This story originally appeared in the fall 2013 Harker Quarterly.
Thinking outside the box comes naturally to many of Harker’s alumni. Harker Quarterly recently caught up with several alumni who have chosen to chart their own career courses. From a winemaker to a mobile app builder and a sister/brother glow-in-the-dark apparel designing team, these forward thinking alumni all share one thing: the ability to make things happen.
Ryan Moreland ’98, Owner of Corvalle Winery
Ryan Moreland ’98 spent a great deal of time in his parent’s vineyard growing up in St. Helena. Among his favorite memories is sharing a glass of wine with family and friends seated around an old redwood plank table, surrounded by a canopy of trees. It was the memories he made in this spot, he said, that impacted his decision to become a winemaker.
While his family originally planted their vineyard as a hobby, Moreland turned it into a career and has made every single vintage from their vineyard since it first began producing fruit in 2007. He started Corvalle Winery the following year, when he was just 25 years old, after attending college at the University of California, San Diego, and obtaining a degree in environmental chemistry. Success followed soon after, and Corvalle today is a known competitor in the wine market.
“My parents had planted an acre of sauvignon blanc. I immediately was hooked, walking up and down the rows pruning the young vines as they stretched out onto the trellises,” recalled Moreland, who went on to work entry level positions at nearby wineries before deciding to focus solely on developing his own label.
The name Corvalle is derived from Latin, meaning “Soul of the Valley,” and is intended as a tribute to the community of Napa and its legacy of farming.
“I learned so many valuable skills that have helped me both as an entrepreneur and in my professional life. When I look back on my time at Harker, the first thing that comes to mind is my strong belief that, given adequate drive, an individual can accomplish any goal he or she dreams up. This belief is a product of the culture at Harker,” he said.
Moreland also believes in giving back. In addition to generously donating wine to Harker’s advancement events, he also is a supporter of the Danville D’Elegance foundation supporting Alzheimer’s research and the Juvenile Diabetes Research Fund.
Moreland has recently relocated to attend the prestigious Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania while simultaneously expanding his business to the East Coast market. Having just begun pre-term events at Wharton, Moreland is enjoying getting to know his fellow classmates. “I feel genuinely lucky to be able to participate in such an amazing program surrounded by this caliber of staff and fellow students. As one could imagine, my background is a bit unique here.”
Moreland said he is also enjoying sharing his love for wine in his new community and regularly returns to Napa to oversee winemaking activities at Corvalle.
Working on developing sales in both New York and Pennsylvania has proven a much different endeavor than in California due to the states’ specific legal framework regarding wine importation and distribution, but Moreland said he likes the challenge and opportunity to engage with so many eager and curious wine consumers outside of the Bay Area.
Moreland advises other alumni not to be afraid to follow their own interests. “If something sounds enjoyable and gets you excited then take the time to learn more about your passion!” he said.
Ilya Sukhar ’03, Co-Founder and CEO of Parse
Ilya Sukhar ’03 recently made the news when it was announced that Facebook acquired his company, Parse, of which he served as co-founder and CEO. Currently, Sukhar runs the Parse business at Facebook and also works on Facebook platform products.
“Parse helps companies of all kinds build mobile apps. When we were getting started in 2011, Facebook itself was undergoing a large internal shift to mobile. They took notice of what we were doing very early on and we started talking about how the two companies might work together. Those talks dragged on for a while so over the course of a couple years I got to know everyone there pretty well. Finally, when we were set to close our third round of funding, they came to us with a very compelling offer to join forces,” explained Sukhar.
Parse, a startup that developed a mobile platform for cloud integration, had been gaining an increasing amount of traction in its field even before the Facebook acquisition. The backend service for mobile users should help make Facebook more attractive to developers looking for a social networking site with whom to advertise. Sukhar said he is all about creating products that people love to use. Before his current headline-making endeavor, he was the first employee at Etacts (acquired by Salesforce), where he worked on all things product and engineering. Before that he was an early engineer at Ooyala and holds a B.S. and master’s degree in computer science from Cornell, where he did distributed systems research and graduated with honors.
“Harker’s competitive academic environment instilled in me the value of surrounding myself with smart and ambitious people. Optimizing my career for continuously learning from people smarter than myself has proven to be a good life strategy. I’d recommend it to anyone,” said Sukhar, adding that there is no safe path to success.
“You have to take risks, fail a lot, and keep going. Don’t get comfortable in your cushy job,” he concluded. “It’s tremendously rewarding to create a product that people love.”
Aamir ’11 and Elissa Patel ’08, co-founders of LUM Apparel
Brother and sister team Aamir and Elissa Patel took a surprisingly simple idea (glow-in-the-dark apparel) and turned it into a business with their launching of LUM Apparel.
Aamir Patel attended Harker until grade 6 and Elissa Patel graduated in ’08. They went into business together by breaking into the fashion industry with customizable glow-in-the-dark clothing where unique temporary designs can be “printed” onto tank tops or T-shirts using the light from cellphones and other devices.
The tanks and tees are treated with a special type of paint, allowing designs to be brightest during the first five minutes of being applied. They don’t fully fade until about 15 minutes later.
The Patels explained that customers can use the LED light from smartphones or a laser to draw messages on their shirts. They can even take photos from their phones or tablets and print them onto the LUM apparel.
“All you need to do is take your light source, press it up against the shirt, and then get creative. Designs can even be erased by swiping your hand across them while your light source is a few inches away,” they said, explaining that LUM was launched with help from Kickstarter, the world’s largest funding platform for creative ideas.
“When we first started LUM we had the door shut 100 times before one person finally agreed to help us out. We started out with $500 and turned it into $22,000 in 35 days. By the end of the year we should be on track to have a quarter million dollar evaluation. It doesn’t matter where you start or what happened in the past, it’s all about where you want to go,” said Aamir.
The Patels concede that working with a sibling can sometimes be hard. “We naturally get on each other’s nerves, but the great thing is we can always give it to each other straight. My sister has been supportive by guiding me with marketing advice. It’s great to have someone you can bounce ideas off of and get real feedback in return,” said Aamir.
The two are aspiring to become a high tech clothing line. As technology continues to get smaller, most devices are going to become wearable. Hence, their vision is to fully integrate existing and up-and-coming technologies into apparel. Their ultimate goal is to create fully customizable clothing where designs can be downloaded off a smart phone and displayed directly onto clothing.
“As long as you believe in yourself you will be successful,” they advised.