Vanderbilt alum who launched edge computing company is BOV chair; energetic recruiter
Gary Butler spent less than two years at Vanderbilt – earning a master’s in mechanical engineering in 1994 before setting off for the University of Cambridge for his Ph.D.
But Vanderbilt played a significant role in shaping his path into entrepreneurship, so, last week, Butler made the trip from his Camgian Microsystems offices in Starkville, Miss., to campus for his second meeting as chair of the School of Engineering’s Board of Visitors. He’s also a persuasive recruiter on campus, recently hiring newly minted electrical engineering Ph.D. Gilbert Rodriguez to his team – with Rodriguez asking to start his new job less than a week after leaving Nashville.
“I developed a strong set of lasting relationships at Vanderbilt that had a positive impact on both my career and life in general,” Butler says. “Alvin Strauss and Ephrahim Garcia were remarkable teachers and mentors during my time in Nashville, and they positioned me for success at Cambridge and beyond. I feel deeply indebted to them and to VUSE for that.”
Butler came to Vanderbilt from Tulane University – his only prior exposure to Nashville as a field goal kicker for the Green Wave playing against Vanderbilt in 1989. He considered going to work right away, but a professor advised him to at least apply to graduate schools. Butler tore Vanderbilt’s address off an advertising placard in Tulane’s engineering building to write for more information.
After earning his master’s and Ph.D., Butler laid the groundwork for his entrepreneurial work as a division engineer in the Washington, DC, offices of BBN Technologies. Founded in 1948 by two MIT professors, BBN is best known for its historic work in packet switching networking for the ARPANET, the forerunner of the Internet.
“I worked in the sensor systems and technologies branch, leading DARPA-funded programs,” Butler said. “I started doing a lot of work with machine learning and signal processing and making that smart and automated.”
He launched Camgian in 2006, returning to his native state and growing his company through contract research and development projects. He expanded his team through two key acquisitions, including an engineering design group from San Jose-based Cypress Semiconductor.
Camgian developed and markets two major sensor platforms:
- Prowl, primarily marketed to the military, provides advanced radar technology that supports high-resolution tracking capabilities in the field. Unlike traditional systems, it consumes little power and can run on batteries for months. It is compact and portable, working with laptop devices, and helps protect soldiers.
- Egburt allows the burgeoning Internet of Things to work more effectively. Instead of pushing massive amounts of data from the physical world to the cloud for processing, it allows for edge computing – creating the architecture that processes information from sensors at the edge of the network. It does that by using only actionable intelligence, reducing the burden and making systems more scalable.
Butler has recruited two other Vanderbilt graduates in addition to Rodriguez: Seth Patton (BE’14) and Micheal Fullan (BE’16). With so many grads choosing life in Silicon Valley or at least in large cities, Butler’s recruiting focuses around the cutting-edge work, collaborative culture and community impact at Camgian.
“The technical work and the types of customers we are working for are as innovative as any you will find in any company,” he said. “I also spend a lot of time on our phenomenal culture. My goal every day when I come in is to improve the culture of our company. For people to do great work, they have to love what they do.”
That’s the case for Rodriguez, who said he’s working with some of the most brilliant and inventive engineers he’s ever met.
“When I was working on biosensor tech at Vanderbilt, I was looking at going to work for an advanced sensor company. But I wasn’t a person who wanted to rush out to Silicon Valley and rent a tent in someone’s back yard and deal with traffic,” Rodriguez said. “I wanted to do something that lined up with my passion in a great place to live, and I came across Camgian at a Vanderbilt career fair.
“It’s an honor to work alongside my colleagues here. We’re doing research very similar to my detection of antigens, antibodies and proteins on a small chip, but I went from thinking in nanometers to meters, using the same sort of electromagnetic phenomena with materials. Getting to work with data processing was a big passion during my undergrad years at Baylor, and I’ve returned to that, too.”
Butler said he looks forward to more returns to campus for Board of Visitors meetings, to recruit more young talent and to see old friends. He will serve as chair through fall 2017.
“I feel strongly about the mission of Vanderbilt, and I am truly excited about the direction in which Philippe (Dean Philippe Fauchet) is driving the School of Engineering,” he said.
Camgian has been named by Inc. Magazine as one of the fastest-growing private companies in the nation, by Entrepreneur Magazine as one of the most entrepreneurial companies in America and by Compass Intelligence as one of the world’s top companies in IoT innovation and execution. In its 2016 market report Fog Computing in IoT, Machina Research identified Camgian as one of the innovative IoT startups and notable companies pioneering fog computing.
Heidi Hall, (615) 322-6614
On Twitter @VUEngineering