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Dartmouth Engineer - The Magazine of Thayer School of EngineeringDartmouth Engineer - The Magazine of Thayer School of Engineering


Business Ventures

Frustrations with work drove Seth Smith ’02, Th’03 to look at the chasm between his job and his interests, namely his fondness for Toyota Land Cruisers. “If I’m so passionate, why am I not doing this?” he said.

So Smith decided to use his day job in Los Angeles as a vehicle to do what he really loves. Along with his friend Jason Taylor ’02, Smith launched PVCRUISERS, a company that buys Toyota Land Cruisers and then modifies and resells them.

Seth Smith and Jason Taylor.
Seth Smith and Jason Taylor.

Smith and Taylor grew up helping Smith’s dad work on his Toyota FJ40 in his garage and they never grew out of their enthusiasm for tinkering with the engine. The first year of business has been bumpy and Smith has had to shift the focus of the business from parts to vehicles because the margins on parts are so slim.

Still, Smith never expected to start his own business, especially so soon after graduation. “During school, I thought starting a business sounded so painful, it sounded too risky and crazy,” he says.

Since starting PVCRUISERS, Smith has traveled to Australia and the Middle East for the business. He has sent CAD drawings to China to have parts manufactured there. The toughest hurdles, he says, have been defining his niche, fine-tuning his Web site, and figuring out pricing strategy. As Land Cruiser aficionados are do-it-yourselfers who have no problem jumping in and modifying their own engines, PVCRUISERS targets the type of middle-aged folks who want a fun truck to ramble around in on their sprawling vacation properties.

“I love Dartmouth and Thayer but I’ve learned so much more rolling up my sleeves and getting dirty,” Smith says.

Smith says he has learned about the prohibitive cost of holding too much inventory and the tangle of rules and fees that go along with international banking. He scours online bulletin boards and buys old factory manuals to learn about more ways to tweak cars for his customers. “There’s so much to know,” Smith says. “I’m learning about Land Cruisers but at the same time I have to learn about business. I’m out there buying the Dummies books.”

Between evenings and weekends Smith devotes about 20 hours a week to his side business and hopes to eventually quit his day job to focus on PVCRUISERS full-time. In the near future he wants to feature an interactive schematic of a Land Cruiser on his Web site that allows viewers to click on any part of the car to go to a page with information about that specific part.

One of the things that has stuck with Smith since starting his business is Professor John Collier’s comment in ENGS 21 after the students finished crafting financial models. Collier said he didn’t want to see rosy cash-flow scenarios because most new companies don’t start making money in their first year of existence.

“Once you get out here it’s really sink or swim,” Smith says.

>> Michael Ferchak ’99, Th’00 started Fusion Manufacturing in 2005 after working in product development for digital control circuits for two years in Shanghai, China. While Ferchak was designing circuits he was also involved in the manufacturing process, experience that gave him the confidence and contacts he needed to open his own manufacturing company. Ferchak started studying Chinese during his undergraduate years at Dartmouth and is nearly fluent after living in Shanghai for four years. Fusion Manufacturing is a U.S. company with operations based in Shanghai. The company specializes in manufacturing for electronic assemblies and plastics. Ferchak has relationships with factories in the Shanghai area and outsources manufacturing to them.

>> Shannon Magari Th’94 recently became a principal owner of Colden Corp., based in East Syracuse, N.Y. Magari joined the company in 2002 as a senior scientist and has served as vice president of health sciences since 2004. In her new position as principal she will continue to serve as vice president of health sciences and co-chair of Colden’s litigation support practice. Colden Corp. is an occupational health, safety and environmental consulting firm.

>> Christopher McConnell ’75, Th’76 visited campus February 3 to talk to undergraduate and graduate Thayer students about what he thinks it takes to be a successful entrepreneur. He good-naturedly shot down suggestions that tolerance for risk and an innovative idea are crucial. Instead, he emphasized the virtues of honesty and patience and the harsher requirements of connections and cash.

In 1984 McConnell co-founded CFM Technologies Inc., a semiconductor capital equipment company that subsequently went public. He helped found a second company, Mi8 Corp., in 1998. He currently assists Philadelphia-area entrepreneurs through his role as principal of The Founders Group, an organization that helps launch new technology-based ventures with IPO potential.

Recently McConnell co-founded Adondo Corp., a new enterprise that combines voice-over-IP, speech recognition, and artificial intelligence. With Adondo software, PC users can call their computers and access information including e-mail, calendars, and contacts; customer, product, and enterprise data; and information from the Internet, such as traffic reports and sports scores.

Over lunch at Thayer School McConnell emphasized finding places in the market that are not well-served and then having the guts and confidence to create a solution. He said entrepreneurs are masters at creating their own luck.

“Entrepreneurs think about how to invite fortune,” McConnell said. “You don’t necessarily need to have an invention in mind.”

>> James Paull ’67, Th’68 and Lee Johnson Tu’05 teamed up to found Stellaris Corp., an early-stage sustainable energy company, in 2005. Their goal is to market new technologies that make renewable energy more affordable. The company’s concentrating photovoltaic glazing (CPG) uses passive optics to concentrate light, reducing the amount of photovoltaic material required and, therefore, the cost of photovoltaic modules and building-integrated systems. Paull invented and patented the system, which produces electricity even in cloudy conditions. Stellaris’s CPGs can be incorporated into a standard photovoltaic module, in a building’s curtain wall or spandrel, as sloped glazing or skylights, or made into a shingle in a roofing system. The company’s board of advisors includes Thayer School Professor Elsa Garmire and Gregg Fairbrothers, executive director of the Dartmouth Entrepreneurial Network.

Jim Paull (left) and Lee Johnson
Jim Paull, left, and Lee Johnson

In The News

Max Rayner ’84 was recently named a winner of CIO magazine’s “Ones to Watch Award,” a global competition to identify rising stars who have the proven record and highest potential to lead the IT industry as CIOs, visionaries, and thought leaders. He joined SurfControl in October 2005 from, where he was responsible for the architecture and service delivery of’s award-winning, on-demand customer relationship management service. Prior to, Raynor headed Sun Microsystems’ global datacenters and infrastructure, Internet engineering, and e-commerce application delivery, where his team was recognized in an independent META Group benchmark for providing IT operations services at 42 percent below market costs with availabilities above 99.99 percent.

For more photos, visit our Alumni Networks collection on Flickr.

Categories: Alumni News, Spotlights

Tags: alumni, award, patent

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