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
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
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 http://go.unl.edu/gru. To contact him, visit http://www.nutechventures.org/connect/team/
luke-smith or find him on LinkedIn.
by Carole Wilbeck