Button Up!

Alumna brings big style to a little detail

alexandra_gramatikas

Alexandra Gramatikas, ’12 | CEO, ALTR LLC

While attending a nautical-themed wine tasting, Alexandra Gramatikas, ’12, and her business partner and current UCF doctoral student, Tripp Driskell, found themselves in a big discussion about a relatively small item: buttons. More specifically, they complained about the lack of versatility in purchasing clothing with exactly the right buttons, and how ridiculous it is to buy a new blazer just because it has gold buttons, or making a trip to the seamstress to have plain buttons replaced with snazzier ones. And, so, ALTR LLC was born.

Alexandra’s patent-pending button covers allow wearers to “ALTR” the look of any standard buttons without the use of a needle and thread. She began her line with a design close to the hearts of all Knights — the coveted Pegasus.

This great invention not only gives UCF alumni a way to literally wear their pride every day, but it also won Alexandra first place in the 2012 UCF Joust, for which she was awarded $10,000 cash and one year free residency in the UCF Incubator program.

We caught up with Alexandra and asked her a few questions about her entrepreneurial spirit and bubbly personality. Here’s what she had to say…

Q. Why do you do what you do?
A. The idea of doing anything else seems like a jail sentence. I crave innovation… Whether it’s something obvious like creating a new product, or something unsuspected like a new adaptation of an existing product.

Q. What is your favorite thing about your job?
A. The immediate answer: marketing. However, when I take a second to think about it, I would have to say the manufacturing operations. I LOVE that I’ve been exposed to such a relevant industry. Rapid prototyping, machining, injection molding, etc., have a huge impact on today’s manufacturing. Not only are a lot of these operations being brought back to the U.S., they are becoming more affordable for budding innovators. A student could create prototypes in his or her dorm room with the technology that is available!

Q. Describe a typical day at work…
A. I wake up at 7:30 every morning (which is early for me) and eat breakfast while watching Good Morning America and answering emails. Then, I usually have a morning meeting and head to the office, located at the Orlando UCF Incubator — I love the UCF Incubator! From there, it’s anything from licensing and product research to web and content development. I always take breaks in between to engage on social media, since that is currently our primary source of marketing. Then, around 3:30, I fulfill the day’s orders and ship them out.

Q. What did you want to be when you grew up?
A. Peter Pan… then an architect… then a pastry chef… then a media buyer.

Q. What was your first paying job?
A. A server at Harry’s in Tallahassee during undergrad. I think EVERYONE should be a server or host/ess at least once in their life. It gives you a whole new level of patience and appreciation.

Q. Why did you choose to attend UCF?
A. I graduated with my undergraduate degree at Florida State in 2009. The only opportunities that were being offered to me at the time were either as a recruiter or in sales. Though they were great opportunities, and I have friends who have done phenomenally in those fields, I just knew that I would constantly crave something else. So, I worked at Shari as a hostess for a year (another life lesson in patience). One day, my dad suggested I come with him to attend UCF’s Joust finals. It would give me an opportunity to meet some of the faculty, and see what direction UCF was going in. The day after, I signed up for the GMAT and applied to UCF’s M.B.A. program.

Q. What is your favorite UCF memory?
A. Winning the very competition that encouraged me to go back to school in the first place

Q. What is the last thing you searched for on Google?
A. “best design for creating friction” and “yoda quotes”

Q. What one thing drives you absolutely crazy?
A. No. 1 is TIME!!! I HATE when people have no regard for time (and, in turn, no one else’s) — drives me bonkers! Students (especially graduate) without a LinkedIn profile, and #selfies are a close second.

Q. What is the No. 1-most-played song on your iPod/MP3 player?
A. Oooooooo that is tough. I always play my Spotify “schizophrenic playlist” on shuffle… Right now, the top three are probably: “Baby, I Love Your Way” by Big Mountain, “Heroes” by David Bowie and “Radio” by Lana Del Rey.

