On March 7, Bak USA will be sharing some BIG news. Until then, we’re recapping our story and highlighting some milestones day by day. Don’t miss out! Keep checking back here for more.
1. The Beginning
In January 2015, Bak USA opened its doors in downtown Buffalo, New York. A for-profit business with non-profit values, we were quick to establish ourselves as a social enterprise. Our goal? To create sustainable job opportunities, build accessible technology, and establish urban communities as mainstays of American manufacturing.
Founded by the Bak family—J.P., Ulla, Eva, and Christian—Bak USA was brought to the United States. But where exactly would they choose to build their business?
Silicon Valley? Makes sense, but no.
The Pacific Northwest? That could work, but no.
Somewhere in Texas? A lot of tech in Texas these days, but no.
“We chose Buffalo, New York,” says Bak USA President Ulla Bak.
Wait. What? Why?
“We fell in love with Buffalo!” exclaims Bak USA Chairman & CEO J.P. Bak. “The warm and welcoming community, the rich tradition of industry, and Buffalo being a city on the rise—they are all reasons we wanted to build here.”
Other reasons for choosing Buffalo included the city’s international appeal (given its proximity to Canada), the wealth of resources available via the University at Buffalo, and small business incentives afforded by New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo’s START-UP NY program, all of which have been critical to our success.
“We fell in love with Buffalo!” exclaims Bak USA Chairman & CEO J.P. Bak.
And with that, Bak USA was born. Positioned in the Compass East Building (formerly the Sheehan Memorial Hospital) on Michigan Avenue in downtown Buffalo, we worked with the building’s owners, The McGuire Group, to renovate the top floor, converting it into a manufacturing facility and administrative offices.
“We didn’t want to be in the basement!” J.P. says. “The basement?! No way. We wanted to do it differently. We wanted to build with a beautiful view of the skyline where our builders could take pride in their work. Not like in assembly line factories overseas.”
Contrary to most major computer corporations, we blueprinted a manufacturing process that would rely on a safe, healthy, and happy workforce. The main idea was that one person would assemble one computer from start to finish. Later, as we began to design and develop new and different computers, this concept evolved but still features one primary builder. While technical innovations may pave the way for enhanced methods of manufacturing down the line (wink wink), our policies and procedures will always be people-centric.
“We wanted to build with a beautiful view of the skyline where our builders could take pride in their work. Not like in assembly line factories overseas.”
So with the business model put into place and a modest number of employees, Bak USA was ready to build. But with whom? And for what? And how?
We’ll answer those questions and more in the days to come, so be sure to check back here again tomorrow!
2. Building Momentum
With Bak USA gearing up for a new take on technology, we needed some help from the neighborhood, the local business community, and the tech world at large. Fortunately, we scored a hat trick.
Calling all neighbors
Now that the principle figures were put into place, it was time to call on the Buffalo-Niagara community to bulk up the workforce.
“We wanted to stay true to the social entrepreneurial spirit we learned in Haiti,” says Chief People Officer Eva Bak, “so we wanted to include the typically underrepresented members in our area. And then we set out to make tech accessible to well-deserving schools and communities.”
To build a diverse team of willing and able individuals, we reached out to Journey’s End Refugee Services, the International Institute of Buffalo, and Jewish Family Service of Buffalo & Erie County. With their help, we invited a wide variety of Buffalonians—Western New York natives and new arrivals alike—to apply for careers as operators (currently known as builders), whose job is to assemble computers.
“We wanted to include the typically underrepresented members in our community.”
To demonstrate basic motor, critical thinking, and collaboration skills, the applicants were given a set of instructions and a pile of Legos. Their task was to follow directions and assemble a working product. Successful candidates were hired, trained, and employed at Bak USA.
Investing in Buffalo
In May 2015, Bak USA struck the deal of a lifetime. Paychex founder and former Buffalo Sabres owner, B. Thomas Golisano, invested in a 50 percent stake of our business. It was clear that certain people were starting to take notice of our American-built product.
