Wave of the Future

Zac Young wakes each morning prepared to slay dragons. The recent graduate in mechanical engineering isn’t armed with a sword, shield or helmet. Instead, he’s gifted with determination to tackle problems, never-ending curiosity and a tiny gadget that might just be the next big thing in the utilities industry.

“Slaying dragons” started as a joke from a colleague and has quickly become a common phrase around Vulcan Line Tools that always brings a laugh.

“When you have a tremendous task in front of you, there’s nothing you can’t resolve if you’re working hard,” said Young, who founded Vulcan Line Tools, maker of the portable Wave Timer. “If there’s a problem, we simply say to ourselves, ‘We’re going to slay that dragon.’ Though my startup has been successful quickly, I don’t have a huge pie in the sky goal of making billions of dollars. I prefer to analyze whatever problem is before us in the moment — even the tiny ones — attacking them and moving on to the next problem.”

Before Vulcan Line Tools became an entrepreneurship success, Young spent countless hours with electronic components spread atop his dining room table — where the Wave Timer was born — in the Creekside Trailer Park.

“When I was working in the trailer, I was never thinking, ‘Yeah, I can’t wait until this is a multi-million dollar idea,’” said Young, who grew up in Chelsea with a desire to join the U.S. Marine Corps. “It was more like, ‘Hey, how in the world am I going to get this button to connect to a circuit board?’ I was literally beating my head against the wall the whole summer. But I’d focus on one little problem at a time, solve it, then move on to the next problem to solve.”

Thus, the Wave Timer was created, one slayed dragon at a time.

The Wave Timer is a 5-inch, 3D-printed and half-pound plastic and Nylon 11 apparatus that improves power line efficiency and safety for line workers.

“Once placed along a power line, the Wave Timer measures sag, tension and temperature,” Young said.

“This allows utilities the ability to ensure the lines are installed correctly and are operating safely. For now, some of the other tools used to do this are either too slow or expensive, so they’re a burden on the workflow. You simply strap the Wave Timer on the power line and it’s able to measure information and produce data that’s meaningful,” he added.

Zac Young, ’21 mechanical engineering, began his entrepreneurial journey in 2020, winning multiple pitch competitions along the way.

When he realized he was on to something, Young founded Vulcan Line Tools in 2019 and utilized Auburn University’s New Venture Accelerator — 8,000 square feet of office and team collaboration space with resident experts within the Auburn Research Park. There, Young transitioned from an innovative engineer to a full-fledged entrepreneur.

“I was working at that old kitchen table when I received a call from Lou Bifano [director of entrepreneurship at Auburn University], and he said, ‘Let’s get you out of that trailer and into a real office.’ Time at the Accelerator with Lou and Scott McGlon [entrepreneur-in-residence] really helped me understand business principles I needed and prepared me to pitch my product,” Young said.

“Once you begin pitch competitions, you’re repeating yourself and you get a feel for standing in front of judges,” he added. “It becomes easier and you become more confident in yourself and the product you’re pitching.”

Practice immediately paid off. Within weeks of moving into the Accelerator, Young wowed judges at the 2020 SEC Student Pitch Competition, winning first place and $5,000.

But that was only the beginning.

Young’s Wave Timer continued to roll through Auburn’s annual Tiger Cage Business Pitch Competition last spring, winning $27,500, then another $25,000 at Alabama Launchpad.

Armed with credibility from industry professional judges, startup capital, an Auburn Engineering degree and with a powerful nucleus of potential customers, Vulcan Line Tools is primed to become a household name in the utility industry. Where it once took months to create one Wave Timer, Young and business partner Hayden Patteson, a 2021 Auburn mechanical engineering graduate from Lakeland, Florida, can make one in 45 minutes and have dozens in stock, ready for delivery.

While he was still in college, word of Young’s success quickly spread and a lucrative offer to sell from a billion dollar company was made, creating arguably the most difficult business decision Young faced. Selling to an investor, or a large corporation, is often the dream of young entrepreneurs.

“Let’s just say for a college kid it was a lot of money,” Young noted. “But I’m not really driven by money. If I sold out to them, then went to work for them, I wouldn’t have the freedom to build this company how I want. I’m young. My company’s young. If I’d sold out to them, I would no longer have control of this really cool device and company that I’ve created. I know for a fact that I made the right decision.”

Young, who said he could “write a novel about all the stuff he’s learned already” refuses to take anything for granted and offered advice to student innovators.

Failure doesn’t always mean failure.

The Wave Timer is a five-inch, 3D-printed, Nylon 11 apparatus that measures sag and tension, improving power line efficiency and safety for line workers.

“No matter what – go for it! The knowledge and experience you will gain from running a startup, even if it doesn’t succeed, will vastly outweigh anything,” he said. “I’ve had other ideas that didn’t work out before the Wave Timer, even a mobile wakeboard-pulling machine built from the frame of a go-kart. I can’t call them failures. I learned. Lessons learned from ideas that don’t work out can be applied to that one great idea that blossoms. Then you can really sink your teeth into something.”

Tough choices will be made.

“Some of these decisions are going to alter the course of your company, and also personally, for the rest of your life,” he said. “Be careful. Pray about this stuff and go with your gut. Once you’ve made a decision, move forward and don’t look back.”

You are the face of the company.

“I’ve learned a lot about leadership in the past year,” Young said. “The way you come to work each day impacts the morale of the company. Come in to work fired up and don’t show frustration when something goes wrong, and it will. When that happens, just put on a brave face and figure out how to fix the problem.”

You’ll have ups and downs.

“Creating a startup is like a roller-coaster ride,” Young said. “You’ll have great weeks, and then you’ll have tough weeks that make you sometimes question yourself or your product. When you get down, that’s when you need to either change, adapt or just keep plugging away.”

Zac Young hopes the Wave Timer can become a useful tool for multiple companies within the utilities sector.

While the Wave Timer is gaining traction in the utilities sector, Young and Patteson aren’t settling on designing just one device. After all, they’re Auburn engineers. Another gadget is secretly brewing at Vulcan Line Tools. What is it?

“We’re keeping this under wraps just a bit,” Young said.

“Let’s just say it measures stuff for power lines. We’re trying to expand the product line a little bit. I can’t believe how far we’ve come in a year’s time, so it’s difficult to imagine where we’ll be a year from now,” he added.

He added that overcoming challenges has prepared him for what’s ahead.

“In a year, I’ve written an iPhone app from scratch, built a device with a circuit board with Bluetooth technology on a kitchen table in a trailer park with no prior experience, pitched to companies with no prior experience, hired and managed employees, managed books for a company with no experience, and most of all, woke up every morning and busted my ass to make this dream come true,” Young said.

Comments are closed.