University of Nebraska-Lincoln College of EngineeringOnline: Autumn 2012
UNL Engineering header graphic
graphic Archives / Subscribe / PDF download
next page buttonback page buttonEngineering@Nebraska > Alumni Profile
  Meet the challenge. Be the leader. Define the future. M. Eng. (online degree)  


logos unl_logos

Luke Smith has traveled far, geographically and on his career path, since earning his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in electrical engineering at UNL. Yet, a new challenge this fall finds him reaching back to Nebraska, working as a mentor with clients of NUtech Ventures—the technology commercialization group that’s helping new business grow from the university.

After graduating, Smith entered the U.S. Army and later earned an MBA from Westminster College in Salt Lake City. He advanced to lead engineering organizations, manufacturing operations and product divisions in large public companies. In 1995, he entered the world of startups: rising to serve as chief executive for several technology-based companies. As a result, he has extensive experience obtaining funding for startups, and shares that expertise to consult, mentor and serve on several boards in the startup space.

Amid this heady mix, Smith applies an engineering mindset that’s rarely idle—a trait shaped at UNL. Recalling an important figure in his electrical engineering studies, Smith said: “Professor Nick Bashara brought me into his electrical engineering materials department” and helped Smith as a student join a project funded by the National Science Foundation—which enabled Smith to gain grant and fellowship support and to produce two publications, one as an undergraduate, in prominent journals.

“This was invaluable experience,” said Smith, “to get outside of the classroom and explore the materials program, that’s been the basis for my career—a good, solid base.” Dr. Ezekiel Bahar is another faculty favorite: “He always had high expectations for his students and kept us busy with homework. This taught us the complex stuff we needed and helped develop our discipline. Now … I can better appreciate his sense of humor.”

Smith also praised his ROTC experience (“There’s no greater place to learn leadership skills,” he added), and his five years in the Army benefited his 35 years in the semi-conductor industry, by galvanizing his can-do approach.


“With my first startup, Synergy Semiconductor, I joined as VP of Operations,” Smith said. “Until then, the company had never met its revenue goals—but once I got there, we never missed. We had the same people and hardware, but our methods and results changed. Leadership focused on people, giving the team proper direction and the opportunity to do what they do best—and produced rapid and dramatic performance improvement.”

Next, as COO for Ottawa-based communications chip maker Philsar, he took the company from “nearly bankrupt” to a sale value of $280,000,000 Canadian in 15 months. Smith cited his quick-study process as: learning the lay of the land by researching all the company’s disclosures, looking at its pieces of intellectual property and finding pockets of entrepreneurship.

Similarly, his assessment checklist now with new business ‘mentees’ is to ask: “What’s your vision--where do you want to be?” Smith explained: “To start a business, you need a competitive advantage and a core competence. You also need an idea of what your second act might be, and how to build beyond that. If you don’t have good answers to those questions, then maybe your development is meant to be more of an acquisition than an ongoing company.”

Though he now lives in Scottsdale, Ariz., he takes pride in his Nebraska background and ‘Husker heritage.’ “If there were more ‘tech’ opportunities (in Nebraska), I’d be living there,” Smith said—which is why he’s working on bringing that activity home. He invites members of the Nebraska Engineering community to connect with him in pursuit of this goal.

Learn more about Smith’s role with NUtech Ventures at To contact him, visit luke-smith or find him on LinkedIn.

by Carole Wilbeck


link to Nebraska Engineering site Link to UNLs site twitter feed facebook link for Nebraska Engineering hot link: