Industrial Engineering Student Starts Business to Bring Tech to Underserved Communities
Brady Middleton doesn’t wait for opportunities. He creates them. The industrial engineering student at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) saw a problem and – in true engineering fashion – he came up with a resolution. His answer was the founding of a company called Think773.
“I started Think773 with the idea of exposing electronics literacy to youth, makers, and organizations in underserved communities,” said Middleton, who attended the Chicago High School for Agricultural Sciences on the far south side. “I’m addressing this issue by offering affordable electronics kits, workshops, and tutorials that are designed to challenge and illuminate the minds of students, teachers, and makers alike. My secondary goal is to inspire the youth and let them know they can create technology and ultimately be part of the change this city needs.”
Middleton started developing the business during the spring 2018 semester. However, the problem was something he recognized before coming to UIC.
“When I was a CPS student I wanted to do engineering because I was in the Chance Program at UIC and it really gave me a foundation,” he said. “But once I got back to school, there was nothing. No opportunities for students who were trying to learn these types of things.”
With Think773, he plans to fix the problem. Apart from teaching workshops, he sells the “Internet of Things Starter Pack,” which consists of more than 21 different electronic components. When someone purchases a kit, they get access to 16 sample lessons with detailed circuit graph, step-by-step tutorials, fully-tested sample codes, and videos.
While the projects are electronics based the bulk of his work is rooted in industrial engineering. Middleton is managing quality control and working with manufacturers and vendors.
“It’s an electrical engineering product, but I’m still doing the industrial engineering when comes to the background with the business and numbers, the operations, and working with people,” he said. “I have a manufacturer in China and we’ve worked on the specifications of what I needed for [the kits], how long this is going to take for them to make them, and the price margins. I feel like I was applying a lot of the things I learned in the classes at UIC.”
“It’s great that he is taking the initiative to support and encourage STEM with CPS students and have a positive impact in the community,” said Dr. Quintin L. Williams Jr., a clinical assistant professor in the Department of Mechanical and Industrial Engineering at UIC. “Brady is a very diligent student. He approaches his education with a very calculated and strategic methodology. Always sitting in the front row and freely participates in class. Brady is a true innovator. By the time he discusses his project he has already well planned it. I feel blessed to be considered a mentor for him in this project and the future ones as well.”
Having a diverse engineering background is one of the key factors that allowed Middleton to coordinate the elements of starting and operating a business. Otherwise, he would have to hire people, which would affect his bottom line. He credits the industrial design program with preparing him for this venture.
“The curriculum pushes us to not only be an Industrial Engineer,” he said. “We take computer science classes, we take electrical engineering class, and it embodies everything I’m doing with this project. There’s a little bit of everything. It’s not a lot of programming, but it’s enough for me to know. It’s not a lot of business, but it’s enough for me to know.”
Apart from the curriculum, Middleton uses the vast resources UIC provides. He has been working at mHUB, which is an innovation center for product development and manufacturing. Through UIC, he was able to get an associate membership and work in their space.
“It provides the people, the setting, and everybody is moving and working and it makes you want to work harder,” he said. “This project is about pushing the standard of what we do here. We can do so much more here and UIC provides a lot for us. We just have to take advantage of it – like mHUB, the Makerspace, and the CAD Lab. UIC has already fostered this environment and the students just need to do it.”
“The IE department here is where it’s at. It’s the place to be. For me, it’s everything,” he added. “It provides me with flexibility when it comes to engineering. I think it’s so vast, but it’s its own entity. That’s what the curriculum here fosters and I love it.”