Q. What songs would make up the soundtrack of your life?
A. “You Only Get What You Give” by New Radicals

Q. What movie can you quote word for word?
A. Wedding Crashers and Finding Nemo

Q. What TV show are you embarrassed to admit watching?
A. I LOVE anything on the Smithsonian Channel. Guilty pleasure: American Idol — mainly to roll my eyes because the female judges this year are awful. Bring back Steven Tyler!!!

Q. Do you have any nicknames?
A. Star (it’s my middle name), Little One, Gram, Midge… I’m really short if you couldn’t tell from those, lol.

Q. If you could eat only one food for the rest of your life, what would it be?
A. Chocolate chip cookies!!! And mac ‘n cheese.

Q. What was your most embarrassing moment?
A. HA! There are so many… But definitely the time in undergrad, my roommate talked me into signing up for a gym membership. The first day I went with her, we were next to each other on the treadmill. Mine wasn’t working, so I walked across hers to her other side. I realized I left my iPod at the other treadmill, so I went to walk back across. However, in that short time, she had started running on her treadmill. So, when I stepped on it, I went flying off the back with my feet in the air like a cockroach. We still laugh about it to this day.

Q. What is the hardest thing you have ever done?
A. Start a company.

Q. What is your favorite app?
A. Instagram. 99.9 percent of our pictures are taken with my phone and put through Instagram. I LOVE IT!

Q. Where is the farthest you have traveled?
A. I am very fortunate in the traveling department. When my parents split, my dad and I spent three weeks at the end of every summer traveling with some family friends. We always packed a backpack and that’s it. I’ve had the opportunity to go places from Vietnam and Bali to scuba diving in the Galapagos and climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro.

Q. A custom T-shirt tells the world a lot about a person. What would yours say?
A. “I know that guacamole is extra.”

Q. What is the best piece of advice you have ever received?
A. “Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.” (Samuel Beckett)
My dad told me that quote my first week after graduating from FSU.

Q. What do you fear?
A. Missing out. I have a serious case of FOMO (fear of missing out). I don’t really fear “not succeeding” because deep down, I know I will succeed at something. You could say I have fear of missing out on an opportunity.

Q. What is the one word you are guilty of using too often?
A. Hmm… I don’t necessarily use one word more than any other, but I have a tendency to make up words. I’ll accidentally combine two words when speaking, and just hope no one noticed.

Q. Tell us a secret!
A. I’m really 4 feet 10 inches and some millimeters, but I tell everyone I’m 4 feet 11 inches because the DMV gave me the extra inch on my driver’s license, and that’s the one that really counts. ;)

More Info

madetoaltr.com
facebook.com/madetoaltr
twitter.com/madetoaltr

Prepared for Takeoff

JackMill

Jack Mill, ’80 | Vice President of Engineering, Piper Aircraft Inc.

By Angie Lewis, ’03

Jack Mill, ’80, fell in love with airplanes as a teenager. Lucky for him, his dreams of flying and designing aircraft became a reality when he landed a job with Piper Aircraft Inc. more than 30 years ago. He began as a design engineer and ascended his way up to his current position of vice president of engineering. Piper is headquartered in Vero Beach, FL, and is considered one of the “big three” in the field of general aviation manufacturing.

Jack earned his B.S. in engineering at UCF, is a licensed professional engineer in Florida, an FAA engineering authorized representative, a certified flight instructor and a commercial pilot with instrument rating in single and multi-engine aircraft.

We caught up with Jack while he was attending simulation training in Orlando. Here’s what he shared with us…

Q. How did you get started with Piper Aircraft?
A. In 1972, Piper donated an airplane to Vero Beach High School where I was enrolled in an aeronautics class. Since the donated airplane had been used extensively for structural testing, it could not be sold and we used it to learn about all of the parts and how to perform a pre-flight inspection as if we were going to actually fly it. This was my first exposure to Piper, plus involvement in a Boy Scouts Explorer club that Piper sponsored. Years later, in 1985, I had the opportunity to join Piper as a design engineer.