According to a May 2015 report from Buffalo’s NPR News Station, WBFO, “Golisano stated he was equally impressed with their product, which he said had good features, is ready to deliver, is ‘priced right’ and made domestically.”
“The Bak family has some characteristics about it that are very appealing to an entrepreneur. They have intensity, they have skill, and they have integrity.”
The same article includes high praise from other local VIPs such as Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown, Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz, and New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo. Needless to say, our professional welcoming to Buffalo was the most auspicious start we could have hoped for.
“The Bak family has some characteristics about it that are very appealing to an entrepreneur,” Golisano said. “They have intensity, they have skill, and they have integrity.”
It was great to have @stevecase tour our office and even sit down to assemble one of our Bak Boards, with some assistance from our Allen Mwangange. Thanks to the @riseofrest Tour for visiting during a busy stop in #Buffalo! (More pics on our Facebook page.) #riseofrest #riseoftherest #buffalony #716#wny #bakusa #startup #startups
In 2015, AOL Co-founder Steve Case joined Revolution, an investment organization whose mission is to “build disruptive, innovative companies that offer more choice, convenience, and control for both consumers and businesses.”
Along their “Rise of the Rest Road Trip,” Mr. Case joined small businesses all over the country “to work closely with entrepreneurs in emerging startup ecosystems.” Sure enough, Bak USA was one of his big steps along the East Coast.
In this YouTube video, you can see Mr. Case tour Bak USA, meet our workforce, and even assemble our first generation Bak Board tablet. With such a prominent figure at Bak USA so soon after opening, we really seemed to be gaining steam.
“It’s not just about creating wealth. It’s also about jobs and helping to lift up communities.”
Fortunately, Mr. Case wasn’t only impressed with our facility, but he immediately understood our commitment to social entrepreneurship. “It’s not just about creating wealth,” he said. “It’s also about jobs and helping to lift up communities.”
So far so good, eh? It’s hard to believe that all this took place. Sometimes it feels like it happened only yesterday, and other times it feels like it happened a hundred years ago. Such are the effects of our nonstop pace at Bak USA.
Where does our story takes us from here? You’ll have to stop by again tomorrow to find out. And remember, our BIG announcement goes down on Tuesday, March 7. So stay tuned and don’t miss out!
3. Partnering with Excellence
Before we knew it, we were off and running in 2016 with no signs of slowing down. We had some devices in the mix and on the move, and we were starting to explore some opportunities to improve our impact on education. To do so, we secured several key relationships with some heavy hitters in the industry and in our community.
Powered by Microsoft
In March 2016, Bak USA became an original equipment manufacturer (OEM) of Microsoft, allowing us to feature licensed Microsoft software across all devices. That meant that our newest computer at the time, the Atlas 12, would be purpose-built to leverage Office 365 Education, support student-centered learning, and empower students in K-12 classrooms. (We are still working with Microsoft to build the best classroom computers at the most affordable price point today.)
“As their products go out into the world and help change lives, their reach stretches far beyond Buffalo.”
Among the many takeaways from our conversations with Microsoft, Larry Carroll, a writer for Microsoft News Center, had this to say in an article about Bak USA: “As their products go out into the world and help change lives, their reach stretches far beyond Buffalo.”
Indeed, we are striving to reinvigorate a new way era of manufacturing in our community, across the country, and around the world.”
At the same time we were moving and shaking with Microsoft, we were working to establish a strategic business relationship with the Intel Corporation. In what turned out to be a fruitful pursuit, our arrangement with Intel had earned us access to the latest Intel Inside® microprocessors and Intel® Education platform for classroom use.
The partnership continues to offers Bak USA access to Intel design partners, marketing, advertising, research and development, and customer support.
