theClubhou.se member Chad DeMeyers and Kevin Huffman founded E3 Embedded Systems in 2013 to create custom circuit boards. Their shared interest, coupled with years of experience, has enabled them to create a product with multiple applications. Kevin was able to take a moment to respond to our questionnaire.
1: What is the business?
E3 Embedded Systems designs custom-printed circuit boards for commercial use, with a specific focus on embedded controller based designs and peripherals. E3 Embedded has designed a custom, patent pending, modular embedded controller system as its flagship product. E3 also does limited contract design work for local start-ups in the CSRA.
2: When and where did you found it?
The company was founded in Augusta, Georgia in 2013.
3: Where is the business now?
E3 Embedded has successfully completed development of it’s flagship product, the Processor Independent Embedded Platform (PIEP). E3 is currently working with a company in California to port a modular, processor-independent, embedded software platform to the PIEP hardware. Upon successful completion of the software integration, the PIEP platform is expected to be reintroduced for commercial sale. Additionally, E3 is assisting P4R75 in the design and production of educational robots (Sumo Robot League).
4: What were you like in school?
I’ve always had an intense interest in electronics and was an avid audiophile in college. I attended the IEEE Southeastern student conferences in Tampa (junior year) and Knoxville (senior year). At the Knoxville conference I presented a paper and hardware on a custom stereo simulator that I designed and built. At that time (1988), stereo TV was just starting to appear in second tier broadcast markets and the commercially available stereo simulators weren’t that great (simple delay lines that offset one of the stereo channels). My design incorporated a combination of phase and amplitude shifts (based on how humans perceive sound direction). It actually worked quite well, but the window of opportunity for a commercial product was quickly closing.
5: Any significant experiences/skills that (with hindsight) influenced your business?
I’ve worked on embedded controller hardware and software design for over 20 years. These skill sets, and my board design skills, were essential elements. I also did a year rotation at the Savannah River National Lab Technology Transfer group. This gave me invaluable experience of how to write and prosecute a patent for my design.
6: Any previous entrepreneurial experience? Lessons learned?
I had an idea for a medical device around 2001. I did the preliminary leg work but didn’t get a company officially formed. It was good experience and taught me the value of doing a business plan.
7: What appealed to you about entrepreneurship?
Being in charge of your own destiny is the ultimate measure of your professional worth. Your coworkers aren’t judging your worth, nor your boss. The paying public is judging your worth based on the value of the products and services you offer.
8: How did you get the idea?
The idea for PIEP came about from the extensive work I’ve done with embedded controllers throughout my career. With each new project, I had to design a new circuit board to meet the needs of the new project. I thought there must be a better way to do this on a commercial scale. Borrowing off the prototype/hobbyists type products (Arduino, Beaglebone, etc), I came up with PIEP.
9: How has your idea progressed over time?
Marrying a modular software with the hardware was definitely not on my plate initially. I’ve also evolved what hardware I’ve added to my system and what markets may best be targeted by the product.
10: How did you find your co-founders (if applicable)?
Chad and I knew each other as we are neighbors. I knew Chad had experience running a company and I really needed a partner with business experience. His entrepreneurship in software (a technical field) seemed like a really good fit with my technical skills (and lack of business skills).
11: How did you fund the business?
The business has largely been self-funded. Lately we’ve turned to offering contract design services (on a limited basis) to supplement income.
12: How did you market your business?
We ran a Kickstarter campaign and also offered our product to technical magazines for review. PIEP has appeared in several major technical publications: EE Times, Electronic Design, the Makers Workbench. We also contracted our web design and hit social media (LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter).
13: Who are your main competitors?
Arduino, Beaglebone, Freescale, ST Micro
14: What have you learned from your competitors (both successes and failures)?
The low-cost market is saturated with product offerings; higher priced markets are difficult to penetrate.
15: What does a typical day involve for you? How does that compare to your team (if applicable). How has this changed over time?
Neither of us have given up our day jobs. 60 hour weeks are very typical. We do our day jobs during the week and spend evenings/weekends working on E3 Embedded. It can be very stressful at times with little time to do much else, and the payoff for the long hours isn’t quick or easy.
16: Favorite entrepreneurs?
Steve Jobs. He was a jerk, but his relentless pursuit of perfection is a rarity in today’s electronics market.
William J. Riley (New Balance). Despite market pressures to do otherwise, the company maintains manufacturing in the US. In all fairness, Riley is long dead, but his company maintains the US production policy.
17: Best piece of advice?
Write a business plan. It may seem like a complete waste, but it forces you to think through details in your business that you otherwise would not.
18: What are some common misconceptions about your business/entrepreneurship in general?
Trying to explain what embedded controllers are and how they are used has been a major challenge for those who aren’t technical.
19: What is next for your business?
Retirement. Seriously, by the time we get this company through profitability and sold, I’ll be old enough (and ready) to retire.
20: What next for you?
E3 is branching out in other embedded design projects (beyond PIEP) both as a design contractor and new products in our stable. We are hopeful that we can add a small pick and place machine to our capabilities so we can do low-volume production.
21: How has working out of theClubhou.se benefitted your company?
theClubhou.se has benefited us in several ways. The contact with other technical people has been invaluable. I am now much more knowledgeable about Arduino controllers. It has connected me with contract opportunities (P4R75 robotics parts) and served as a great meeting place for my business. We were in discussion with a major communications company for several months and frequently did day long meetings with the company at theClubhou.se. theClubhou.se is truly a unique asset for the CSRA to grow technical businesses and skill sets.
If you are a member of theClubhou.se and you would like your entrepreneurial endeavor featured here on the website, please contact Chase Lanier at firstname.lastname@example.org.