Q. Why do you do what you do?
A. I love flying airplanes and participating in the design process of creating a product that fulfills the dreams of our customers. Seeing an airplane that I have had a part in the design of and talking to customers that love our products fills me with pride for the Piper team that cannot be described.

Q. What motivated you to learn how to fly?
A. My first airplane ride in a Piper Cub at a Vero Beach airport open house sparked my interest. We slowly flew low over the Indian River and across the island to the beach at only a few hundred feet and saw fisherman, boaters and golfers, and everyone was looking up at us and waving. Looking at the world from above provides an amazing perspective that hooks you.

Q. Describe your best day as a pilot…
A. This is a tough question as I have enjoyed so many flights varying from personal trips, experimental flight tests, giving flight instruction, traveling for Piper and many challenging flights to different places. Several very memorable flights include opportunities to fly the Piper Cub, Piper Cheyenne, Piper Malibu/Mirage, Ford Tri-motor, Pilatus PC-12 and Beechcraft King Air, to name a few. Flying the Piper Meridian last week was my most recent “best day” flying!

Q. What’s your favorite thing about your job?
A. Leading the engineering team at Piper allows me to work side by side every day with some of the most dedicated and talented people in the general aviation business. The passion for making the best airplanes in the world is what drives the Piper team and I’m so very proud to be a part of it.

Q. What’s your least favorite thing about your job?
A. The administrative portion of the position consumes so much of my time that it’s a challenge to stay focused on the important tasks that need to get addressed both tactically and strategically.

Q. Describe a typical day at work…
A. I usually ride my bicycle to work (it’s only 4.5 miles) in time to change and start into emails and review my schedule for the day around 7 a.m. or so. Normal days are comprised of project and design reviews, developing and/or reviewing presentations for financial reviews, board of directors meetings, staff meetings and working with various teams setting priorities for resources as necessary to accomplish the corporate goals. I see my position as more of a coach and mentor, providing the tools and resources the team needs to accomplish the work that needs to get done. I use lunch time and late in the afternoon to catch up on emails and correspondence to industry associations, employees, the FAA and various customers. I usually change and ride my bicycle to Charles Park around 6:15 p.m. to meet my wife and friends for a few miles of running and walking, then home for dinner. Often times, I use the evenings after dinner to further catch up on emails and reading journal articles or providing feedback and direction.

Q. What’s your most memorable experience on the job?
A. The day the Piperjet proof of concept vehicle first flew. This was our first jet design that we built and flew to prove the concept of a single engine turbofan powered airplane. Watching the airplane fly for the first time brought tears to my eyes.

Q. Why did you choose to attend UCF?
A. Because it was a local university with a reputation for excellence in the engineering program.

Q. What’s your favorite UCF memory?
A. Graduating!

Q. What song(s) would make up the soundtrack of your life?
A. Pink Floyd, Beetles, Dave Grusin, Debusy, Boston, Jimmy Buffet, Big & Rich, generally a variety of anything but rap…

Q. Do you have any hidden talents?
A. I learned to juggle a few years ago! I want to learn piano.

Q. What magazine do you look for when you’re stuck in a waiting room?
A. Flying, Field & Stream, Boating, Water Ski

Q. If you could watch only one TV show, what would it be and why?
A. I only get to watch what my wife has on and it’s usually HGTV!

Q. What do you do for fun?
A. Flying, scuba diving, free-diving, hunting lionfish and lobster, golfing, waterskiing, boating, traveling with my wife, Dawn (Miller) Mill, ’77, and visiting with my daughters Katy and Angela

Q. A giant meteor is hurling through the atmosphere toward Earth, and life as we know it will cease to exist by this time tomorrow. How will you spend your last 24 hours?
A. With my wife and children

Q. If someone wrote a book about you, what would the title be?
A. “What a ride!”

Q. What or who inspires you?
A. My wife, my mother and father (God rest his soul), my faith, many of my coworkers and associates over the years

Q. How do you manage stress?
A. Sometimes taking a walk or getting away to a quiet place for a few minutes does wonders, and sometimes an intensive workout.