As part of New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo’s START-UP NY campaign, Bak USA has secured a mutually beneficial business relationship with the State University of New York (SUNY) at Buffalo, otherwise known as the University at Buffalo, which is ranked one of the top 100 schools in the United States by U.S. News & World Report.
“Bak shares our commitment to investing in our community and creating opportunities for the people who live here.”
According to Dr. Satish Tripathi, president of the University at Buffalo, “Bak believes strongly in the vision we are realizing in Buffalo, and shares our commitment to investing in our community and creating opportunities for the people who live here.”
With major contributions from incredibly important people, we were on the verge of a major breakthrough. What happened next? Check back here tomorrow to find out!
4. Retailing Nationwide
Key contributions from major players didn’t mean we could take our foot off the gas pedal. In fact, it only fueled our drive to work harder, smarter, and faster along the road ahead. Soon the colors of summer were nothing but a blur in our rearview mirror, and the start of September welcomed us with open arms.
“The attached stylus gives learners the chance to demonstrate understanding in their own way, every day.” Learn more about the atlas 12 on our website. Link in bio. #BakUSA #BuffalosBak #MakingBuffaloBetter #Atlas12 #Laptop #2in1 #productfeature #productreview #EdTech #education #Technology #Microsoft #MicrosoftRetail
In September 2016, Bak USA was proud to announce a national retail collaboration with Microsoft. As a part of the distribution agreement, K-12 schools were given the opportunity to order the Atlas 12 from any Microsoft Store in the United States.
We had taken the next step in our relationship with Microsoft, and the ability to sell our school computers directly through their intricate network of business sales specialists remains a remarkable achievement for our young company. Not just for us, but for small business everywhere.
“We are delighted to continue to expand our relationship with Bak USA as they launch the Atlas 12.”
At the time of the agreement, Peter Han, vice president of Microsoft’s OEM worldwide marketing, said, “We are delighted to continue to expand our relationship with Bak USA as they launch the Atlas 12 with Windows 10, now available at Microsoft retail stores. The Atlas 12 will provide the education market a device with versatility in design and use with its 360 degrees of flexibility along with unique deployment packages and digitized lesson plans.”
Nice. We were on the move.
“The Atlas 12 will provide the education market a device with versatility in design and use with its 360 degrees of flexibility.”
Here’s what we had to say about it at the time: “Our vision is to make high-quality technologies accessible to everyone, especially students,” said Bak USA Chief Technology Officer & Co-founder Christian Bak. “Today we’re another step closer to making that dream a reality. As we continue to work with Microsoft, we increase our capacity to build high-quality technologies, celebrate American standards of manufacturing, and make a meaningful impact on education.”
Boom. We’re not slowing down.
“As we continue to work with Microsoft, we increase our capacity to build high-quality technologies.”
Available through Microsoft’s Shape the Future campaign—a government program dedicated to making technologies accessible to students and small businesses among others—the Atlas 12 retails for a special price at Microsoft’s 79 retail stores across the United States. The Atlas 12 is also available to the general public on our website.
With another huge W in the books, we knew we’d need to beef up our workforce moving forward. But how? Once again we’d call upon the community, but this time in a bigger and better way. For that story and more, check back tomorrow!
5. Growing Our Workforce
Welcome back! To recap real quick: We opened in January 2015, developed some professional relationships in Western New York, and made some big moves with Microsoft. Which brings us to October 2016 when, to accommodate our trajectory, we announced a major public hiring event.
On October 14, 2016, Bak USA held a hiring event between 10 am and 6 pm at the Buffalo Employment and Training Center at 77 Goodell Street in downtown Buffalo, New York.
“A large part of our mission has been to create jobs for the members of our community.”
“We are going to be holding open interviews with anyone interested in full-time employment as assembly operators or quality assurance agents at our facility on Michigan Avenue downtown,” said Eva Bak, chief people officer at Bak USA. “A large part of our mission has been to create jobs for the members of our community. This hiring event will be another opportunity to make our mission a reality.”
