Ryan Pratt, 40, Entrepreneur of the Year
It helps to have the right people by your side, doing the pushing.
That’s what happened to Ryan Pratt, the founder and CEO of Guerrilla RF, and the Greensboro Chamber of Commerce’s 2018 Entrepreneur of the Year. His business, which designs and sells microchips for wireless infrastructure, has raised more than $7.8 million in private investment and rolled out 50 products.
The Greensboro native and Dudley High School graduate went to NC State to study engineering. He found he had a passion for semi-conductors.
He didn’t plan on going into the family business, but his skills earned him a spot at RF Micro Devices, a business co-founded by his father, Bill Pratt. He was an integrated circuit designer, an engineer that designs microchips.
If you had the original iPhone, or you’ve got an iPad, there’s a good chance that you’ve used a microchip that Ryan helped design.
“I enjoyed the challenge of designing new chips,” Ryan says. “It turned out, I was actually fairly good at it. It gave me satisfaction.”
After eight years, Ryan moved to Skyworks Solutions. He helped the Massachusetts-based semi-conductor company launch a design center in Greensboro, the third largest market for semi-conductors in the world.
“The idea was to tap into a very good local talent pool,” Ryan says.
He helped build the center up to a 50-employee operation charged with creating new products. But a change in company leadership lead to him being laid off in 2013.
“When I got laid off that kind of forced me into a position of deciding what job I wanted,” Ryan says. “There wasn’t anyone who wanted to hire me to do what I wanted to do. My father said, ‘Start a company, do what you want.’”
Ryan knew it wouldn’t be easy.
“The big thing for me was talking myself into the idea I could be successful,” Ryan says.
He got a lot of support from his dad, and Greensboro’s entrepreneurship networks.
He started working with Sam Funchess, CEO of the Nussbaum Center for Entrepreneurship, who mentored him. He joined a local startup lab program.
Later he was able to successfully pitch his company at the chamber’s Capital Connects program and NC IDEA. It’s how Guerrilla RF met its first major investors.
“That was very helpful in terms of the money and the credibility it gave us with investors,” Ryan says.
Guerrilla RF now has 16 full-time employees and 6 part-time staff. It has focused on niche markets that larger companies have neglected. It’s a strategy that has played out well.
It takes a long time to get a new semi-conductor product on the market. Ryan expects to be profitable in the next year.
“Being an entreprenuer….is very much a roller coast ride. The highs are very high and the lows are very low. You have to try to moderate it and keep in that functional zone where you are getting stuff done, despite the roller coaster ride,” Ryan says.