If success in the new economy is about embracing challenges, working hard and always networking – Ashley Novak is hardwired for it.
The 25-year-old electrical engineering graduate was ready for an adventure far from her hometown of Windsor after completing her master’s degree last summer.
She had her sights set on working in Australia. She had a work visa, some connections and a general idea of where she would look for work. “I wanted it to be risky,” she said.
Instead, she was convinced to embark on a difference kind of risky venture helping two experienced Windsor engineers launch a company that is developing software and technology to improve computer aided manufacturing.
It was one of eight engineering job offers Novak received while working at Windsor’s Best Buy store during her final year of university, she said. She jokes that they were all a result of her chatty nature and spending as much time getting to know her customers as selling computer devices.
That’s how she got to know Bob Hedrick and, more importantly, how he got to know her during a shopping excursion to look for a computer tablet in early 2012. He was back in the store a few months later and convinced after a second chat that Novak would be the ideal first employee for a company he and his wife were starting.
Hedrick’s wife, Jill Urbanic, is a professor of industrial and manufacturing systems engineering the University of Windsor, where Novak’s thesis supervisor encouraged her to go for lunch with the couple and consider their offer.
“Our personalities really clicked,” said Novak, who was hooked by the chance to be in on the ground floor of a new company.
It is the same way Hedrick, a mechanical engineering graduate and also a Windsor native, started his career more than two decades ago. He became the first employee of Cambridge-based In-House Solutions, now a major distributor of computer-aided design and manufacturing software.
Hedrick went out to become a contract software developer for Mastercam, a U.S.-based company that supplies manufacturing software to everything from small tool and mould shops to industry giants like Boeing, IBM and Sikorsky.
Urbanic spent the first 15 years of her career in the automotive industry, which eventually brought the couple back to Windsor when she was offered a position at the Ford Essex Engine Plant in the late 1990s. She went on to pursue a master’s degree and doctorate at the University of Windsor, where she landed a tenure track position when she won a research competition.
Urbanic and Hedrick saw opportunities to develop new software and technology, some of which they could patent. In September, they established CAMufacturing Solutions . It currently operates out of the couple’s LaSalle house, where they can tinker with ideas in a machine shop in the basement and family room office on the main floor.
To date, Hedrick and Urbanic are financing the venture and hoping to tap into other sources of funding to bring their ideas to market. With Novak’s help they are developing mobile applications of design and manufacturing software that can easily be used on tablets and smartphones on the factory floor. They’re also working with a Windsor company on using cost effective 3D printing to do laser cladding, a type of welding done with a laser beam.
“Somebody has got to develop (these technologies) and if we don’t somebody else will,” Urbanic said.
Novak, who worked to pay her way through six years of university and admits she “physically can’t quit” once she has taken on a challenge, has quickly become just as committed to achieving success as her employers.
“I know a lot of my friends wouldn’t have taken this type of chance, but their goals are very different from mine,” she said. “My goals are to learn as much as I can and do as much as I can.”