Adventures of an Entrepreneurial Engineer

David Limp has the entrepreneurial bug

“I love being involved in fast-paced, high-risk, high-reward startups,” says Limp, BS’88, a successful entrepreneur and chief operating officer of BrightKite, a social networking Web site. Limp, who earned his degree in computer science from the School of Engineering, specializes in ventures in the high-tech arena.

Good entrepreneurial ideas abound, he says. The tricky part is crossing the space between an idea and getting to market with a product no one else has, one that customers need. “To be a successful engineer/entrepreneur you have to have experience in all parts of business,” the Silicon Valley veteran advises, as well as a willingness to stake your name and reputation on a product.

No Shortcuts

Limp has made a career of such experiences. Just out of VUSE, he spent eight years at Apple Computing. Then he was at Liberate Technologies, serving as vice president of marketing, later chief strategy officer. Next he was vice president of business development for PalmSource and then a venture partner with Azure Capital Partners, which backs entrepreneurs, including BrightKite.

“Having a holistic view of what it takes to run a business is fundamental. That’s where my Vanderbilt engineering education is an asset. It’s provided a balance between theoretical and practical,” Limp says. “The practicality of the curriculum has paid dividends countless times as I apply core problem-solving skills to startups that are changing dramatically daily.”

Taking Risks

Currently, Limp is also collaborating on a Web site called Education.com, which provides a consolidated reputable resource for parents about educating children in the same way WebMD consolidates medical information. “It’s averaging 2 million hits a month,” he says. “Advertisers love it because they can get to customers they want—moms and dads interested in saving time.”

But Limp says not every hit is a home run. He helped develop a palm-sized computer that fell flat. “It was a brilliant piece of electrical engineering. It failed because consumers went to lower price points with bigger keyboards,” he says philosophically. “In the end, we sold the assets. Yet I wouldn’t trade time there for anything.”

The hallmarks of the engineer/entrepreneur are a combination of courage and unrelenting focus, he notes. “Don’t chase the next shiny penny,” he advises. “Sure, the next idea is out there, but its success is predicated on doing everything you can to make the current one a success.”

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