James Weiler

SEASONED PRODUCT PATHFINDER: JAMES WEILER

Project Manager, MTS Ventures, LLC (Allentown, PA),

Founder, Moremaro, LLC (Bethlehem, PA)

M.Eng. Technical Entrepreneurship, Lehigh University, 2016

M.I.D., Industrial Design, Pratt Institute, 2000

B.A., Sociology, Skidmore College, 1995

When James Weiler entered the M.Eng. in Technical Entrepreneurship (TE) program at Lehigh University, he was 42 years old and had already earned a master’s degree in Industrial Design, achieved notable businesses successes, lived abroad, and launched his own startup.  When he graduated from TE, he was 43 years old…and a whole new realm of possibilities had opened up.

What advice would you give someone considering TE at a later age?

I’d say this:  if you’ve been wondering what a career in entrepreneurship would look like or how to get started, you ought to think seriously about TE. It’s a fast-paced 12-month program, and the rewards – both personal and professional – will likely exceed any expectations you had going into it. It’s a really viable option for career changers. At this stage of life, it’s important not to be put in a box by your earlier career choices. Others may try to do that when they look at your resume and job history, but they’ll only succeed if you let them. Don’t be defined by your last position. Think bigger than that.

You earned your bachelor’s degree in 1995. Walk us through the years prior to TE.

Perhaps I should start at the beginning. I grew up in a family business, Weiler Corporation, that was founded by my grandfather in 1944. Headquartered in Cresco, Pennsylvania, the company manufactures industrial wire brushes, abrasives, and finishing solutions. Weiler is a global manufacturer and currently has over 1,100 employees across four continents.

 

I earned a bachelor’s degree in Sociology at Skidmore, which has turned out to be very relevant in terms of understanding group dynamics and ethnographic research. They have a great fine arts program, and I took advantage of that by getting into ceramics – an experience that helped me discover how much I love designing and producing things.

How did your career in design and business evolve?

After graduation, I spent two years working in Weiler’s marketing department before yielding to the pull of my back-burnered interest in applied art. I enrolled in the Master’s of Industrial Design (M.I.D.) program at the Pratt Institute in New York and, while pursuing my degree, studied abroad for six months at Pratt’s campus in Rome and for six weeks at the Royal Danish Design School in Copenhagen. Once I completed my M.I.D., I moved to Boston where I worked for a few years as a design engineer at Brown Innovations – they develop sound-focusing technologies – before rejoining Weiler in 2003. 

 

My new responsibilities at Weiler took me to China for two years where I served as our man on the ground, helping to advance a global venture in which the company was involved at the time. Doing so gave me the opportunity to study Mandarin Chinese for a year through the Intensive Chinese Language Program at National Taiwan University. I lived in Taiwan for a year and in Shanghai and Ningbo for a year, developing expertise in quality control, before returning to Pennsylvania in 2005 to lead a series of projects related to information technology and systems work. Six years later, however, I decided to leave this position to pursue my design interests.

The TE experience led me to places I would not otherwise be. It was definitely the right move at the right time.
Why did you decide to enroll in Lehigh’s TE master’s program?

After leaving Weiler, I established a startup, Moremaro, LLC, as a vehicle for design consulting. I quickly realized that I didn’t know what I was doing and needed more education. 

 

While I wrestled with that thought, I took a part-time position as Technician at the Northampton Community College Fab Lab.  I first heard about the TE program through Steve Boerner [TE ’15, Co-Founder and President, Hatch House Ventures, LLC], and it seemed like an excellent opportunity to fill in the knowledge gaps that had become so obvious to me in creating Moremaro.  I was particularly interested in the program because of the chance to work with 3D printing, something that I see as having the potential to change the future of manufacturing.

You entered the program later in life.

Given the many working years I had under my belt, entering TE was like going to camp for me…a fun escape. The workload was not so dissimilar from my corporate career life. I was a bit nervous about blending in socially with my cohort, but the shared experience and expectations made it easy to get along with the younger students, and I’ve made some lifelong friends as a result.

How did your mindset and skills evolve as a result of your year in TE?

My perspective changed. I realized that I can evolve and learn new skills quickly. I developed the confidence needed to explore alternative career options, and I became interested in other fields, such as startup development, venture capital support, and angel investing. 

 

The program offers exposure to all kinds of skills, but in particular, I learned a great deal about evaluating ventures and opportunities, delivering effective presentations and pitches, and working on camera.

What have you been doing since receiving your M.Eng. in TE?

At first, I was working on a 3D printing venture that grew out of TE, but then I connected with a Lehigh Valley startup called MTS Ventures. MTS is a product design and manufacturing firm founded in 2005 to help entrepreneurs and companies turn innovative concepts into successfully manufactured products. As Project Manager at MTS, I wear many hats, doing whatever is necessary to add value for the client and keep things moving. Additionally, sometimes MTS itself is the client. For example, I’m relaunching Wine Saver Pro, the world’s first multi-bottle argon-powered wine preservation and dispensing system (developed and later acquired by MTS). My role involves reengineering the business model and coordinating a product relaunch. I’m enjoying this opportunity. It’s a perfect TE project!

 

Separate and apart from MTS, I’m engaged with other products and startups. One of these, just to give you a sense, is WhoWeUse, an app that allows end users to see who other people they know are using as service providers. The company started in New Jersey and is currently doing a second rollout in Pennsylvania.

 

I’m also working with the Pocono Mountains Angel Network, vetting startup pitches with them and learning more about the angel investment world, and I mentor TE students and alumni.

What kinds of tasks occupy most of your time?

I’m fortunate to have diverse interests and opportunities. My day-to-day work reflects many of these and, for the most part, is a mix of project management, CAD design, securing quotes, field design research, market research, business development, and business re-engineering. The goal is to add value for the client and keep everything moving forward.

How did the TE program prepare you for what you're doing now?

TE was great preparation for a lot of what I’m doing now, most especially the Wine Saver Pro relaunch, in that I’m rebuilding a venture around an already existing product. It’s the whole package. The IPD [Integrated Product Development] component of TE has turned out to be especially relevant.

How have you applied your new mindset and new skills since receiving your degree?

I’ve found interesting work to pursue on my own terms – work that’s a good fit for me. And I’m continually learning new things while helping people solve their product development and product strategy problems.

Do you have any specific career goals that you would want to share?

I want to continue my product design and development work until I feel expert, and I’d eventually like to get more involved with the venture capital side of entrepreneurship.

How would you sum up what TE did for you?

I grew up in a successful family business and went on to achieve a lot of successes of my own. Despite that, prior to starting TE, I always felt I had to take the safe route. 

 

TE gave me the confidence to leave the beaten path and find career options that probably wouldn’t be considered a “normal” progression. It made me much more comfortable taking risks and innovating. TE forces you to do stuff you think you can’t do and prove you can, and it definitely made me rediscover that I can do anything to which I set my mind.   While that was hardly the only thing TE did for me, the year was worth it for that benefit alone.

 

June 2017