intellectual property development, prototyping and product design.
"So if you come up with an idea for a new tape recorder," saidInven CEO Alex Frommeyer, pointing to the reporter's tape recorder in front of him, "you would bring your idea to us. We would do a market feasibility study to determine if this idea would sell when it hit the market. If we determine that it will, we'll do patent searching. Is there intellectual property that is covered with this type of device?
"And then we proceed into the design and prototyping phase … Eventually we will have an improved tape recorder."
Inven is working with two active clients - one an established medical device designer, the other a startup business.
"We're helping develop two brand new technologies right now," Frommeyer said. "We're very grateful. They have very different approaches and different types of products - both very exciting and engaging."
After finding the two companies in Louisville, Frommeyer approached them "hat in hand" last year before Inven was established. The pitch went something like this: "Look, I'm a junior in college and I am going to use the rest of my undergrad at UofL to try and learn how to [start and run a technology and product development company]," Frommeyer recalled.
"The fact there are only two clients right now is on purpose," he said. "We don't want to take on, or even try to take on, too much work right now. It's very important for us to do a very thorough job. It's imperative to do everything we can to gain the experience and satisfy the clients we do have in every way that we can. We need to establish a good business reputation and not overextend ourselves."
The five friends who make up Inven are Frommeyer; Daniel Dykes, design director; Joe Schab, research director; Tony Kremer, development director; and Alex Curry, director of patent research.
"We all have similar strengths," Frommeyer said. "We're similar enough to see eye to eye on the big things and different enough to have a lot of opinions and a lot of different ideas. That's a good dynamic for a young business."
All are from northern Kentucky - three from Campbell Country, two from Boone County - but they didn't solidify their friendship until freshman year, a time when they immediately began discussing the possibility of starting their own business.
On the heels of their co-ops - which were with big oil companies, a major medical developer and a local construction firm - they decided that the time was right, Frommeyer said.
Still being students offers several advantages, he added.
"We have a low-risk profile. None of us have wives or kids, so now is a good time to start because we really only need to be self-sustaining in order to get through these first challenging years with the business."
And, Inven also is positioned well in the current economic climate, Frommeyer said.
"As the economy starts to hopefully build back, we can build with it," he said. "Starting now and having some time when nobody is really doing especially well and having an opportunity to be a few years into the business as the economy gets back going could end up being great timing for us."
The members of Inven are set to graduate from UofL in May 2011.