Many graduates of South Dakota's universities go to work for South Dakota businesses and agencies immediately upon graduation. Many others who must leave the state to find jobs in their fields return in a few years as soon as career opportunities become available.
Mark Wismer ( EE ' 78) and Brett Myklegard ( ME ' 85), graduates of the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology ( SDSM& T), exemplify the entrepreneurial spirit of South Dakota alumni who come back to South Dakota and start their own businesses. Three years ago these two engineers started their own company called ProTECH Engineering and Manufacturing in Britton, SD. The company specializes in rapid prototyping, urethane casting and engineering consulting work related to all aspects of product design and development.
ProTECH does business with a wide range of companies- such as Cleveland Golf Clubs, Marvin Windows, Melroe, Rainbow Vacuum Cleaners and Polaroid Corporation. ProTECH Engineering's showpiece is the rapid prototyping equipment called Stratasys, which takes computer- generated solid models and produces free- form plastic parts for various companies. Starting with a flat foam base, the Stratasys equipment extrudes semi- molten plastic with a thickness of only .007 - .014 inches into specific parts needed by ProTECH's customers.
High- speed, quality Internet connections are vital to ProTECH Engineering's operation, which demonstrates that a company can be based in rural South Dakota and conduct business around the world through advanced telecommunications technology. Brett Myklegard estimates that approximately 90% of the company's work utilizing the rapid prototyping equipment is derived over the Internet.
For example, Melroe Company engineers may design a new part and will put out a request for bids to have a prototype made. Wismer and Myklegard will download the design off the Internet or receive it via email. They often will send the company back a quote within one hour.
" Speed is the nature of the game," says Myklegard in describing the significance of the Internet to their business. " In the prototype world, everyone wants it right now."
In fact, good Internet service is so crucial to the success of their business that Wismer and Myklegard have established an Internet connection for the community. Working with RapidNet in Rapid City, they now provide dial- up networking services for Britton areas businesses and residents.
After graduating from SDSM& T with a mechanical engineering degree, Myklegard, who is a native of Milbank, worked for a large aircraft company in California. Wanting to move back to South Dakota, he took a job with a company in Britton. His future business partner, Mark Wismer, who earned a Bachelor of Science degree in electrical engineering from SDSM& T in 1978, also was working for the same company. A few years later, they decided to take the entrepreneurial plunge and start their own venture.
Like most other start- up companies, lining up the necessary financing was a key component to getting ProTECH Engineering established. The Northeast Council of Governments ( NECOG) played a vital role in that effort. Through a special start- up loan fund operated by NECOG, Wismer and Myklegard were able to purchase the Stratasys machine, a desktop mill, and some computer workstations.
Remembering their campus roots, Wismer and Myklegard also are helping SDSM& T students prepare to race their " Dakota Heat" solar car this summer against some of the nation's best engineering universities. Last spring ProTECH made a prototype scale model of the solar car that SDSM& T students are designing and building for the Sunrayce ' 99 competition.
" It is good to see the increased focus being placed on entrepreneurial thinking at SDSM& T," says Mark Wismer. " This is a necessary part of any engineering education, especially for individuals who have any inclination to start their own business like we did."
The company has come a long way in a relatively short period of time. ProTECH Engineering and Manufacturing now has business clients all over the country from coast to coast. Additional information about the rapid prototyping capabilities and product design services can be obtained electronically via the company's web page at www. prototypes. com or by calling ( 800) 893- 7939. Utilizing the quality education and training in cutting- edge technology they received from SDSM& T, Wismer and Myklegard exemplify the many alumni who help power South Dakota's economic engine. Their leadership and entrepreneurial spirit provide positive proof that it is possible to achieve the win- win situation of living in South Dakota and doing business for companies anywhere in the world.
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