Before he even graduated from CU, Nathan Seidle started Spark Fun Electronics, an aptly named company for a man with boundless energy and enthusiasm—and more than your average creative ingenuity.
A native of Tulsa, Oklahoma, Nathan Seidle came to CU-Boulder as an electrical engineering student in 2000. During his junior year, he was designing one of his first microcontroller projects when his programmer sparked and burned out. Looking for an affordable replacement, he noticed a lack of resources and online stores catering to developers and prototypers. During winter break from school, he maxed out his credit cards with inventory (and pizza) and went to work building an easy-to-use website. Spark Fun Electronics launched shortly thereafter in January 2003.
Seidle maintained Spark Fun part time during his junior and senior years and grew it as much as he could while keeping up with schoolwork. By the time he completed his degree in 2004, the company had grown enough to support his full-time efforts.
"Spark Fun Electronics was my ‘real’ job right out of school," Seidle says. "Shortly after graduating, I hired my first employee to help out. Since then, business has been growing exponentially."
Now in its fifth year, the company employs nearly three dozen people and maintains a growing office on the outskirts of Boulder.
"There were many milestones along the way: moving the business out of my bedroom, hiring help, designing a best seller, getting mentioned in The New York Times, and buying a bigger fridge," he says. "We now employ 35 people and ship to over 93 countries all over the world."
Spark Fun Electronics—which goes by the slogan "Sharing Ingenuity"—manufactures and sells a variety of circuit boards, cables, GPS devices, robotics, sensors, wireless components, and other electronics, currently averaging about 100 orders filled each day. Since starting the company, Seidle also has led efforts to create a variety of unique electronic products for tradeshows and expos—from a five-foot-wide Nintendo controller, to a wall-mount Tetris board, to the company’s wildly popular rotary cellular phone (see photos at right)—combining old technology with embedded electronics in an innovative way that appeals to the public’s sense of nostalgia.
"To share with the world what we do has been very rewarding. Our rotary cellular phone, class lectures, the 12-foot wall clock, the wall-mount Tetris, life-sized Nintendo controller; they are all side projects of mine that have won the company a lot of publicity and traffic as well as taught the general reader what they can do with embedded electronics," says Seidle.
Spark Fun Electronics has won a few local business awards as well, including the sixth-fastest-growing company under $2 million in revenue in Boulder County, 2005; the fifth-fastest-growing company over $2 million in revenue in Boulder County, 2006; and the Boulder County Business Report IQ award for Innovation, 2007.
The company’s success is enabling Seidle to take a little bit of time to explore alternative projects. Gearing toward consumer electronics and his passion for the outdoors, he is working in his spare time on a product for rowing, a sport he participated in while a student at CU. Seidle says he also hopes to teach the knowledge he has gained to the next generation of CU engineers.
"Owning my own business has been incredibly fun, but it can be very hard some days. My time is spread thinly across a range of different pressing issues. I really enjoy designing new products, but I have to monitor more mundane things like e-mail and test procedures," Seidle says. "My biggest challenge is really to tackle the problems that use my time the best. But when the dust settles, I look forward to getting to work every day."