Leading the curve
Some people follow the curve of innovation, Kyle Schwulst '02 leads it. The young entrepreneur is riding a tidal wave of success all the way to China and back.
Leading the cutting edge of new technologies designed for electronic fuel injection systems for small engines, exploring business opportunities in China, learning to fly his own plane and moving his company into bigger digs is just part of an average work week for Kyle Schwulst '02, CEO and founder of ElectroJet.
His momentum has not gone unnoticed. Schwulst and ElectroJet were recently nominated for the 2007 Emerging Technology Company of the Year Award by Automation Alley, the Troy-based technology industry promotion group for Southeast Michigan.
ElectroJet is an engineering design firm based Brighton, Mich., that designs electronic fuel injection systems for small engines and does prototype production for four-stroke one, two and three cylinder engines (like those used in all-terrain vehicles and lawn mower tractor engines).
While small engines are not new to the field of engineering, EPA 2006 regulations are new as well as upcoming 2010 emissions standards. The regulations require manufacturers to reduce emissions for off road motorcycles (ATVs) to 57-80 percent from previous standards. Manufacturers of utility engines (lawn tractors etc.) need to comply with the 2010 emissions standards.
This has put manufacturers of small engines in the position of either re-designing their products to add electronic controls, which could require re-tooling their production facilities, or buying the new fuel injection system developed by ElectroJet that are designed to fit existing engines and will enable the products to meet new EPA emissions standards.
"Current carbureted engines will not meet upcoming emissions regulations," said Schwulst. "Therefore, manufacturers are investigating technologies including Electronic Fuel Injection (EFI) to meet the new standards. ElectroJet's niche is low-cost electronic engine controls," he added.
ElectroJet's product has been shown to reduce CO2 by more than 70 percent when compared to the same engine using a carburetor. In addition to U.S. emissions standards tightening up, Europe, Asia, Japan and other Kyoto pact countries are targeting CO2 emissions to reduce greenhouse gases.
This is good news for Schwulst on a global scale. "The global target market for our product is estimated at $3.2 billion USD. We estimate that we could attain at least 15 percent market share with our unique technologies," he said.
"Because ElectroJet is a relatively new company and the market is beginning to educate themselves about engine controls, we are doing a lot of work with multiple manufacturers to prove the benefits of our product," he added.
ElectroJet is currently working with many manufacturers in the U.S. and overseas to implement the company's engine controls hardware in customer vehicles. This includes custom design, calibration and testing. With the number of customers growing rapidly, Schwulst and his team have many simultaneous projects ongoing in their Brighton facility.
The ElectroJet product is not only helping manufacturers adhere to EPA guidelines, it improves performance as well. "According to Insitu Inc., a high-tech autonomous systems company that produces Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS)," said Schwulst, "we are increasing the performance of a military UAV aircraft project with ElectroJet technology. The project is fascinating and will showcase the ElectroJet product in an ultra-performance application," he said.
All this business activity has put Schwulst in need of more engineers for product development activities. He is currently hiring Mechanical, Electrical, and Computer engineers to design system packaging, calibration tools and peripheral products. "We also need more engineers to work on product calibration and emissions testing," he said.
He recently signed on as a Kettering University co-op employer as well, putting the lessons he learned in college to work for him now that he's the boss.
His first co-op student is Lu Chen, a foreign exchange student from Namping in China's Fujian Province. They recently took a 10-day tour through six different cities in China to explore establishing a joint venture for manufacturing of ElectroJet products for the domestic Asian markets.
"Lu delivered our presentation in Mandarin on my behalf," he said, adding "I have positioned Lu as our 'face' in China. The culture there is all about learning about one's family, trust, and building on open communication. Lu has been an excellent resource in building relationships over the phone and email."
With China representing one of the largest potential customer bases for the ElectroJet product, Schwulst said Chen has sourced components from China to help reduce total product cost and has assisted ElectroJet in filing for intellectual property rights to their products within China at a great cost savings. Because Chen holds two Chinese patents, ElectroJet was able to leverage her experience to locate and secure a patent agency to file the company's patents at a much reduced price than working through lawyers in the U.S., according to Schwulst.
"The China market is immense and continues to show growth rates second to none on the globe," said Schwulst. "China has 1.3 billion people whom are gaining a better quality of life and becoming a large source of customers for all kinds of products. China's current Five-Year Plan places preferential treatment on companies like ElectroJet to help solve their environmental and manufacturing problems," he added.
Schwulst said he relishes the idea of ElectroJet being "wildly successful and proliferating emissions reducing technologies around the globe." For the short term, however, he said he really enjoys building the business and the challenges that the company faces during this stage of its development.
It was his success and momentum in these early stages that caught the attention of Automation Alley. To Schwulst, the nomination for the 2007 Emerging Technology Company of the Year Award was recognition for all of the hard work getting ElectroJet to its current stage of development.
"There is still a long road ahead for the company," he said, "but many technology start-ups don't even make it to where we are. It is an honor to be recognized by a group like Automation Alley as having great potential to help transform the Michigan economy into something more sustainable."
As a student at Kettering, Schwulst envisioned he would work for one of the Big Three automotive companies in Michigan. After graduation and with a position in a Big Three firm he found he wasn't fulfilled. "It helped me make the decision to start my own company," he said of launching ElectroJet.
He credits Kettering with helping foster his success. "I have an excellent background in engineering from Kettering that allows me to develop electronic and mechanical systems in concert," he said. "Kettering has always had a very hands-on approach, which was helpful in honing my skills."
Written by Dawn Hibbard