During the event, a team of Bak USA representatives led a series of walk-in interviews and follow-up processes with anyone who was interested in participating. Demone Smith, executive director with the Buffalo Employment and Training Center, was also on hand to facilitate the proceedings.
“Bak USA has been a boon for economic growth and opportunity in our bwlt,” said Buffalo Mayor Byron W. Brown.
Those who attended the event had the opportunity to discuss their background, demonstrate basic mechanical skills, and submit a formal application to hiring representatives from Bak USA. What’s more, attendees could also explore other employment opportunities at different businesses throughout the region.
“Bak USA has been a boon for economic growth and opportunity in our region,” said Buffalo Mayor Byron W. Brown. “I applaud Bak USA’s commitment to job creation, and I encourage the jobseekers in our community to participate in the hiring event on Friday.”
As a result of the public hiring event and the supplemental recruiting efforts that led up to it, Bak USA hired more than 20 new staff members. Our workforce had grown from just a handful of people to more than 60 employees. We were gaining strength in numbers, and we were ready for more.
We proudly represent 27 languages and 14 nationalities. Today’s common vision? To eat all the delicious food we made for our staff potluck. YUM! #BakUSA #BuffalosBak #MakingBuffaloBetter #office #officelife #officespace #aroundtheoffice #intheoffice #officework #work #atwork #workhardplayhard #staff #stafffamily #family #team #staffpotluck #food #somuchfood
And the timing couldn’t have been better, too, because our business development team was starting to get a lot of action. In other words, we’d need all hands on deck to deliver a lot of computers to different people and places across the country. Which would translate to some great news for our accounting department!
Want to know who we served, why, and in what capacity? Stop back here on Monday for some solid facts and figures. Until then, have an excellent weekend!
6. Delivering Computers
Once we added some new members to our team, we were more prepared than ever to build and deploy devices. As we flew through the fall and rounded out 2016, we put our finger on the pulse of tech needs in healthcare; we saw a local partnership make an All-American impact; and we teamed up with Microsoft to service five elementary schools in Southern California. Here’s a quick look at those events.
2-in-1 Laptops for Nursing Students
In October 2016, Bak USA teamed up with Erie Community College to provide nursing students with Atlas 12 devices at a specially reduced price. Pre-loaded with Windows 10 operating system and Exam Soft, “a software platform that allows nursing schools to better manage testing, data tracking and student competencies,” the 2-in-1 laptops were to be used to “enhance students’ in-class experience and course navigation while better training each for the professional opportunities now available across Western New York’s burgeoning medical industry.”
“We want our nursing students to be long-term assets for this community. This technology will better prepare them for these roles.”
Speaking of the Atlas 12, Bak USA, and the college’s nursing program, ECC President Jack Quinn said, “We want our nursing students to be long-term assets for this community. This technology will better prepare them for these roles.”
In response to the partnership, Bak USA President Ulla Bak noted our company’s commitment to the educational community: “We are very excited to partner with ECC to provide students with the technology they need to succeed in today’s learning environment,” Ulla said. “As Bak USA and ECC work together to enhance education in our community, we hope to inspire similar relationships between schools and businesses in our region, our state, and across the country.”
And that’s what it’s all about: Contributing to an ecosystem of shared information, world-class technology, and lifelong learning. We look forward to making a similar impact in other communities as we continue to grow.
Home run! An American built product featured and America’s favorite pastime. Our Seal 8 tablet: Born in Buffalo. Built for the World (Series)! #BakUSA #BuffalosBak #MakingBuffaloBetter #entrepreneurs #entrepreneurship #borninbuffalobuiltfortheworld #collaboration #buffalobusiness #localbusiness #Seal8 #product #products #device #devices #technology #tech #worldseries #worldseries2016 #baseball #americasfavoritepasttime
Rugged Tablets at the World Series
On October 31, 2016, the Chicago Cubs were poising themselves for an epic World Series victory, thereby ending an historic slump of championship-less seasons. Meanwhile in Cleveland—where the Cubs faced off against the Indians in four of those seven World Series games—our rust belt brethren at Jacobs Field Progressive Field were employing our Seal 8 tablet to facilitate concessions sales.
