Thursday, May 29, 2008

Interview with a entrepreneur – Eric Schmidt

Eric is a entrepreneur who is the senior exec at two companies. He is President, iBeam Solutions LLC and CEO of the Language Access Network Inc.

Tell us a little bit about yourself?

My name is Eric Schmidt. I was born at Riverside here in Columbus, and raised in Sugar Grove, Ohio. I attended Berne Union High School graduating in 1981, and went to Ohio University for college after high school. I dropped out in my second quarter and decided to change my life by joining the US Marine Corps in 1982. I learned a lot about technology in the Corps and traveling the world, including a period of time when I worked for Naval Investigative Services on secret projects, and stint and a nuclear weapons station. After getting married, having my two daughters and serving my second term, I elected to leave the Marines Corps and return home to find a job in the technology sector in Columbus, Ohio in 1988. I was hired as Network Engineer for The Department of Medicine Foundation, then a few years later moved on to become Director of Information Services for The College of Humanities at The Ohio State University. Four years later I was recruited away from Ohio State to become the Chief Information Officer of Bricker & Eckler, one of Central Ohio’s largest law firms. While there for over 7 years, 4 case studies were written about our accomplishments by Microsoft, and my face appeared for 18 months in Microsoft ads around the globe. I have also won the Network Night Community Service award, been a two time finalist for the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award, and and my company have been a finalist for 10 TopCAT Awards. I also speak publicly on technology issues and have delivered over 100 presentations in venues across the country, and appeared on Fox News with Pat Summerall on his program Summerall Success Stories.

What motivated you to start iBeam Solutions?

My fifth year at Bricker & Eckler, I asked the managing partner if I could start a technology services practice for the firms clients while at the firm. I noticed that while I had moved the firm forward by making them the first law firm in Ohio to have a web site, it was obvious that corporate America did not understand the Internet and what it meant to the future. So we began creating the first web sites for companies like M/I Homes, The Ohio Dental Association and Dublin City Schools. Our small practice began to grow, and we worked with the firm to spin us off and create iBeam Solutions to continue this work and expand in to other areas. It became obvious that IT professionals were tired of working with many vendors, so we set the bar high to become a total IT services company including web design and hosting, networks, phone systems, security, forensic work, cabling and so on all under one roof.

What was your biggest challenge in building ibeam? Can you describe some of the ups and down moments in the last few years?

The largest challenge still remains a challenge – customer confidence. As a small company, many large companies want to deal with Microsoft, IBM, HP or very large resellers and consulting shops. There is this misconception that smaller shops are not as good as the large ones. For example, a large retailer here in Central Ohio would not look at iBeam for upgrading wireless in their stores. They outsourced to a company in Minnesota, that turned around and outsourced the job back to iBeam unbeknownst to the retailer. I believe we need to get people in Ohio to understand the power of their spending, and how it can support our businesses and grow them instead of businesses in other states or countries. I hear a lot of people talk about creating jobs in Ohio in technology, but many do not follow that up by trying to buy services from companies like iBeam that are based here in Ohio. Something as simple as hosting your web site with a company like iBeam can make a large difference in IT jobs and employment here in Ohio. Another large challenge for us was 9/11. We were less than a year old when the world was shook by terrorism with this horrible event. The resulting economic downturn was tough for us, and weathering challenges like this can be devastating for many small businesses. Most small businesses do not have deep enough pockets to weather issues like this, and I believe the plight of the small business owner in this event and others like it goes largely unnoticed. It is also tough to watch business hire competitors from other states and country’s while trying to create jobs locally. The impact in tax dollars and the local economy is not understood as I wish it were. The other issue we face is educating small to medium size business about ongoing management and maintenance of technology. Technology is not “set it and forget it”. It must be maintained and managed or bigger, more expensive issues will abound. Many small businesses do not understand the old adage “a ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” as it applies to technology. Still others try to hire a friends son or an acquaintance that knows something about computers, instead of hiring a trained technology professional. Thus many small business have critical failures in their technology that impacts their business greatly, and it could have been avoided. It is really rewarding though when this is understood, and you see businesses more successful and able to focus on their business and its core competencies, and not technology problems.

How did you get to to LAN? What is you role there? What do you hope to accomplish?

LAN actually called us back in 2006 looking for CIO level services. I offered my services to them personally and got to know them quite well. I serve as CIO for them ongoing. My passion for working with them, and what I hope to accomplish, is getting their service out there widely. This is not just about growing their business however. The main reason is I see the need, and have witnessed the impact their service provides to humanity for those that are Limited English Proficient or hard of hearing or deaf. It is very rewarding to see these individuals smile or even cry with joy because they can finally understand and be understood. Those of us that do not face these challenges take communication with care givers, pharmacists, banks and other providers for granted. This service breaks down barriers for our society and can help bring the quality of care that many enjoy to those that have communication barriers. It is a wonderful use of technology, and is also creating jobs here in Central Ohio which is also very important to me. I believe this will be the silicon valley of the midwest, and it is companies and innovative services like this that will continue to build that for all of us.

What advice do you have for a tech entrepreneur?

Find a good accountant, one that really understands your market and wants to help you succeed. Understand that if starting a business was easy, everyone would do it. Know that if it’s about money, starting a business is not a good choice as the pay is lower, the hours are longer, but the rewards can come in the intangibles like setting your own course, innovation and creativity, and the sense of accomplishing something great. Network, listen, get involved in the community and in organizations like Tech Columbus that can help extend your network and help you understand the bigger picture.

What do you do when you're not working?

I am actually a country person and a family person, so spending time with my family, and spending time outdoors are two large passions of mine outside of the office. It is nice to disconnect and look at the world we live in outside of technology. My wife Brenda and I own 45 acres in the Hocking Hills, and have taken up hiking, hunting, morel mushroom hunting, gardening and many nature related hobbies. We are big fans of Mother Earth News, and want to some day build a home on this property that is self sufficient powered by wind, solar and other renewable energy sources. I also have a passion for old cars, but wish I had more time to actually work on them. I own a 66 Mustang and a 72 Fiat Spider convertible that need a lot of work, but thus far have had little time or money to work on them. So for now I store them for later in life. In my younger days I restored a 71 Mach 1 Musting, and a 66 Chevelle, and look forward to returning to that hobby as life allows. I have 4 daughters ages 19-22, and a son age 15, so spending time with them is very precious.

If I were not a CEO/CIO I would be a:

Organic farmer. I used to farm growing up and really enjoyed it, but the money was not there to make a good living doing that. I do have a garden on my property in the Hocking Hills, I have already tilled it this year, and we are getting ready to plant sweet corn, beans, tomatoes, peppers, etc. FYI we have already found over 130 morel mushrooms this year down there as well.

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