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Alumni Entrepreneurs Encourage Students to Dream Big

April 18, 2014


Lessons Learned: Cyan Inc. President Michael Hatfield, a 1984 graduate and trustee, was a keynote speaker at this year’s conference. (Photo by Larry Ladig)

     Rock-star alumni urged innovative students to chase their entrepreneurial aspirations while passing along valuable advice during the Rose Startup Conference. The event, organized by members of the Rose Innovative Student Entrepreneurs (RISE) organization, brought together present and future leaders to explore business opportunities.

     One of the remarkable success stories is Michael Hatfield, a 1984 electrical engineering/mathematics/economics graduate, whose high-speed fiber-optics systems startup was acquired by Cisco for $7 billion. His fourth successful startup enterprise, California-based Cyan Inc., is a publicly-traded technology company that helps service providers and other network operators around the world scale their networks, reduce costs, and accelerate service delivery.

     “Entrepreneurs find ways to create new things,” Hatfield advises. “Anyone can make it. You just need to claim your domain in the marketplace.”

     That’s what Hatfield did in capturing the technology market for communications service providers. His enterprises were Calix and Cerent, and he was a team leader for Advanced Fibre Communications, a startup which became a publicly-traded company. He has also had management roles at DSC Communications and Ameritech.

Zielke With Students

Encouraging Entrepreneurism:  Precise Path Robotics President/CEO Jason Zielke exchanges ideas with students attending this year’s event. He earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Rose-Hulman. (Photo by Larry Ladig)

     “None of my enterprises may have been household names, but they were in demand in their markets,” says Hatfield. Later, he adds, “Rose-Hulman was my secret bullet. My education gave me the ability to look at problems critically and work in teams—two valuable areas if you’re going to make it as a startup.”

     Jason Zielke has also found a niche market. He leads Precise Path Robotics, an Indiana-based technology company whose robotic greens mower is among products focused on the lucrative golf course market. He earned a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering in 2000 and a master’s degree in engineering management in 2002.

     Prior to joining Precise Path, Zielke was an Innovation Fellow assisting in the development of projects for Rose-Hulman Ventures; founded Enjoin, a software development company; and consulted for numerous startup technology companies in the areas of product management, market positioning, and finance. He also was an application engineer at Allison Electric Drive, where he helped successfully launch General Motors’ first hybrid technology platform.

     “Entrepreneurship takes passion, the ability to listen, and executing creative ideas,” says Zielke, Precise Path Robotics’ President and Chief Executive Officer. “Seeing the paths alumni have taken to success should help students know where they’re headed. It also shows that it can be done. We did it and they can too.”

     Hatfield and Zielke were the conference’s keynote speakers.

     “We wanted to hear from the best,” says conference organizer Nick Birch, a senior mechanical engineering student. “Students got great advice from people with valuable lessons learned. The fact that they’re alumni adds even more inspiration.”


Helpful Advice:  Former Beckman Coulter Life Sciences President Scott Atkin (left) and Sticksnleaves Co-Founder Yaw Aning pass along tips during a panel session. Aning is a 2007 civil engineering alumnus.

     Other conference alumni contributors were:

  •  Yaw Aning, a 2007 civil engineering alumnus, co-founder of Sticksnleaves, who has helped clients launch more than 20 new technology ventures for small startups and large enterprises.

  •  Jim A. Coles, a 1969 electrical engineering alumnus, who specializes in intellectual property with Indianapolis-based Densborn Blachly LLP law firm, and an influential leader in technology and business issues.

  •  Dustin DuBois, a 1992 chemical engineering graduate, an Ice Miller LLP partner who assists clients with complex legal issues involving privacy laws and regulatory frameworks.

  •  Jonathon Fruchte, portfolio manager for Elevate Ventures, an active angel and seed fund investment firm. He earned a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering in 2005 and master’s degree in engineering management in 2006.

  • Charlie Key, a 2007 computer engineering alumnus, co-founder of Modulus, a startup that’s focusing on building the best Node.js hosting solution.