Redefining the family business

With the mindset she developed through Iowa JPEC’s entrepreneurship certificate – once used to launch brands for Eli Lilly – Patricia is re-imagining a future for her grandfather’s Chicago based mold-making factory. "It was running, essentially, dead," she recalls. "Only one of the 25 machines was in operation. It used to have about 100 employees, but now there were maybe 10. I asked my grandparents what the game plan for the company was."

"I was exposed to MATRIX 4 as a little girl as the result of my family working there and dinner table conversations, but I never imagined I’d buy the business or get into manufacturing," said Miller. In 2014, when Miller began considering MATRIX 4’s fate, she remembered her yearly goal of "wanting to be more grounded, to make an impact and be challenged in a different way, on a more local level."

In June 2014, she stopped by the factory while she was in town for a conference. Miller remembers that her grandparents weren’t interested in rebuilding the business, so she began looking into the manufacturing environment in the United States. "I looked at what is impacting manufacturing in the U.S., and whether there was a way to make this business viable," she adds.

Miller sensed an opportunity to build a new business model: a custom manufacturing house that takes advantage of design and technology. Now her company, MATRIX 4, creates products for companies ranging from General Electric to First Alert. Miller describes MATRIX 4 as a business that "supports customers from idea stage to out-the-door with four phases in one house including design, engineering, tooling, and manufacturing."

"I couldn’t get behind just pumping out widgets all day, but I could get behind the idea of creating a manufacturing and design hub. You’re taking ideas from the back of the napkin through product design, development, and 3D printing stages. You produce the widget on the back end, but you’re also doing a lot more interesting work around branding and concept development."

Iowa JPEC classes at the University of Iowa gave Miller the opportunity to see how real businesses were structured and running, as well as "how to be innovative and challenge the status quo while being resourceful and creative," Miller explained. "The coursework I did was the catalyst for me to create change, both from the standpoint of being an ‘intrapreneur’ in corporate America and now as a startup business in manufacturing. The Pappajohn Center offers a very hands-on program that sets you up for success, whether you are going to start a business or work within a business."

Miller is now a member of the Iowa JPEC Alumni Advisory Council. "The JPEC program holds a special place in my heart. I have a large affinity for the impact and meaning it has. It offers real-world experiences and education across many aspects of entrepreneurship, which makes it truly different from other academic coursework," she stated.