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The Michigan Tech waterfront campus

Talented Michigan Tech alumni are leading organizations and powering innovation to provide cutting-edge solutions for their clients.

Steelhead Technologies

“Michigan Tech has had a great influence on our company,” says Jeff Halonen ’16 BS Mechanical Engineering, CEO of Steelhead Technologies. Founded in 2021 and headquartered near Michigan Tech, Steelhead provides cutting-edge job shop technology and efficiencies to process manufacturing businesses that are struggling with outdated process management systems.

“We observed an acute need in the job shop manufacturing environment for a tool to improve workflow and to guide owners on how to improve profits,” says Halonen. “Many shops have inefficient systems to run their enterprises, whether it be quoting, production management, or scheduling.”

The Steelhed Technologies team
The Steelhead Technologies team

Over 70 percent of Steelhead’s full-time roster are MTU alumni, and several part-time employees are working on their Tech degrees. Steelhead is excited to have Michigan Tech as a talent resource as their Calumet office expands. Tech grads also work in Steelhead’s growing offices in Minneapolis and metro Detroit.

“Michigan Tech graduates have been a great talent source for the growing company,” says Halonen. “They bring with them a strong work ethic and create a positive work culture.”

Steelhead started small with a few engineers and one or two customers. Now, just before their third anniversary, they have over 50 employees and customers in 28 states. The Upper Peninsula’s low cost of living, coupled with the resources at Michigan Tech, has kept the Steelhead headquarters and technical team firmly planted “up north,” even as the sales team has spread out across Michigan and the Great Lakes region.

  • 25+
    Steelhead staff are Michigan Tech alumni

“Our customers provided lots of patience and helped us to solve issues that came up as we grew our business,” says Halonen. “I think it helped that we acknowledged the areas for improvement and found people who could provide the insight we needed. It’s important to know what you don’t know and find wisdom before you act.”

So far, Steelhead has helped dozens of plants improve profitability, sales, operations, scheduling, and more. The company’s success was recognized in 2022 with a Keweenaw Community Sparkplug Award, presented by the Keweenaw Chamber of Commerce. The Sparkplug Award recognizes local businesses, organizations, community projects, and individuals for their efforts during the previous year.

“Our biggest reward is our growing business,” says Halonen. “When a business is easier to run or makes more money, they can better serve their customers, employees, and communities.”

  • 50
    employees serving 75 clients in 28 states and provinces

Halonen notes that for a new business to thrive, you need a good team, a good product, a product-market fit, and great customers. But what about the capital?

“You can find the capital,” says Halonen. “If you have a great product, customers that need and love your product, and you can build a team around that product, partners are out there to help you grow that business.”

“If you know how to speak and you have energy and passion, that capital will come,” adds Halonen. “I think a lot of people just assume raising capital is some fat-cat thing that only big shots do. That’s absolutely not true. Tens of thousands of investors are out there working all day long just to find great businesses with growth potential.”

Steelhead clients have a lot to say about how the company has helped them improve their operations and profitability. “I can see where we are doing well and where we’re not,” says one client. Another notes, “While utilizing Steelhead we have increased visibility in all areas of our process.” Still another says, “I cannot speak highly enough about all of the ways Steelhead has improved our quoting process.”

Graduate Profile: Jake Timmer, Superior Technologies

Jake Timmer ’17 BS Computer Science began his education at Michigan Tech in 2013. From the start, he intended to start his own company. “I like taking that kind of risk and the independence and freedom that come with running the show,” he says.

In 2016, while he was still in school, Timmer founded Superior Technologies, which delivers software development services across a wide range of technologies, including Go, C++, Java, and Python. Clients include military contractors, automotive manufacturers, and firms that service large data centers. Based in Houghton, the company employs about 20 people.

Jake Timmer '17
Jake Timmer '17

“A lot of companies have a hard time hiring for technical talent. They come to us when they don’t have specific expertise in a given technology,” Timmer says. “Companies often don’t want to hire a salaried person for six months when they need a specific skill for just a short time.”

All but one of the company’s current employees are Michigan Tech graduates. The company has hired more than 35 MTU students and alumni over the years. “MTU students are an order of magnitude tougher than some of the other schools that we have recruited from. It’s a willingness to confront difficult problems,” Timmer says.

Superior Technologies encourages its employees to cultivate a healthy work-life balance. “I think it’s the best way to build an enthusiastic and productive team,” Timmer says. “Very rarely will we ask them to work overtime, and we try to be super flexible about vacations.”

“We’re also big on mentorship,” Timmer says. “Our newer employees are paired with senior developers who coach them and help them succeed. It puts junior developers in a position where they can learn quickly and do better work.”

