Class of 2008 graduate embodies entrepreneurship program

University Park, Pa. — College graduates don't always find a job in their majors. They're even more hard-pressed to find work in a field that combines both their major and minor fields of study. Penn State class of 2008 graduate Erik Davidson came up with a solution to that problem: he's his own boss. The Monroe, Conn., native found a way to enter the professional world using both his electrical engineering major and his engineering entrepreneurship minor.

Davidson turned down a great job offer from a Fortune 500 company to earn his master's degree in electrical engineering at Penn State and continue working with projects he started while in school. His adviser, Sven Bilen, associate professor of engineering design, electrical engineering and aerospace engineering, said Davidson took the entrepreneurship minor to heart.

"There's a certain fire in the belly [of entrepreneurs] that I don't think you can create," explained Bilen. "It's innate -- I think that people either have it or they don't. Erik has that fire in his belly."

Davidson's fire helped fuel his first business endeavor, Triple Overtime Promotions, a company that makes collegiate novelty merchandise -- such as customized word magnets -- for Penn State and other universities. The company started in the fall of 2005 when Davidson and some of his classmates created the concept for a class project, then took it to the next level by obtaining a collegiate license and making it a legal entity.

"Our products are selling really well and a lot of our retail customers want more," Davidson said. "We want to refine what we have and make more products for more schools."

Right now Triple Overtime Promotions only sells to retailers, but they plan to get a store online in the next couple of weeks to branch out and sell to individual customers.

As if working to build up one company isn't enough, Davidson used his electrical engineering background to help launch Buzby Networks. He is working with a different team to create wireless devices for health-care facilities, focusing on nursing homes.

He explained that by using existing technology known as ZigBee – which allows wireless networking capabilities similar to Bluetooth but more efficient and with a longer battery life -- nursing homes can use non-invasive devices to track the location of a patient and his or her vital signs. The device will be able to alert personnel of emergencies involving the patients.

Davidson said his passion for working with wireless technology led his adviser Bilen to suggest looking for ways ZigBee can be used in the health field, because there are  plentiful opportunities in that market.

"It already has the momentum in energy conservation, military applications and other places, but there's not a lot of attention for it in the health field yet," Davidson said. "We feel there should be and we have this unique chance as engineers to create this kind of beneficial technology."

Davidson based his honors thesis for the Schreyer Honors College on the technology, and Buzby Networks has already been awarded grant money for development. This summer the group will work on making Buzby a legal entity and procuring additional funding. Soon after they plan to work on a prototype to put in a local facility site for testing with their patients.

While building up two separate businesses, Davidson starts grad school in the fall, where he intends to build his competency in wireless technology.

"It can be hard to balance work and school, but you find ways -- you have to divide your time and put more work in some areas at certain times," said Davidson. "It helps when you're working with a great team of people."

Bilen credits his student's notable endeavors to the fact that he's highly energetic, has technical competence, is bright, presents well and is able to sell ideas -- all important qualities in an entrepreneur.

"He's also reduced his sleep to a few hours a night," Bilen added.


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Last Updated January 10, 2014