Stacey A. Lawson (MBA '96) came to HBS with an idea brewing. The former IBM engineer wondered why there were no digital libraries for users of computer-aided design (CAD). Despite the pervasiveness of technology throughout industry, she observed many engineers still using pencil and paper to draft illustrations of standard parts, such as valves, pumps, and gears.
Today Lawson is the vice president of marketing at InPart, a company she cofounded upon graduating from HBS. InPart, now fifty employees strong, is creating a library of information about standard mechanical parts: product descriptions, technical specs, and, most important, 3-D CAD geometry. In January, InPart will launch DesignSuite, an Internet service that companies such as Boeing and John Deere can use to improve engineering productivity.
"Engineers spend as much as half of their time drawing; now they can just download CAD drawings," says Lawson, who worked on a prototype for the product and a business plan as part of a field study with Associate Professor David M. Upton. She then spent five months lining up venture capital backing in Silicon Valley. "I think my naive enthusiasm pulled us through that time," says Lawson, 27. "My partner and I were inexperienced managers, but we had a lot of energy and a solid business plan."
Once she raised the seed capital, everything began to fall into place: she filled out the management team (including a CEO), got a second round of funding, and set up shop in the heart of the Valley. "In addition to my management role, I play the role of company evangelist," she says. "It's easy because I believe in the product."