Startup Grind Winston-Salem Hosts Ryan Pratt (Guerrilla RF)

Ryan Pratt (Founder and CEO of Guerrilla RF) did not begin his career with the intent of creating his own business. After graduating from North Carolina State University in 2000 with a degree in Electrical Engineering, Ryan took a position at his father’s company, RF Micro Devices. Throughout the next eight years at the company, Ryan worked hard and moved his way up into the management team. However, in 2008, Ryan decided it was time for a change, and left RFMD to work for Skyworks, one of their competitors. In his new role, Ryan was given the opportunity to create and start a design center within the company, an experience he referred to as “a startup experience within a corporate umbrella”. Unfortunately, that experience ended in 2013 when he was laid off from the company.

Ryan didn’t feel like he had a whole lot of options, as he had worked for the two larger companies in the area, and he didn’t want to move away to a different market. Both his father and his wife told him “it’s easy – just start a company”, to which his first reaction was “that’s ridiculous. I can’t just start a company. You need this brilliant idea…this will never work”. Over the next few weeks, Ryan spent time really giving the idea some thought, and figuring out how it would work.

Once he decided to move forward with this startup idea, Ryan dived into learning more about the process. In doing so, he found an extremely informative blog with numerous helpful hints and strategies. One concept that stuck out to him was “learning before earning”, which he realized he had already been doing. “If you’re going to start up a company or are going to work in a startup, you need to understand that industry and the market and the players, and that’s how you can really increase your odds of being successful.”

“I was learning the industry inside and out, making contacts with key people, relationships and talent”

The year that began with his lay off quickly turned into the year that Ryan created Guerrilla RF. Guerrilla RF is another semiconductor company, and their focus is on the infrastructure side (think of the big cell towers you see when you’re driving down the highway). They enable these infrastructure devices to cover a larger area, which means less towers covering more area. Their funding began with winning the NC IDEA grant, which Ryan said was the “make or break point for our company”. Applying for the grant took an incredible amount of time, but Ryan knew that it was clearly the ticket for them to get where they wanted. With the grant money they received, Guerrilla RF was able to create their first prototype, which led to over a million dollars of investment money coming to fruition within three months. Investors are an important part of Ryan’s company, and he can’t stress enough that picking who you approach is important. “You need to find people who get what you’re doing, and you’re building a relationship where they trust you. If they don’t trust you, they’re the ones who are going to try to get overly involved in the business. In his case, his investors know very little about the industry, but they are aware of Ryan’s track record and they trust him to run it.”