Q. What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
A. Be true to yourself.

Q. What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?
A. I admire my wife Dawn’s artistic ability and profession so much that I would love to be able to draw or paint.

 

Far Out!

With $30 million up for grabs, UCF alumni and students are in a race to space.

RubenNunez

Ruben Nunez, ’11 | President/CEO, Earthrise Space Inc.

By Angie Lewis, ’03

Like many kids from his generation, Ruben Nunez, ’11, grew up watching Weird Science, E.T. and Star Wars. Little did he know the influence the science fiction and technology in those movies would have on him. But after his parents took him to visit Kennedy Space Center and he had an encounter with one of the astronauts, it all made sense: He wanted to build a spacecraft that would help us explore our universe.

Unable to find a good internship opportunity as a college student, then learning about the $30 million Google Lunar X PRIZE, Nunez decided to start his own company and team to pursue it.

Earthrise Space Inc. (ESI) provides students with experience building real spacecraft, doing so in collaboration with industry and academic institutions. As president and CEO, Nunez, along with three UCF alumni and 33 UCF students, formed Omega Envoy. The team is competing against 22 other teams from around the world to be the first to safely land a robot on the surface of the moon, have it travel 500 meters over the lunar surface, and send video, images and data back to Earth.

If Omega Envoy wins the money, Nunez says the cash prize will be used to expand his company’s infrastructure and workforce to further develop its technologies in order to increase the reliability of its spacecraft.

“We intend to demonstrate that Florida is the No. 1 place for space, since all the infrastructure and resources needed to build and launch spacecraft can be found here,” Nunez says. “We hope to create technologies to enable pin-point precision lunar landing — technologies which can then be used to explore other places in our solar system. We also intend to be the first commercial entity to offer lunar payload delivery services.” (ESI has already sold $1.6 million in lunar payload delivery services to Angelicvm, a Chilean company also competing in the Google Lunar X PRIZE.)

In addition, he says he would use the prize money to hire more engineers and other disciplined professionals with experience, and provide more internships from different majors (e.g., engineering, business, marketing, public relations and art) to increase the symbiotic mentoring methodology they implement to spur innovation. He would also schedule future lunar payload delivery missions with increased payload mass capabilities, as well as create spin-off technologies for use on Earth and further space exploration.

Thanks to Nunez’s ambitious endeavor, ESI has secured a contract with NASA for up to $10 million, through which ESI is providing data from its Omega Envoy spacecraft development and mission. The space giant will use this data in an effort to learn how a small, nonprofit company, like ESI, is able to build a lunar module for a fraction of the cost it spent in its past lunar missions — information that could be imperative to any future NASA operations.

“As the Florida team in the competition, it is important to engage students here in the state who will be the future space workforce,” Nunez explains. “What better place to do that than at UCF and other Florida universities? We want to provide experience and support to students and alumni from our alma mater, increasing our momentum and our community involvement.”

Earthrise Space is part of the UCF Business Incubator and is housed in Central Florida Research Park, which is close to its main workforce of UCF students. Since its inception, ESI has provided internships to more than 60 students, six of whom were hired with companies like Boeing, Pratt & Whitney, Lockheed Martin and Aircraft Electric Motors.

Since ESI is a 501(c)3 nonprofit corporation, it’s seeking other sponsors, partners, donors, grants, contracts and other funding sources in an effort to fulfill its lunar payload delivery service capabilities and to win the Google Lunar X PRIZE.

More Info

earthrise-space.org
facebook.com/earthrisespace
twitter.com/OmegaEnvoy