Western Alumnus David Martschinske knows a whole lot about engineering. He also knows a whole lot about business. Whether it has been through the classroom or through real-world trial and error, Martschinske consistently educates and applies himself. His learning, persistence and open-mindedness have propelled him from the role of student, to that of Chief Operating Officer of Focus Designs, a fast-growing startup company.

Martschinske enrolled at Western and earned his bachelor’s degree in engineering in 2008. After college, he was hired by US Digital, an electronics-manufacturing firm located in Vancouver, Wash. Martinschke said that his true engineering education began here.

“In reality, my college education gave me a lot of tools,” Martschinske said. “It’s provided me with understanding and logic, but the core of what I do and how I excel on a day-to-day basis was learned by trial and error once I jumped into the field.”

Martschinske met Daniel Wood, founder of Focus Designs during his time at US Digital. One Friday night while staying late to work on a project, Martschinske heard music coming from an office upstairs. He went to investigate.

“I saw this guy riding around on a unicycle carrying a battery around in a backpack blasting techno music in this giant office space,” Martschinske said. “I was like a fly to a light. I was like ‘what the heck is this and how can I be involved?’”

The unicycle Wood was riding on was an early prototype of the SBU, or Self-Balancing Unicycle, that Focus Designs sells today. The SBU V3 is a small, portable, 27 lbs. unicycle that incorporates complicated electronics to keep the rider stable and “learn” their motions as they use the vehicle. It is currently the only vehicle of its kind on the market and it retails for $1,795.
Martschinske describes the SBU as a “last-mile transportation device.”

“If you’re going to work or school and you take the bus or you take the subway or the train, and that train station is one mile from where you live, this is the device that gets you from point A to point B,” Martschinske said.

In 2009, Martschinske and Wood left US Digital to pursue a more independent, entrepreneurial career working with Focus Designs and the SBU. Since then, the team has been the driving force behind the company.

“We both wear pretty much every hat involved with the company from cleaning and organizing the warehouse space, to developing relationships and flying to Japan and China to cultivate exclusive distributorship, and flying all over the world to develop our product and to procure a product that’s never been made before in a land that’s an 11-hour-flight away,” Martschinske said.

On Friday, Oct. 26, Martschinske, Wood and the SBU were featured on ABC’s hit show, “Shark Tank.” On the show, participants present their product to a panel of five investors, hoping to gain financial backing in return for a percentage stake in their company. Upon listening to Focus Design’s pitch, entrepreneurs Kevin O’Leary and Robert Herjavec offered Martschinske and Wood $300 thousand for a 33 percent equity stake in Focus Designs.

“I’m in front of people all the time. I give presentations and I speak at public events,” Martschinske said. “There was nothing more intimidating for me than to stand in front of five people I see on TV every week to negotiate the value of my company.”

Martschinske said that the real value in participating on “Shark Tank” was the publicity gained from the show’s 8 million weekly viewers. When the episode aired on the East coast, Focusdesigns.com crashed from the increase in traffic. Martschinske said that their website’s traffic has increased by 20 thousand percent since being on the show.

Focus Design’s tremendous sales growth has effectively changed its business model. Martschisnke said that since releasing the SBU V3, the company has shifted away from retail sales through the website and is now focusing on booking dealers and resellers who can sell the product on a continual basis. Martschinske and Wood are hoping to license the proprietary electronics within the SBU to other companies that can use them in their own products.

“What we really want to do is to be a design house,” Martschinske said. “To be able to create cool, interesting new ideas and then to license those ideas to other companies that are more equipped to sell.”

Martschinske said he feels as though he has earned his “MBA on the streets” through his real-world, hands-on business experience. Currently, Martschinske is working on training people at Focus Designs to take over some of the operations he is presently in charge of. This, he said, will enable him to pursue other areas of both professional and personal interest.

“Every three months, I want to be working on something that’s new to me. I don’t want to be doing the same thing over and over again and I think that’s the luxury that I get with a startup company,” Martschinske said. “My life is filled with something different every day, and in order for me to keep doing that, I have to have a personal growth model but also a business growth model that includes training up other people to do what I’m doing right now.”

Every year, the senior plastics engineering class makes a trip to Portland, Ore. to tour manufacturing facilities. Hoekstra said that for the past few years, Martschisnke has always met up with them to talk to students and that he even brought an SBU one time for students to try out.

“David is unique, and I’m really pleased to see what he’s doing. I think it’s rare for someone so young to have the confidence that he has,” Hoekstra said. “He’s really a great role model for our current students to see what our graduates have done with their lives.”