Meet the Team
7 Questions: Ryan Vinyard
We thought it was time you all got to know a little about the people who work here at Highway1, the staff without whom this program would literally not be possible. Let's talk to Ryan Vinyard!
Tell us a little about yourself: who are you and what are you doing here?
My name’s Ryan Vinyard, and I’m the engineering lead for the Highway1 program.
I give teams technical support on mechanical engineering challenges, but overall, I try to ensure everyone’s making progress on their prototypes, and that they’re on track to have a great showing for Demo Day.
My journey’s been unique: I was originally hired through Lime Lab (I’ve been with PCH for three years now), and I came to Highway1 when they put out the call for engineers. They said we’d do four-month rotations initially, but I’ve been here ever since I first came over. Working at Lime Lab and having been to China, I know how PCH works, and that helps a lot.
What excites you about what you do here?
What I really love is being able to help so many different startups. Before I joined PCH, I was a startup guy, and being able to move the needle on 11 companies at once (rather than a single specific thing that may or may not work) is very satisfying.
What do you tend to get asked about the most?
Manufacturing. People tend to come to me with questions like: “Based on where I am now, how long will it take to get through manufacturing, and how much does it cost? How much money do I need to raise? What should I set my as crowdfunding goal? How do I make sure I can meet my commitments and do it all on time?”
What’s something you wish people would ask you?
I wish they’d ask more about manufacturing processes. Lots of companies tend to come at it from the raising money angle, so “how do I make this part I have in mind?” gets asked less often. I don’t blame them — they need that long-term vision, and you gotta buy groceries with something — but at the engineering level, it’d be more effective if they were looking at details and not the big picture sometimes.
Name one thing you wish all hardware teams knew right off the bat.
Prototypes typically do not work the first time; a lot of the burden of hardware is integration. It’s easy to lay things out on a Gantt chart: the hardware, mechanisms, software. Then, when it’s time to put all these things together, say a sensor on my board gives me a faulty reading. What’s causing it? Maybe the software’s not right. The board could be messed up. There might be a purely mechanical issue where the way you’ve sautered something is off.
The causes could be mechanical or electrical, not necessarily the software — even though software’s easiest to blame because it’s the last thing to go in. I used to work on electric vehicles. We’d put a bus on wheels, and only then could we ask: do the wheels actually move? The software guy can’t debug anything until we can get the bus to move first.
Tell us a story about a person or team you’ve helped — something typical, inspiring, or just funny!
This one’s about the Wink group, now called Loop; they make a connected picture frame. We had an incident in which another startup was walking close to the Wink table and their prototype fell to the ground.
To their credit, they never pointed fingers, but it was the day before Demo Day, and they had a broken prototype; the screen was busted. Their CEO went on Craigslist, bought an iPad, handed it to me, and said “I need this screen.” It became my job for the day to rip apart an iPad and get the screen out without damaging it, which was the hard part. It was more hands-on than usual, but I said to myself, “If this is what helps today, that’s what I’m doing today.” In the end, it all came together for Demo Day.
What’s the most interesting team that’s passed through these doors and why?
That’s a hard question; we’ve had 45 teams and they’re all my babies. CoolChip had a thermal tech that was really interesting to me personally because I’d previously worked as a thermal engineer on electric vehicles and electronics; had it existed 5 years ago, it would’ve helped me out!
Highway1 staff wear many hats — we’re the facilitators of this whole thing — so when a project came up from a vertical I’d worked in, it was very interesting.