A Long Way from My Central Jersey Comfort Zone: A Day at JAKTOOL Engineered Solutions with CEO, Cristy Richards and COO, Jeff Kinsberg. (Rutgers Alums) By Calvin Schwartz January 21, 2020
Comfort zone in the title; means not really having engaged, absorbed, discovered, reported on anything previously concerned with engineering; not my extant proclivity. Next, how did this interview therefore eventuate? Those in my readership here at njdiscover.com know of my breaking the box work with the platform of LinkedIn. I love it; spend hours a day connecting, learning, exploring, meeting, and messaging, many Rutgers alums and students. The commonality of alma mater is a powerful matrix.
Six weeks ago, Cristy Richards connected with me on LinkedIn. Rutgers, the binding glue of our shared history. A few messages back and forth. My journalistic due diligence illuminated Cristy’s profile, graduating from Rutgers with a Mechanical Engineering degree, the President and CEO of JAKTOOL, a “design engineering and precision prototyping” company. And Jeff Kinsberg, another Rutgers Engineering graduate is the COO, Chairman and Company Founder.
Those few messages on LinkedIn evolved into a phone call, elaborating our Rutgers commonalities. The journey of JAKTOOL is hugely fascinating. I’m a journalist at njdiscover.com. Our mantra is to positively elevate special people of New Jersey. JAKTOOL, with the unique work they do in defense and consumer health engineering, bespeaks elevation and promulgation. A scheduled interview was inked.
The Real Interview with JAKTOOL. Just like in the Land of Oz, I was off to see two accomplished, exemplary, Rutgers Engineering wizard graduates. Scene One: outside their 10,000 square foot JAKTOOL headquarters, in an industrial park, a distant Turnpike, parks, benches for outdoor lunch in the summer. Three weeks before Christmas. Scene Two: Conference room, with my Rutgers journalism student Akash Patel, Emily Gorelick, JAKTOOL, Sales and Marketing Coordinator, Cristy Richards, and Jeff Kinsberg.
There was so much on my mind to explore and ask. Best to follow streams of consciousness. I researched the company a few days before. They engineer, develop ideas into real prototypes at an accelerated speed. Jeff had just walked into the conference room. “Our world here is rewarding… We forge new relationships with clients, engage people still in school, capture perspectives across dissimilar industries… We began our journey here by learning to grow relationships, specializing when it suited our programs and customers… This is why people come to us. From Medical Device to US Military.”
I asked for help understanding prototypes. Jeff was quick. “Prototype means first of its kind. The pedigree of prototype differentiates JAKTOOL. We say ‘precision prototypes,’ working for exacting requirements…with broad engineering and manufacturing skill set.” I looked outside the conference room, across the hall into a cavernous room of foreign machines which waited for an explanation. I had no idea people did this kind of stuff. Jeff explained over time they began to specialize into military and medical consumer products.
Being a one-time pharmacist, I asked about their work with nasal sprays. Cristy added, “Where the challenge comes from is incorporating new and innovative technology into common intuitive devices.” Jeff talked next about them both being Rutgers Engineering grads and how they support Rutgers technology. “There is a lot of technology at the collegiate level. We are a prototype partner for Rutgers.”
Next, I wondered about Cristy’s membership in WOSB/WBENC. Women Owned Small Business. Women’s Business Enterprise National Council. Small Business Administration. To me an important inclusion as I sit on the Advisory Board of the Women’s Health Institute at Rutgers RWJ Medical School. “Perhaps someday Cristy…?” She enthusiastically agreed.
“So, Jeff, how and when does engineering begin in your life?” A pervasive smile that signaled out of the ordinary. “When I was a kid, my father got me into model trains and scale models…Early interest in working with my hands.” The smile was gone. “I missed most sixth and seventh grade… They diagnosed it as Lyme Disease… In sixth grade, the U.S. Military invaded Iraq. I was home bound, so I watched the war and became interested in defense technology and equipment and started to build model tanks… combining military and models … Was also pre-disposed to small business through my dad… sold my model trains and accessories at trade shows… the work I did as a kid was very meticulous… leading to JAKTOOL years later.”
