Carbon Engines – Cheryl Ryder, GSM ’01
Carbon nanotubes are so miniscule that if you were to take a single nanotube, stretch it to the moon and crumple it up it would be no bigger than a poppy seed. Despite their small appearance, they are extremely important in the development of semiconductor devices. The process of imaging and manipulation of these devices requires extremely sophisticated equipment and technology, which was the emphasis of the 2001 ITEC Business Plan Competition winner Carbon Engines.
“The idea first came to me in my Intellectual Property class with Ian Cockburn,” recalls Cheryl Ryder (GSM ’01). “He thought we were onto something so I decided to write up a business plan.”
Prior to becoming a full-time MBA, Ryder worked at in the Chemistry Department at Harvard where she first met Dr. Tom Rueckes, inventor of the NRAM™ carbon nanotube memory concept. This technology was the impetus behind the first iteration of Ryder’s business plan, which focused on licensing the technology out to other companies for development.
“We had no idea this was going to be something until Professor Pete Russo assigned me to interview an inventor,” Ryder remembers. “He wanted to know about my own project and advised that in order to license and protect the technology, we needed to form our own company.”
After winning the ITEC competition that is precisely what they did. With the business model validated by conversations with venture capitalists, the company was established in the July of 2001 and renamed as Nantero. Since its inception the company has grown into an industry leader and formed key partnerships with a number of multinational companies including Hewlett Packard, Lockheed Martin and ASML. And while the business model that Ryder first created over twelve years ago has proven to be more than viable, she made the conscious decision to leave the company shortly after the ITEC competition.
“My partners and I had a conversation early on during the venture, and they knew that my really passion was elsewhere, and they were right.”
An avid singer, Ryder decided to pursue her passion for music. She founded a music group called Blue Heron that is currently in its 13th season, and rebranded a graduate-only group called Canto Armonico in 2005. As she reflects on her experience with these groups, Ryder is reminded of the importance of focus.
“One of the most memorable classes I took was Pat Kaufman’s Marketing Course,” she recalls. “For me, the biggest takeaway was the emphasis on staying aligned with your company’s mission and closely focused on your goals.”