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Akron technology startup making a name globally

Legal News Reporter

Published: June 2, 2011

Anyone who has ever used a wireless device knows firsthand how difficult it can be to get or maintain a signal in challenging environments, but Akron-based Summit Data Communications, Inc. has been manufacturing industrial-and-medical-grade wireless modules that provide secure and reliable connectivity in all types of places, including factories, warehouses, and hospitals.

“A lot of people don’t realize that Wi-Fi technology got started in more industrial settings,” said CEO Ronald Seide. “We’re taking it back to its roots. It’s an underserved niche because larger companies are focusing more on high-volume residential, educational, and office markets.”

Founded in March 2006 by Seide and four other former Cisco Systems employees, Summit Data Communications set up operations in the Akron Global Business Accelerator, taking advantage of its many resources to get their company off the ground.

“The accelerator provided the physical space at reduced rates, but more importantly we received the mentoring we needed,” said Seide.

Once he and his partners moved into the accelerator, Seide said they got down to the real work, optimizing hardware and software designs for mobile connectivity in harsh environments.

“It’s the same core technology as we see in laptops, smart phones, and tablet PCs, but it’s used in a very different way,” he said.

Summit products are now used in barcode scanners and medical devices to allow workers to stay connected in all types of places and temperatures.

“If you’ve turned in a rental car at an airport, had a ticket scanned at a ballpark, or had inventory checked at a retail store, it’s a good bet you’ve come in contact with a Summit radio,” said Seide.

Today the company has over 30 employees, and its wireless modules are used by firms of all sizes, including many Fortune 500 companies, with over two-thirds of its revenues coming from countries outside the United States. In addition, the company partners with The University of Akron, offering internships to area students.

“When they first came to us, it was five guys with an idea,” said Terrence Martell, director of operations and business development at the Akron Global Business Accelerator.

“Before they ever moved in, they used our space to meet with potential customers and suppliers. They had never started a business before, and it is remarkable how they went from ground zero with no revenue to building a brand with a global reach.”

In fact, Seide said the company has shipped more than a million products in just a few short years.

In April, the National Business Incubation Association (NBIA) named Summit Data Communications the Outstanding Incubator Client in the technology category.

“There are about 7,000 business incubators in the world and over 1,000 in the U.S., so the fact that Summit was named the number one technology company among all these incubators is a pretty big deal,” said Martell. “What is even more impressive is that the other two finalists were from Hong Kong, so this shows that Akron startups can compete on a worldwide basis.

“Akron used to be the rubber capital of the world, and our clients were almost exclusively industrial,” said Martell. “However, the city has ‘reinvented itself’ and now the accelerator has clients who work on all types of ideas, including clean energy, life sciences, instrumentation and controls, advanced materials, and like Summit, information technology.”

“It was a very close competition this year,” said Tim King, operations manager for international programs at the National Business Incubation Association. “In fact, it was only the second time in the history of the awards program that we had three finalists.

“They were judged in five categories, the three most important being company accomplishments, growth, and the help they received with business development from the incubator. These are some of the best technology clients in the world. More so than any of the other nominees, Summit Data Communications is an example of the benefits of business incubation.”

“Summit Data Communications is part of an energized and growing technology community here in Northeastern Ohio,” said Akron Mayor Don Plusquellic. “Summit continues to build upon the wireless communications legacy that began here some 30 years ago with Telxon, and is leveraging the investments we’re making to help build healthcare technology companies in the region.”

Indeed, Seide said Summit has expanded its market focus to include healthcare, and is already working with leading manufacturers of medical devices. He said he expects his technology to play a big role in making it easier for hospitals to make the switch to electronic medical records in an effort to decrease patient errors and streamline costs.

“With EMR there needs to be reliable wireless connectivity that ensures an uninterrupted stream of data,” said Seide. “A hospital environment is remarkably similar to a steel mill in that both have a lot of environmental factors that make it difficult to stay on the wireless network. Summit’s unique experience and resulting products make this possible.”

“The market they are in is really growing geographically,” said Martell. “It’s ironic, but telling, that many of the components used in their devices are made in Asia, integrated in Akron, and then sent back to Asia for use.”

“The fact that we are a fast-growing technology company in Akron is a little less intuitive than if we were located in Silicon Valley, but in reality Akron is an ideal location for tech companies in general, and wireless data communications companies in particular,” Seide said.