Ed Mandy and Andrew Pavek didn’t let a lack of tech jobs in the Black Hills stop them from pursuing their passion. Instead, they decided to start their own company. 7400 Circuits LLC, founded in 2014, designs circuit boards and offers engineering services to companies not only in the Rapid City area, but across the globe.
Growing up, Andrew was always a tinkerer, though he worked primarily on classic motors and switches. Circuit boards were something he stumbled upon while working for a local research organization. Ed’s background is in computer science; he is the self-described face of the business, focusing on tech support and software while Andrew is in charge of hardware design and layout. The two work well together, playing off one another’s strengths, thanks in part to the fact that they are also brothers-in-law. Ed is married to Andrew’s sister, making 7400 Circuits a family business. There are a lot of positives to this arrangement though, as Ed points out, “If you have a family event, 100 percent of your company is gone.”
7400 Circuits initially focused on providing electrical engineering services to local companies. They were instrumental in helping B9Creations launch a 3D printer; while contract work like this is an important source of revenue, they both had an eye on creating their own products and launched a Kickstarter campaign to secure funding. Their most popular product is Freeplay CM3, a circuit board that fits inside the shell of a Gameboy Advance, giving customers modern computing power in a retro gaming system. The product is highly customizable, though most people stay true to the spirit of the original Nintendo system and use it to play games.
Andrew and Ed found the Ascent Innovation space almost by accident. Ascent was holding an open house that allowed members of the public to tour the incubator and visit with other tenants, many of whom had their doors open. They were impressed with the facility and landed a tiny, 100-square-foot office of their own. Over the years, they moved several times as demand for their products and services grew. Today, they occupy an 800-square-foot space that includes an assembly area, allowing them to do full prototypes and small-run production in-house—something not all engineering firms in town are able to offer.
Their experience at Ascent Innovation has been overwhelmingly positive. In addition to utilizing the services of a couple of SDSM&T interns, they have developed a camaraderie with other companies working out of the incubator and been able to share advice on a wide range of business practices, from HR issues such as healthcare plans to which shipping companies to use. This information sharing helps spark ideas. Coupled with the many support services Ascent offers, it has been an ideal location for launching a business.
“You pay for your space, that’s it,” Ed says. “There are a lot of conveniences—electricity, access to a printer, conference rooms, break rooms—but the real value lies in the intangibles. Having Terri, Mitch, Jeff, and GOED around for support. Ascent putting on events and seminars as a way to learn about topics and meet other people and businesses. These are the real benefits.”
As for the future of 7400 Circuits, the pair say their Freeplay brand could someday be its own entity, but for now, they will continue on the path they have blazed. “We’ll keep doing our own thing in the niche space we have created while supporting local and small businesses,” Andrew says. Adds Ed, “I would prefer to be working on our own stuff but still allocate time to working with other local businesses.”
They are also excited about Ascent’s role in the local economy. Ed proclaims, “I think SDSMT grads need to feel like starting their own business or working in Rapid is a real option. They won’t have that somewhat back-of-the-mind thought unless they believe that others are doing it. We’re at the infancy of what could be a large snowball effect of innovation and growth!”