#004: LED Engineer / Entrepreneur – Drew Felker

Published On November 8, 2015 | Engineers, Materials Eng

Drew Felker studied Materials Engineering at California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo. Right after college, he went to volunteer his technical skills half way around the world in Kenya. Upon returning to California, he began work at SORAA – a leading Light Emitting Diode lamp manufacturer as a process engineer and then as a supplier development engineer. A couple of years ago, Drew launched TruTech Energy offering energy efficient lighting solutions to businesses around the Bay Area. He continues to volunteer his time to both the local and global communities. And recently, he took on the role of Chief Operating Officer at a startup that is trying to develop low cost reliable space rockets.

In our conversation, we discuss:

  • What attracted him to Materials Engineering.
  • How he began work with laser diodes.
  • His early life goals – feed Africa, go to space, be an entrepreneur.
  • How he turned down his first job offer to go to Kenya… and how he got the job when he came back.
  • What kind of work he did in Kenya, Uganda, and Rwanda.
  • Key skills needed to be an effective process engineer.
  • How he developed his fearlessness and learned to give up control.
  • The benefits of working at a startup as a young engineer.
  • The importance of communication and interpersonal skills.
  • Building relationships with the technicians in your company.
  • The transition from engineer to business owner.
  • And much more…

Selected Links from the Show:

  • California Polytechnic State University College of Engineering homepage.
  • SORAA LED lamp manufacturer homepage.
  • Project 41 Non Profit homepage.
  • Assist International non profit homepage.
  • The U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon challenge.

Reach out to Drew Felker via LinkedIn.

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Discussion timestamps:

4:02 – Intro
4:57 – Why Drew studied Engineering? Materials engineering?
6:16 – Career vision in college / early exposure to laser diodes / life goals.
7:54 – Turning down a job offer to go to Africa / taking risks.
10:00 – Volunteer work in Kenya with Assist International.
12:47 – Takeaways from volunteering in Africa: fearlessness, accepting the situation.
14:20 – Advice for those thinking about volunteering in far away countries.
15:58 – First job at SORAA as a process engineer – responsibilities and projects.
18:37 – Skill sets for success. Getting a lab research position in college.
20:28 – Developing communication skills.
23:04 – Working closely with the employees on the factory floor and the technicians.
26:20 – A little about TruTech energy.
27:04 – Pros and cons of engineering as a foundation for entrepreneurship.
30:44 – New Frontier Aerospace – a look at Drew’s latest venture.
32:12 – What excites Drew about space.
33:19 – Project 41 mission.
35:13 – Using old pool pumps and bicycles to pump water.
36:43 – Getting things done.
37:59 – Future technologies that excite Drew.
39:48 – Message to future engineers.

Shout out to Cal Poly Solar Decathlon team.