Through a partnership with our friends at Delaware North, which is the official food and beverage partner of the Cleveland Indians at Progressive Field, our rugged tablet was being used in club suites, along aisles, and at kiosks throughout the stadium. Nearly a dozen ballpark employees were using the Seal 8 to take food and drink orders from fans waiting in line or sitting comfortably in their seats.
The partnership between Bak USA and Delaware North was—wait for it—a grand slam for the city of Buffalo; both businesses had demonstrated the continued success of local entrepreneurship, technological innovation, and American manufacturing.
We’d certainly like to see our computers make a difference in other stadiums and arenas around the country. (We’re looking at you, Buffalo Sabres.)
It’s that time, rather day, again! This week’s #TravelTuesday: @BAK_Ian delivering devices to Murrieta school district in sunny #California. Enjoy exploring the #Atlas12! #BakUSA #BuffalosBak #MakingBuffaloBetter #borninbuffalobuiltfortheworld #buffalobusiness #localbusiness #business #technology #tech #edtech #product #products #device #devices #technology #tech #manufacturing #computers #americanmanufacturing #SocEnt #SocialEnterprise #BtheChange #education
Enhancing K-12 Education in California
In December 2016, we worked with our partners at Microsoft to deliver 584 Atlas 12 computers to Murrieta Valley Unified School District in Southern California. Specifically, the district purchased computers for five different elementary schools: Buchanan Elementary (195 computers), Cole Canyon Elementary (189 computers), Monte Vista Elementary (125 computers), Murrieta Elementary (72 computers), and Tovashal Elementary (three computers).
According to Linda Muhlhauser, technology support specialist at Murrieta Valley, “We are very pleased with Bak USA’s ability to accommodate our educational needs, deploy our devices, and provide customer experience. I speak on behalf of our schools when I say that it has been a pleasure working with Bak USA, and we look forward to working with them to implement classroom technology.”
The feeling, of course, was mutual, and we are extremely grateful for the opportunity to work with so many wonderful school districts all across America.
“We are very pleased with Bak USA’s ability to accommodate our educational needs, deploy our devices, and provide customer experience.
With some solid sales under our belt and an ever-growing workforce, we entered 2017 at an incredible pace, which brings us to today… just ONE day removed from our BIG announcement. Want to know what’s up? Stop by again tomorrow and we’ll have all the latest and greatest from Bak USA.
7. Expanding Our Footprint
It is time!!! Check this out:
The expansion, which spans the entire fourth floor of the building, reflects Bak USA’s continued growth and expanded capabilities and product offerings. The new space is a product workshop that encompasses product design, engineering, warehousing, assembly, and quality assurance. The design of the space, featuring a floor-to-ceiling glass conference room, hand-built workstations, and new production tools, reflects Bak USA’s commitment to transparency in its production process. Bak USA builders will be on hand to demonstrate how Bak USA’s newest computers will be assembled.
“Bak USA is proving that you can leverage technology to build a thriving manufacturing business in the heart of a city.”
“Today we are proud to acknowledge all the progress we have made in such a short period of time,” said Bak USA President & Co-founder Ulla Bak. “Nobody said we could build computers in the United States, but now that we have found a home in Buffalo, we are showing the world that yes, it is possible. And as we continue to grow, we are preparing ourselves to increase our productivity, enhance our processes, and broaden our distribution. Ultimately we hope that Buffalo and Bak USA will be an example of what manufacturing could look like anywhere else in the world.”
“As we continue to grow, we are preparing ourselves to increase our productivity, enhance our processes, and broaden our distribution.”
