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Written by Mike Buetow   
Thursday, 01 March 2012 18:27



April is the cruelest month, but I’ll take it over March any day. T.S. Eliot belittled the former because it represented potential destined to be unfulfilled. Yet for me, that’s much preferable to March, the cold yawn of winter and the restlessness it begets.

Ten years ago, UP Media Group was founded by Pete Waddell, a longtime PCB designer turned publisher who had a vision for serving the printed circuit board industry’s thirst for information and the enthusiasm and doggedness to buck the (very long) odds, given the tech industry was at the time in the midst of a deep recession, and we were facing a drastic change in business publishing models.

At the same time, other old hands from around the industry were breaking out and launching their own ventures. In Boston, a trio of EDA veterans – Rick Almeida, Joe Clark and Ken Tepper – jumped on an opportunity to acquire licensing rights to CAM350, an emerging CAM tool that Innoveda saw no use for.

Like so many entrepreneurs, the DownStream cofounders were informed as much by what they didn’t want as what they did. “We wanted to run DownStream differently than other companies are run,” Almeida told me. “We don’t have the typical executive hierarchy.”

Today, Innoveda no longer exists; it was acquired by Mentor Graphics a few months after DownStream was launched. Starting with no customers, DownStream now has more than 1,000 accounts and an estimated 7,000 users. Moreover, it has migrated into previously uncharted territory. In 2005, DownStream released BluePrint-PCB, the first documentation authoring tool specifically developed for PCBs. (It also holds a US patent for the idea.) And late last year, it stretched its reach into design analysis. “We set a strategy when we started to focus on PCB post processing and to provide solutions for PCB designers that may have been overlooked by major PCB CAD tool suppliers. We always had the idea we could use CAM350 as the foundation and build different products in different markets,” Almeida said.

With each step, DownStream has seen success. It finished 2011 with its second consecutive year of record sales, with aggregate growth of 24% over 2009.
Farther south, in Tampa, FL, printed circuit board supplier Bare Board Group is also celebrating 10 years in business with record sales. Under founder and president Greg Papandrew, BBG is nearing $30 million in annual revenues, and that’s from a standing start in 2002.

At the time he launched BBG, the North American bare board fabrication market was in a tailspin. Industry revenues were plummeting, from $10 billion in 2000 to about half that in 2002. Demand was in the tank, as OEMs worked through vast piles of excess inventory. What production remained was moving offshore at a heavy clip.

Unfazed, Papandrew teamed with two other key salesmen and hired US-educated Katherine Hsu as operations manager in Taiwan. And then he hit the road, relentlessly marketing the company and pushing its profile (and sales) higher. Along the way, BBG routinely made the inc. 500 list of fastest-growing private companies. Today, Papandrew is surrounded by some new faces on his sales team, including Tony Scott, former director of sales at Coretec and Lazer-Tech, who is heading up an expansion into Canada.

While Bare Board Group has now become one of the leading brands in the industry, Papandrew says he didn’t launch BBG just to earn money. “I wanted to provide a better way of life in the PCB industry, not only for my own family but for other families as well. I am most proud of the fact that BBG has been able to provide a good living for numerous households both in the United States and in Taiwan. We are looking forward to our next decade with great excitement and a determination to continue our growth and manage the permanence of our outstanding position in the industry.”

We at UP Media have followed a similarly unexpected path. In 2002, we had three magazines (plus rights to HDI), two trade shows, multiple websites and a digital newsletter (PCB UPdate). Today, we have two magazines and their associated websites, plus PCB UPdate, but we have launched the industry’s first virtual trade show, and acquired several other businesses, one of which led to the popular Printed Circuit University, now home to PCB Chat, the first moderated online question/answer sessions on PCB design, fabrication and assembly.

We’ve had some long, cold winters since those early days. But the colder days make the summers all the more worthwhile. We’ve learned a lot and wouldn’t change it for the world. To Bare Board Group, DownStream and all the other entrepreneurs who somehow saw light amid all the darkness of early 2002, happy anniversary. And many more.

Last Updated on Thursday, 29 March 2012 12:45
 

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