Alumnus disrupts industrial giants with start-up mentality

ECE News

Julia Sullivan, ECE ILLINOIS
12/6/2016 11:06:37 AM

Story Highlights

Some ECE ILLINOIS students aspire to start their careers at nimble, start-up companies while others plan to find their niche within a more stable industrial giant. But what happens when the two cultures intersect? That’s exactly where alumnus Greg Goff (BSEE ’93) focuses, developing the best practices for bridging the gap between industrial giants and agile startups.

Photo provided
Photo provided
Goff, chief product officer for Uptake, returned to campus in October to present a talk as part of ECE Explorations.

So how do you affect change in slow-moving industry? “Industrial giants are used to long-cycle activities,” Goff said. Their improvement plans, especially in a manufacturing environment, often involve taking decisions out of the hands of operators and turning them over to systems or automation. But there’s only so much to gain through these efficiencies. Goff has seen how incorporating insights uncovered by data analytics can yield powerful results.

But to access those analytics, you need the data first. And some business giants are more accustomed to keeping their information private. “There is a fear of sharing information,” Goff said. “But there’s an increasing demand to know the market. The value overcomes the fear.” Sometimes outside forces compel transparency, such as OSHA reporting and carbon footprints. Or transparency may be the answer to customer demands, such as in the financial sector where customers are now accustomed to making direct comparisons of performance among funds and firms.

“Self-disruption is very challenging,” Goff said. But Uptake is gaining ground by “challenging the fundamental notions” of large companies using startup ethos and decades of study. “It’s a marriage of two very different perspectives.”

As for students seeking a career built around disruption, Goff’s advice is clear. “Be curious about everything. Why does it work that way?” During school, students are exposed to so many new ideas and explicitly encouraged to be curious. He emphasized the importance of not losing that sense of curiosity. “It’s what drives innovation.”

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Julia Sullivan

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juliams@illinois.edu

Todd Sweet

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tmsweet@illinois.edu