Jeff told about buying a metal lathe in high school. And I bought a basketball or two, thinking about my comfort zone and not even knowing what a metal lathe is. Commentary followed about schools getting rid of wood shops in the 1990’s. Beginnings of teaching intro to computers. Next, he showed me a personal letter from Colin Powell, then Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. “While my classmates were writing Bruce Willis (Die Hard) and Demi Moore (Ghost), I wrote Colin Powell.” His young hobby was buying equipment to improve quality and automate his hobby. From high school to engineering school to young professional. His peers communicated by goals and objectives. He was someone they could talk to. “I understood hands-on and analytical, in a casual way, then things ramped up.” Jeff explained how JAKTOOL’s core clients are past classmates, colleagues and first-hand referrals.
“New Jersey is an extreme in how far we moved away from manufacturing.” JAKTOOL is filling that gap regionally for prototype development with skilled craftsmen and engineers. “We are working so companies can let us be their go to prototype company.” Jeff explained how Fortune 500 companies are often slow with layers of management that encumber their processes. Market opportunities are passing them by.
“The benefits with JAKTOOL… we look to be a developmental partner…. We can do it so much faster… It’s a tactical advantage due to speed… Our clients feel comfortable because they trust… With our clients we develop partnerships …We are focused on results and speed to the next project milestone…we work with procurement to assist in technology transfer and scale up… valuable in all industries that have specialized supply chains.”
Jeff pointed towards the window. An apparatus. Once again, I’d be drifting away from my comfort zone into serious engineering. An explanation followed how this strange looking thing was a prototype involved with supporting the development of ammunition for U.S. Army Apache Helicopters. Words like luminescence and chemical composition bounced around. I think Jeff sensed this was way over my seated 6’ 5” Rutgers capped head.
Next, Cristy, my Rutgers journalism student Akash Patel (whom I checked often on his observing my techniques and style) and Emily Gorelick prepared for a tour of the facility. “We’ve been here for seven years. Three years ago, we renovated and grew to 10,000 square feet.” She talked proudly about JAKTOOL’s medical consumer directions, pointing out their Arch Height Index® Measurement System which is used for classification of foot arch type. A complicated looking device. Before joining JAKTOOL, Cristy worked for both academic and large corporations supporting biologics and medical devices. Her experience in medical devices has helped her identify programs and determine resource requirements to balance the business.
Just ahead, another cavernous room of unimaginable, indescribable machinery. Subliminally, I thought it was the entrance to a sterile research laboratory. I needed special eye goggles. “These are automated machines used for production configured for prototyping. They provide JAKTOOL the speed and agility to deliver precision prototypes. All of the craftsmen in our prototype shop are engineers… All have a diverse skillset to accelerate the physical prototype development process… Our value is how we support producibility with customers goals in mind.”
Entering the next room, Cristy introduced me to Herman Richards. “He’s also my father and a forty-year veteran of manufacturing and quality with experience as a journeyman machinist, tool and die maker, and shop foreman.” We did a photo-op and an epiphany hit me; I suddenly knew how Cristy became an engineer.
In the lobby, just in front was a large poster depicting the Rutgers Formula Racing Team which JAKTOOL sponsors, mentors and teaches. Jeff smiled, sensing the answer to his question, “Calvin, would you like to visit the racecar engineering team at Rutgers?” “Of course, definitely.” I was thrilled; lots of reasons. Gives me a chance to further absorb their unique energy, knowledge and accomplishment.
Jeff mentors students at regional high schools and universities as well as provides internships with JAKTOOL, while also serving on the Rutgers University Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering Executive Industrial Advisory Board.
Cristy has a Rutgers M.S. in Mechanical Engineering, an M.B.A., and is credited with many patents in the medical device industry. And more commonality. She wrote her MS thesis on the human knee and meniscus. I’ve been in pursuit of my meniscus (which I think is still floating in the East River) and both knees for 25 years. A very long, multi-continental story. She is also active in the RUMAE Industrial Advisory Board and serves as chair of Mentoring program.
“These past three hours have been so very special. A certain comfort now with engineers. I need to find the right closing.” Cristy, Jeff and Emily stared curiously. “I think I’m very upset with you all. You’ve filled my head with so much input. It’ll take weeks to decompress.” Jeff asked if he could re-use that line.
“I engineered it as a prototype for you both. My pleasure.”
You know it’s been a special day; when hugs are used to say goodbye.