Computers Mean Business for WPI Student Entrepreneurs

Contact: WPI Media Relations, 508-831-5616

WORCESTER, Mass. -- Worcester Polytechnic Institute senior Eugene Suzuki went to Washington, D.C., last year to do his Interactive Qualifying Project (IQP) and came back with the contacts and the knowledge to help his company become a federal contractor.

Suzuki, an electrical engineering major, is one of those people who has a knack for seeing everything as a potential opportunity and seizing each opportunity to enhance his own goals. Not long after coming to WPI, he and fellow Rhode Islander and EE major David Strong were offered the chance to help a Worcester company design a computer system.

Strong did a co-op with Sikorsky Aircraft. "The initial co-op assignment became a three-and-a-half year part-time job working on the electrical power system design for the Comanche helicopter," he says. "I began doing simple, power-system layout. The more I learned at WPI, the more responsibility I was able to attain at Sikorsky. When the opportunity to design a computer system for the Worcester company came along, I began a dialog with Gene. Together we decided that with the revenues from this one computer, we could cover the price of incorporation."

Suzuki notes that starting Valtech (which stands for Value Technologies) "cost just $265 up front--the cost of incorporating in Massachusetts." Although their first contract failed to materialize, the two fledgling entrepreneurs began taking orders from students for packages, then got a couple of customers in Rhode Island. "From that start we began selling computers and performing LAN administration tasks."

Suzuki's business radar was also acute one day when he was working as a waiter in Fuji, his mother's Japanese restaurant in Providence. "A couple had this PC magazine on the table. I asked about it and they said they were looking for solutions to their computer problems. They weren't sure that I could do the work at first, so they had me start on getting a small network running more efficiently." When that company was acquired by Morgan Schiff & Co., a New York investment firm, Suzuki expanded his contact base. Valtech also put together a management information system for The Music School, a nonprofit music school in Providence.

The partners' big break came in the fall of 1994, when Suzuki went to Washington to do his IQP, a WPI requirement, and met someone working under his project liaison's auspices who had been trying to get a contract for general Internet support services for the Department of Health and Human Services.

"They'd had some trouble with some of their Internet software," says Suzuki. "I fixed it and they asked if I wanted summer work. I had other commitments up here that Dave took over and I went down last June and spent the summer working at HHS, where I redesigned their entire overall Internet presence as a government cabinet agency. Our company received a second task order to continue the work part-time this fall."

Strong (who now handles LAN administration for Valtech's Providence accounts) and Suzuki plan to apply for their company to be certified as a SBA subchapter 8A corporation, which will give Valtech small disadvantaged minority business status and make it eligible for 8A set-aside contracts of up to $3 million. They plan to move their business to Washington after they graduate. Strong, who plans to attend graduate school part time, says he and Suzuki will work "to expand our business to include additional software and hardware development in the computer and communications fields."

Suzuki has high praise for WPI and its project program. "The computer engineering specialty in electrical engineering is a great program. You get so much background in such a wide variety of areas."

"I've wanted to be an electrical engineer since I was 8 years old," he says. "The project-oriented curriculum attracted me to WPI. The term after I came back from my IQP I had the best grades ever. I had such a great ability to focus because my time-management skills were so much better after working on my project and my business at the same time in Washington. I came back from D.C. with an incredible work ethic, a chance to help the government save money, and a bunch of great pictures!"