For this Princeton grad, knowledge is power

THE ENTREPRENEURSErik Limpaecher joined three classmates to form Princeton Power Systems

By: Hilary Parker
   PLAINSBORO — He’s no Evel Knievel, but Erik Limpaecher, the lead controls engineer for Princeton Power Systems, likes to have a little risk around, both in business and pleasure.
   When other members of Princeton University’s Class of 2001 headed off to graduate school or to work with established companies, Mr. Limpaecher joined with three classmates — Darren Hammell, Mark Holveck and John Lerch — to start Princeton Power, a company that makes use of a patented power conversion method called AC-Link technology.
   While others spend their downtime in front of the television, Mr. Limpaecher can be found at Princeton Airport (well, he takes off from there, anyway) making use of his private pilot’s license. Or he can be found at the Princeton First Aid & Rescue Squad building, where he volunteers at least 32 hours each week as an emergency medical technician.
   "It’s a nice break," he says of his time at the squad house. "It kind of gives you perspective."
   Of course, when he’s not out on a call, his hours at the squad house are often spent on his laptop and cell phone, as he, Mr. Holveck and Mr. Hammell — Mr. Lerch left to found another company — put in long hours as the young entrepreneurs strive to make Princeton Power a known entity in the field of power conversion.
   "I think when you’re working for a bigger company, there’s a lot more guidance and a certain sequence of training," he says. "Everything we know we taught ourselves or were fed in bits and pieces by our advisers."
   Their advisers include Dr. Ed Zschau, a professor in Princeton’s electrical engineering department; Dr. Rudy Limpaecher, Mr. Limpaecher’s father and the inventor of AC-Link technology; and Greg Olsen, a local entrepreneur who made headlines last year on his commercial trip to outer space.
   Citing them as role models, Mr. Limpaecher says there is no way Princeton Power would be where it is today without the guidance and focus the advisers offer on a regular basis. It’s about more than the nuts and bolts of managing a company and the how-to knowledge of putting together research proposals, though. He also looks to the advisers for some good old-fashioned inspiration, with a high-tech touch.
   "The fact that Greg’s been able to start two companies, sell both of them, and become a space man is inspirational," he says admiringly, and he’s no less laudatory about his father and his former professor, Dr. Zschau. After all, it was Dr. Zschau who encouraged him to run with a business proposal he wrote for an engineering class, and the proposal was based on a patent his father owned.
   "People asked me, ‘Aren’t you scared about the risks?’" Mr. Limpaecher recalls, "But it didn’t bother me," he says, explaining that he and his co-workers do everything they can to mitigate the risks that any small, young company faces. Despite the struggles and sacrifices, he loves what he does and finds it hard to imagine a different life.
   "My dad had an interesting quote, ‘Once you taste the flavor of working on your own, you can’t go back,’" Mr. Limpaecher says. Like his dad’s entrepreneurial spirit, the joy of working for oneself seems to have passed down to the second-generation entrepreneur.
   Though he recognizes all things are possible — he is an entrepreneur, after all — visions of working for a large company don’t come easily to him.
   "I can’t imagine working for one of them at this point," he says, and then adds with a touch of glee, "because I’ve tasted some freedom."