Andy Hessler is a mechanical engineer who specializes in hydraulic system design. He has worked on platforms diverse as forklifts, combines, and crawler cranes. The challenges he faced led to him to dive deep into the analysis of fluid power and tribology (the study of friction and wear) and, ultimately, to the creation of Brokkr Technologies, the company that aims to solve those challenges.
Andy began his journey by earning a Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering from the Rochester Institute of Technology. Early in the career that followed, he designed systems for agriculture equipment where large metal parts were being worn out from the abrasiveness of the grain flowing through them. His research into solving that problem led him to the discovery of the metal coating process he’s now trying to commercialize.
It’s been a challenging journey. After four years of on and off work, Andy took the deep dive so many entrepreneurs take and cashed in 401k money to fund the development of a 3rd generation furnace (“if you don’t succeed, try, try again”). That furnace was the largest unit ever built to do this work. In September 2020, Brokkr Technologies did their first full run of their metal coating process. It’s wasn’t a complete success, but it was a big step. What they learned will lead to further changes. In true entrepreneurial spirit, Andy and his team are already working on those revisions.
Like many startups Brokkr Technologies doesn’t pay the bills (yet), so Andy has been a contract engineer at JLG for a little over a year and a half now. When he’s not busy working, you can find him outside biking, hiking, kayaking, or playing ultimate Frisbee. He also helps build churches in South America for Construction for Worldwide Evangelism, in Bolivia 5 times, The Dominican Republic twice, and Chile and Cameroon once each.
Why We Love Andy
There’s plenty to like about Andy. He’s pretty darn smart. He’s determined, creative, bold, and all the things you’d expect from an entrepreneur. We’ve seen him encounter obstacle after obstacle and, every time, in very little time, he finds a way to move forward. There’s a lot of that going on at Cowork Frederick, so Andy definitely feels like “one of us”.
We love how genuinely kind he is. Andy is quick to offer help, share a story, or words of encouragement. He also reminds us that mental breaks can make you more productive. In warm weather, Andy can be seen taking a short nap after lunch outside on the patio furniture before launching back into work. One cold cloudy day when many of us were dragging, Andy said to the group, “Let’s make paper snowflakes!” (and we did!) After 20 minutes of child-like creativity, we dove back into work with renewed energy.
Q&A with Andy:
We say members of Cowork Frederick are status-quo disrupters, a little renegade, a little unconventional. How does that apply to you?
Nearly 22 years of the pursuit of seemingly impossible objectives has benefited me more than I would have anticipated. In many respects, this refusal to see the world in an ordinary way has become the defining characteristic of my career and is the characteristic that pays the bills over my other skills. While I have mastery in various areas, my obsessions have carved out a unique spot for me at JLG. It’s one of those things that is hard to plan for. But, the lesson is clear. Be the best version of yourself that you can be. So, while the tides will push and pull you in various directions, it’s best to hold onto the characteristics that make you unique. That seems to be a key to success that is often overlooked.
Over my career, I’ve come up against a number of wear-related problems that I thought could be solved via some coating process. My research into coating technology was continually frustrated by the fact that most processes, though they may create great surfaces, are just not commercially viable in mass production environments. I was (and still am) determined to find a way.
In the late 1960’s and early 1970’s, a metal coating technology was developed in General Electric’s research labs. After shopping the process around a bit, GE ultimately gave the patents to Gannon University where Dr. Carl Hultman worked with the coating technology. I tried for years to partner with him but the timing was never right.
Finally he said to me, “Why don’t you commercialize it?” It made sense. I am passionate about the technology and see uses for reducing wear and enhancing corrosion resistance every time I turn around. I was already headed down the path to forming a business. So, I licensed the rights to use the intellectual property from Gannon and we formed Brokkr Technologies to commercialize the Draupnir process.
I’m now entering a new phase in this journey and considering the outright purchase of the business that has been building my specialized equipment. The owner is ready to retire, and I’m still chomping at the bit to get this enterprise rolling.
What keeps you going?
As I said, I’m chomping at the bit to get this enterprise rolling. I have a great job…making a respectable salary…doing interesting things with super people. Still…that entrepreneurial itch persists. It defies logic most of the time. A more sane/wise person would probably have walked away a long time ago.
So, every word of encouragement is worth its weight in gold to me. I appreciate the community at Cowork Frederick, and the friendships. I feel like I’ve bitten off way more than I can handle most of the time, but the support keeps me going. The very fact that people don’t look at me like I’m crazy for trying to do these things means the world. My dad would always tell me when we rode bikes up some crazy steep hill to just keep putting one pedal in front of the other. So, that’s what I do. I can’t see the top of the hill from where I’m at yet. But, I’m really appreciative of the people along the route cheer me on.
Which of the 8 guiding values defined by Cowork Frederick members speaks to you?
TENACITY. I think tenacity has gotten me further than any other quality. The person that is unrelenting in their pursuit has a good chance of coming out on top. The ability to see the future and push toward it when all of the odds are against you will definitely make a person stand out in the crowd.
I’ve often had to convince upper-level managers to trust my vision despite the challenges and risks. I know I won’t make the basket every time I take a shot, so I try to make sure that as soon as I’ve released the ball I’m well-positioned to catch the rebound so I can take another shot without missing a beat.
I have an unequaled obsession with long-term pursuits that span my entire career across multiple companies. My unwillingness to relent has given me a depth of expertise that others have not necessarily achieved.
Any tips to share with others launching a business?
Beyond what I’ve already shared, I’ll say this: When you’re getting started, it can be frustrating to discover how little you know about running a business – even if you have many years experience working in large corporations. There are thousands of details that flit by all the time. You hope you’re paying attention to the critical ones at the moment. I’ve certainly learned that this is not something one just does on their own. It takes involvement from many people along the way.
My presence here at Cowork Frederick is just another step along the way towards reaching this entrepreneurial goal. Being around people is infinitely healthier than trying to do things in isolation. I cannot begin to tell you how much I appreciate being able to come in and just breathe the same air as other people…walking their own journey…staving off their own isolation.
So … I guess my tips are to build and tap into your network, create a team – on the payroll or not – to advise and help you, and surround yourself with people who will listen and encourage you.
Oh – and here’s how I got my hands on some much-needed cash for Brokkr Technologies. I “cashed out” 401k funds using a process is called a Roll-over to Business Startup (“ROBS”).