To develop the company’s new advanced manufacturing processes, Bak USA partnered with Buffalo Manufacturing Works, operated by EWI and Insyte Consulting companies.
When you use your own #technology to expand your #workspace. #BakUSA #BuffalosBak #MakingBuffaloBetter #entrepreneurs #entrepreneurship #collaboration #buffalobusiness #localbusiness #office #officelife #officespace #aroundtheoffice #intheoffice #officework #work #atwork #construction #newconstruction #underconstruction #expansion #building #builder #build #inthefield #productsinthefield
“Bak USA is on the leading edge of demonstrating how manufacturers can successfully integrate advanced automation, in this case dual-arm collaborative robots, into their production environment to enhance and grow its workforce,” said Buffalo Manufacturing Works CEO Michael Ulbrich. “It is an honor to work with a company that is both innovation-centric and community-minded. Bak USA is proving that you can leverage technology to build a thriving manufacturing business in the heart of a city.”
“Buffalo has become a leader in high-tech manufacturing and Bak USA’s newly completed expansion in the heart of the city means new jobs.”
“The team at Bak USA truly exemplifies how a company can innovate and grow successfully in Western New York. Our team was honored to contribute our facility layout expertise to optimize their new space,” said Benjamin Rand, President of Insyte Consulting. “This project is a great example of how our partnership with Buffalo Manufacturing Works can support the strategic vision of a manufacturing client.”
To commemorate the occasion, Bak USA will welcome customers, employees, community leaders, and the media to tonight’s ribbon cutting celebration. At 5:30 pm, remarks will be offered by Bak USA President & Co-founder Ulla Bak, Bak USA Chief Technologies Officer & Co-founder Christian Bak, Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown, and Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz.
“Bak USA supplies affordable mobile technologies to those who need them the most.”
“We are grateful that Bak USA chose Buffalo as home to its global headquarters a few years ago and today’s expansion announcement is more good news for our City,” said Mayor Byron Brown. “I thank J.P. and Ulla Bak for our shared commitment to growing Buffalo into a City of opportunity where all people prosper from our City’s significant revival. Bak USA supplies affordable mobile technologies to those who need them the most and I thank the company for demonstrating a deep commitment to hiring a diverse workforce and for choosing Buffalo as the best place to further grow its business.”
“Thanks to Bak USA, it’s no longer inconceivable that computer tablets can be manufactured in Erie County, or that our local workforce could play such a key role in the rapid growth of the company,” said County Executive Mark Poloncarz. “The expansion of the Bak USA HQ right here in the City of Buffalo is great news for the entire county and a reaffirmation of what can happen when committed individuals believe in what they are doing and work hard to succeed. I thank and congratulate JP, Ulla, and Christian Bak on the expansion and look forward to many more years of success right here in Erie County for Bak USA.”
“Bak USA’s expanded headquarters is another sign that Buffalo is embracing the 21st century economy as a hub for innovation and technology.”
“Buffalo has become a leader in high-tech manufacturing and Bak USA’s newly completed expansion in the heart of the city means new jobs, more economic activity and more momentum for a region already on the move.” Governor Cuomo said. “Bak USA’s successful expansion in Western New York is yet another example of companies coming to New York and staying here to grow their businesses in our state.”
“Bak USA’s expanded headquarters is another sign that Buffalo is embracing the 21st century economy as a hub for innovation and technology,” said Lieutenant Governor Hochul. “It also stands as an example of Governor Cuomo’s overall economic strategy, which is to create jobs by removing barriers for start-ups and leverage new investment through public-private partnerships. As someone who has visited Bak USA and seen first-hand all they have to offer, I am grateful for their commitment to Western New York and excited that they have reached this important milestone.”
“The expansion of the Bak USA HQ right here in the City of Buffalo is great news for the entire county and a reaffirmation of what can happen when committed individuals believe in what they are doing and work hard to succeed.”
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