Veteran Robert Frantz Takes Kinetic Ceramics to New Heights
As president of Kinetic Ceramics, Robert Frantz often has to think and act quickly. His busy schedule is a mix of forming a marketing strategy, getting a crash course in engineering, meeting with clients, and bouncing between Philadelphia and the San Francisco Bay Area.
But quickness isn’t new to Frantz: he’s a former fighter pilot. Some of his fondest memories of the Navy involve flying an F-18 Hornet a mere 200 feet off the ground -- at over 550 miles per hour.
"When you’re flying at speeds of that level, the difference between having a great time and being a hole in the ground is the choices you’re making every second," he says.
Now, with the help of Comcast NBCUniversal partner Bunker Labs PHL, Frantz is taking his hunger for challenge and applying it to his next big project: owning, operating and growing his own piezoelectric actuator manufacturing business.
"The business world is kind of the ultimate strategic playing field," he says. "It’s like turning my brain back on, thinking in terms of math and science and getting my hands dirty. It’s exciting again."
Like a lot of kids, Frantz grew up wanting to become an astronaut. Unlike most kids, he came close. During his 11 and a half years in the Navy, Frantz qualified as an alternate for the astronaut program. Then he learned the program might be shutting down.
A job in global procurement for GlaxoSmithKline brought Frantz to Philadelphia. He spent his nights and weekends developing software that allowed people working in global procurement to connect and keep track of their projects.
The software didn’t take off. But it did introduce him to like-minded veterans and entrepreneurs at Bunker Labs PHL, the Comcast-supported innovation accelerator for veteran-led businesses. There, people like program director Joe Witte encouraged him to fully commit to building a business that would tap into his interests and strengths.
After scouring thousands of businesses, Frantz found Kinetic Ceramics. The California-based operation creates lightweight, compact machines that provide incredibly rapid, precise power -- perfect for clients like General Motors, Samsung and the National Institutes of Health.
Frantz purchased the company in early 2016 and looked to Witte and others at the Bunker for help stabilizing and growing business. Bunker Labs PHL receives entrepreneurial support and technology services from Comcast, allowing a diverse group of beginners and experienced business owners to share advice and encouragement. Frantz meets regularly with Witte to develop a strategic vision.
"Joe’s put me in touch with people who do marketing, sales, PR and website design," Frantz says. "All that kind of stuff, I never would’ve had access to if I hadn’t been involved with the Bunker."
Kinetic Ceramics is on track to make over $1 million in revenue by the end of the year. Frantz has his sights set on doubling his team to 20 by the end of 2017. He wants to bring the company into Philadelphia to tap into the city’s universities and healthcare systems and help grow the burgeoning network of startups. He’s also working on creating the world’s first mobile pediatric heart pump.
As for his childhood dream of going to space? That’s in the works too -- in a way.
"NASA is really interested in using one of our pumps on one of their future rovers," he says. "And the fact that they called us and said, ‘We’re excited about your pump technology’? As a former almost-astronaut, that really excites me."