Innovators in Industry: Entrepreneurship, Startups, and Venture Capital

This fall, Michigan Technological University launched Innovators in Industry: a project connecting current Huskies with Tech alumni who are industry experts, leaders, and influencers.

The initial three-part series concludes at 7 p.m. (Eastern) on Monday, November 8 with a session titled, “Entrepreneurship, Startups, and Venture Capital.”

Featured alumni for the session are Kanwal Rekhi ’69, managing director of Inventus Capital Partners, John Rockwell ’79, president, CEO, and director of Accelergy Corp., Chang Park ’73, president, CEO, and founder of Universal Remote Control, Inc., and Rebecca Ufkes ’87, president of Ufkes Holdings.

Dean Johnson, dean of the College of Business, will moderate the session, which will welcome virtual and in-person attendees. Featured alumni will make short presentations with time for Q&A from the audience.

Organized by the Office of Advancement and Alumni Engagement, Innovators in Industry aims to give students direct access to industry leaders to help shape their paths. Future plans for the program include on-location student visits to industry hubs.

All Michigan Tech students, faculty, and staff are invited to join on Zoom (no advance registration required).

Kanwal Rekhi

Kanwal Rekhi is the managing director of California-based firm Inventus Capital Partners. He earned an MS in Electrical Engineering from Michigan Tech in 1969 before achieving honorary doctor of engineering status from the University in 1997. During his undergraduate years, Rekhi studied electrical engineering at IIT-Bombay.

Kanwal Rekhi jumped from engineering to business startups in 1980 by co-founding Excelan, becoming the first Silicon Valley Indo-American founder and CEO to take a venture-backed company public on the NASDAQ in 1987.

Rekhi then became a high-profile Venture Angel while co-founding and leading The Indus Entrepreneurs into the largest global mentoring network for Indian entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley and around the world.

He co-invested in and founded Inventus in 2007 to institutionalize high-conviction, early-stage help to build category-defining companies. At Inventus, Rekhi has led the investments or been on the boards of Poshmark, StatX, Sierra Atlantic, Intellivision, GenWi, Espresso Logic, and has actively mentored the founders of redBus. 

He was also the first investor behind both Raju and BV as they founded and built their successful enterprises in the Bay Area.

Michigan Tech Awards, Achievements, and Involvement:

  • Melvin Calvin Award of Distinction 
  • Rekhi Innovation Challenge Founder
  • Distinguished Alumni Award 
  • Board of Control Silver Medal

“The first step is the hardest.”

John Rockwell

John Rockwell is the president, CEO, and director of Accelergy Corporation, producer of low-carbon synthetic transportation fuels, headquartered in Houston, Texas. After earning a bachelor’s degree in business administration from Michigan Tech in 1979, Rockwell was selected as a member of the US Junior National Hockey Team and the US Select Team that won the Spengler Cup. Rockwell went on to earn his MBA from the University of Minnesota in 1982.

It wasn’t until after he joined 3M’s business development wing that Rockwell discovered his talent for building companies and commercializing technology. He has spent a quarter-century funding, developing, and managing more than 20 companies across clean-tech sectors, including fuels, materials, supply chain, storage, solar, and smart-grid technologies.

Rockwell previously served as founder and managing director of Element Partners, an $800 million venture-capital and private-equity firm focused on “cleantech” investments. Prior to Element, he was a partner for nearly a decade at Advent International Corporation, now a $30 billion global private-equity firm.

Before Advent, Rockwell spent seven years at Materia Ventures Associates, investing in and managing early-stage companies focused on commercializing applications of advanced materials technologies. Before their successful mergers, he also served as CEO of Luxar Corporation, a manufacturer of CO2 lasers for the medical market, and as president of SSC, Inc., a manufacturer of high-performance ceramic-oxide materials used in superconductors, fuel cells, and catalysts. 

Michigan Tech Awards, Achievements, and Involvement:

  • Distinguished Alumni Award
  • College of Business Academy
  • College of Business External Advisory Board
  • Sports Hall of Fame

“I spend my time on the things that are important to me; family first, then business, then community.”

Chang Park

Chang Park is the president, CEO, and founder of Universal Remote Control, Inc., based in New York. Park came to the United States as a teenager with just $200 to his name. He earned bachelor’s degrees in electrical engineering and business administration from Michigan Tech in 1973 and a master’s in business administration from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania in 1979. 

In his first job after graduation, Park worked for an engineering consulting firm in Philadelphia, designing and reviewing mass-transit systems. He later joined J.P. Morgan, working in international finance.

Guided by his entrepreneurial spirit, Park started a business in his sister’s garage that provided jobs for impoverished youth in Korea. He steadily expanded the organization, and has been developing and marketing remote controls and home-automation products for more than two decades.

He chairs the Chang K. Park Foundation, an organization that supports human rights, the elimination of poverty and hunger, the implementation of political reform, and economic justice. Park is also a member of the national governing board of Common Cause, a public-interest organization in Washington DC; the board at the Union Theological Seminary in New York; and Bread for the World.

Michigan Tech Awards, Achievements, and Involvement:

  • Electrical and Computer Engineering Academy
  • Commencement Speaker (2011)
  • Honorary Doctorate of Philosophy
  • CEDIA Lifetime Achievement Award
  • Society of Women Engineers

“We live in an extraordinary time that offers great opportunities.”

Rebecca Ufkes

Rebecca Ufkes is the president of Ufkes Holdings. Ufkes earned a BS in Mechanical Engineering from Michigan Tech in 1987 and her MBA from The Citadel in 1994. Currently residing in Sullivans Island, South Carolina, Ufkes co-founded UEC Electronics with her husband in 1995. The company began with five other employees in a warehouse. As engineers with abilities to improve design and processes, the team quickly increased their client base while applying principles of efficiency and innovation to their strategic management and growth.

By 2001, UEC’s work was being well-rooted in the commercial/industrial sector, and the partners set their sights on opportunities within the Department of Defense. Through their diligence and vision, UEC won a lucrative client providing the US Marines with a portable power system called GREENS (Ground Renewable Expeditionary Network System), which gave troops operational-power generation without the vulnerabilities of diesel dependability.

Ufkes and UEC were recognized by Inc. Magazine as being the fastest-growing manufacturer in South Carolina. She was awarded as “Champion of Change” by President Obama’s administration for creating jobs while saving resources.

Michigan Tech Awards, Achievements, and Involvement:

  • Presidential Council of Alumnae
  • Society of Women Engineers
  • Alpha Delta Alpha

About the College of Business

The Michigan Tech College of Business offers undergraduate majors in accounting, construction management, economics, engineering management, finance, management, management information systems, and marketing, as well as a general business option. Graduate degrees include the TechMBA®, a Master of Engineering Management, a Master of Science in Accounting, and a Master of Science in Applied Natural Resource Economics.