Tipping our cap to alumni who know how to multitask.
A Mission on Wheels
Ryan Akin, MS ME 13, doesn’t just want to make skateboards—he wants to change lives. Lightboards, a newly launched skateboard company founded by Tech alumnus Ryan Akin, represents an intersection of several of Akin’s primary interests in life: to own and operate his own company; to create functional art with his mind and hands; to empower youth to set big goals and follow them; and to shine the light of his Christian faith in his community.
Akin says he entered graduate school at Georgia Tech having never thought about starting a company, but the overall culture of innovation, as well as encouragement from fellow students, helped stoke his desire to become an entrepreneur. “I began dreaming of ways to make it happen and left Tech praying for opportunities to implement what I had learned,” he says. After graduation, Akin took a corporate job as an IT analyst, but continued to dream up and map out startup business ideas. During this time, he heard about Salemtown Board Co. in Nashville, Tenn., which two young entrepreneurs started with just $300 in their pockets and—more importantly—a mission of making a real difference in their city. “I realized there might be a strong market for handmade skateboards in Atlanta, and specifically where I live in the Old Fourth Ward,” Akin says. “The rise of the BeltLine and the Historic Fourth Ward 0 3 8
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Skatepark has stimulated and cultivated increased interest in art, manual transportation and diversity.” Akin had never built a skateboard in his life, but with his engineering background and years spent skating, he figured he could learn quickly. He purchased used tools on Craiglist and built his first decks right in his own living room. “It’s surprising how much you can learn from YouTube videos and Google,” Akin says. But from the outset he wanted this venture to be something more: an opportunity to mentor local youth, to give them paying jobs, teach them about hard work and spark a tranformation in them— bringing the light of Jesus into their lives. The name Lightboards directly reflects his company’s faith-driven mission. “ The idea to mentor young men through making and riding skateboards is not my own, and it is nothing new,” Akin says. “In the 1970s, in California, a group of teenage boys from broken homes were assembled to form the Zephyr Skateboard Team—the Z-Boys—that helped popularize modern-day skateboarding.” Akin hired 16-year-old TJ as his first employee in August after a “divine” encounter. “TJ needed help fixing his bike, and I was willing to help,” he says. “After we bumped into each a few more times in the neighborhood, he asked me if I had any work he could do so he could go to the movies with friends. It was an answer to my prayers.” TJ assists Akin with virtually every aspect of the skateboard-building process. “I help with the shaping, sanding, painting, assembling and testing,” he says. “I really enjoy doing this work with Ryan.” Akin says that TJ is also instrumental in helping him to make decisions about company operations. “He’s really a remarkable young man and brings a fresh perspective filled with creativity,” Akin says.
The duo work on the boards parttime on weeknights and weekends. “The focus during our time together is on building a strong relationship, imparting valuable life-lessons and skills, and hopefully making the most beautiful and quality skateboards our customers have ever seen,” Akin says. Handmade out of wood from forest-free trees that came down in the Atlanta area, the Lightboards are offered in a number of styles—from mini-cruisers to longboards, with some in solid oak and others made out of laminated woods. Each deck takes about 8-10 man-hours to make, not including the time it takes for drying, set-up, teardown, component ordering, marketing and other tasks. The boards are designed for riding in the urban environment, many equipped with big wheels for handling city streets and sidewalks. Ranging in price from $200-$300, they’ll soon be available for sale online at Lightboards.com. Balancing this work with his fulltime job and his family is difficult for Akin. “I would love to spend more time with my beautiful wife and amazing family and friends,” he says. “Starting a business has involved significant sacrifice and opportunity cost. This has challenged my wrestle for balance in life. I want to live my life to the fullest for the glory of God. It is amazing how the pursuit of that can bring so much adventure and joy. It is also amazing how much can be accomplished when life is lived intentionally rather than just choosing to ‘go with the flow’.”