Timmer has always liked math and he is also creative and artistic. He attended art school for a while, but decided that it wasn’t the right path. He wasn’t sure what to do next and was considering math, engineering, and computer science.

When a longtime friend attending Michigan Tech suggested he look into computer science at MTU, Timmer found his answer. He completed his paperwork quickly and was fast-tracked to start his bachelor’s degree at Michigan Tech in fall 2013.

“Computer science is the kind of field where nobody ever knows everything. You’re constantly learning. It’s a good balance of problem-solving and creativity,” Timmer says. “Almost by definition, programs are infinitely reproducible for almost no cost, so anything that you’re building is like a new thing. I like that aspect of it.”

“The computer science program at Tech is practical enough and difficult enough that it teaches the problem-solving skills necessary for the real world,” Timmer says. “The program is broad enough to encompass all the major things you can do with your career. It gives students a good idea of what they want to do and teaches them how to learn.”

Associate Professor Robert Pastel of the Department of Computer Science was a helpful influence to Timmer during his time on campus. “I talked with him a lot; he was awesome,” Timmer says.

“There are so many brilliant people who attend Tech,” Timmer says. “It’s a good environment to become engrossed with your peers. I have friends from Tech who have started huge companies and friends who are working at companies like Facebook and Google.”

Timmer’s advice to current Michigan Tech students? “Keep trying! Every success is built on a lot of failures, especially for people getting into entrepreneurialism,” he says.

“You’re the product of the five people you hang out with. You never want to be the smartest or most successful person in the room,” Timmer adds. “You want to surround yourself with like-minded people you can learn from and grow with, and who want to do the same type of things that you do.”

Superior Technologies supports Michigan Tech hockey, Women in Computer Science, and the Makerspace. Superior Technologies partner Rob Sweet ’97, who joined the company in 2018, serves on the Department of Computer Science External Advisory Board and the Management Information Systems (MIS) Advisory Council.

Timmer is part of a large family from Jenison, Michigan, and the Grand Rapids area. He enjoys attending Michigan Tech hockey games, reading classic books, playing pool and tabletop games, cooking, and spending time with his wife and daughter. He is a member of Evangel Community Church, Houghton.

Developing Entrepreneurial Skills Across Campus

From Enterprise and Senior Design to Design Expo and Husky Innovate, Michigan Tech students have dozens of resources to help develop their entrepreneurial endeavors.

Enterprise Program

With coaching and guidance from faculty mentors and business sponsors, the more than 25 interdisciplinary student Enterprise teams on campus invent products, provide services, and develop solutions. Popular among computing students are the Humane Interface Design Enterprise, which designs, develops, and evaluates human-computer interfaces for campus and industry sponsors, the Husky Game Development Enterprise, which focuses on developing video games for business, education, and fun, and the IT Oxygen Enterprise, which focuses on software development, cybersecurity, and IT.

Husky Innovate

Husky Innovate, a collaboration among the Pavlis Honors College, the Office of Innovation and Commercialization, and the College of Business, connects student innovators with support and resources to advance their ideas through cocurricular educational and experiential learning programs, mentorship, and funding opportunities. Husky Innovate programs include Innovation Week, the Bob Mark Business Model Pitch Competition, the Alley Makerspace, and Experience Innovation student trips.

Senior Design

Senior Design undergraduate capstone projects, required by many undergraduate degree programs, are more like a first job than a last class. Students work on small teams to tackle challenging, client-based projects spanning two semesters, applying skills acquired in earlier coursework.

Design Expo

Hosted by the Enterprise Program and the College of Engineering, each year Design Expo engages more than a thousand students, providing a venue for Enterprise and Senior Design teams to showcase their work and compete for awards. A panel of judges, made up of distinguished corporate representatives, Michigan Tech staff and faculty members, and community members, critique the projects and determine the award winners.

Office of Innovation and Commercialization

Michigan Tech’s Office of Innovation and Commercialization (OIC) provides expertise, services, and initiatives to support campus researchers seeking to commercialize their work. The OIC offers funding opportunities, training programs, and licensing agreement preparations and negotiations, and partners with the MTEC SmartZone and other organizations to support researcher-led start-up businesses.

Michigan Technological University is a public research university founded in 1885 in Houghton, Michigan, and is home to more than 7,000 students from 55 countries around the world. Consistently ranked among the best universities in the country for return on investment, Michigan’s flagship technological university offers more than 120 undergraduate and graduate degree programs in science and technology, engineering, computing, forestry, business and economics, health professions, humanities, mathematics, social sciences, and the arts. The rural campus is situated just miles from Lake Superior in Michigan's Upper Peninsula, offering year-round opportunities for outdoor adventure.