Electronics expert Steve Braithwaite has consulted for over 50 startups and companies in his role as founder and Managing Director of a growing electronics consultancy. During a technical and entrepreneurial career, Steve has co-founded a social-minded startup delivering telecommunications networks to rural African communities and developed military satellite communications products with Marconi Secure Radio Systems. He has spent over three decades in research and teaching roles at the University of Southampton and worked in the aerospace, automotive, industrial and consumer electronics industries across 15 years in his latest venture, ASH Wireless Electronics.
Having first shown an interest in optics at a young age, Steve started experimenting with electronic engineering during his school days in the Midlands. He was placed in a student apprenticeship scheme at the Marconi telecommunications company in the late 1970s and spent a year training at the firm before he travelled to the University of Southampton for its unique course in Electronic Engineering. Steve has fond memories of his experiences completing his Bachelor of Science, when he threw himself first into the student climbing club and explored his faith in the University’s Christian societies.
Wanting to remain on the south coast, he joined the satellite communications group of Marconi Secure Radio Systems in Portsmouth and spent 10 years with the company as he worked his way up to Product Development Manager. His professional journey at the company included a Fellowship in the Management of Change with the Engineering Industry Changing Board. “That was the first point when I started to really understand how businesses work,” he explains. “It was very far sighted of Marconi to offer that funded opportunity and having that management experience meant I had an idea of what was going to be involved when I later spotted an opportunity.”
Steve returned to the University of Southampton in 1987, initially investing himself in a radio communication research role. “It was a great break and a huge change going from commercial R&D into academic life,” he reflects. Steve has continued his association with the University of Southampton to the present day and currently offers his expertise part-time as a Lecturer for MSc and fourth year students in radio engineering and wireless networks classes.
Back in the late 1980s, Steve’s academic networking connected him with Steve Chandler from the University of Warwick and his work realising communications solutions for developing countries. “I could see there was an opportunity for research but also some practical development as well,” Steve says. “I had a historical interest in East Africa as my father grew up there and brother was born there.”
Steve’s collaboration led him to become a founding member of the Rural Radio Systems and he was seconded to the company for six years as the business attracted promising investment and delivered projects including a rural telecommunications scheme involving 1,500 units in Nigeria. “Looking back, it really was an ambitious programme,” he reflects. “We developed a solar-powered system which was able to relay telephone calls from one box to another with hops between villages of 50km. The company disbanded in September 2000 and it was a sad end to what was an impressive investment of technology.”
Six months of varied consulting work followed before Steve launched ASH Wireless Electronics (formerly ASH Communications), a new provider of electronic design and consulting services specialising in wireless communications. “What I find most interesting about what we do now is that we are helping people identify their problems and then work with them to find solutions,” he says.
Steve is looking forward to applying the ASH Wireless process of reviewing startup projects to the University of Southampton’s aspiring entrepreneurs. “I can help as a mentor by listening to business ideas and quickly understanding what they are all about,” he says. “I can give advice based on the enormous experience we have from the startups and ideas we’ve worked with over the years.”
Steve enjoys cycling in his spare time and sings as a member of Southampton Choral Society.
He highlights two business principles that he believes are critical for any staff or students seeking to set up a company. “You need to have a good idea from the start of how money is going to be generated from what you’ll be providing,” he says. “You also must be prepared to give your all without an expectation that you’re going to make lots of money unless things work out really well. It’s hard work.”