NC State helped alum take entrepreneurial plunge
Josh Whiton showed signs of being an entrepreneur at an early age, trying his hand at a variety of small business ventures in middle school and high school. As a student at NC State, Whiton was always adding to a list he kept of ideas of products or services that he thought a new company might provide.
“I was constantly being bombarded with ideas, things that I thought ought to exist and that I could make money on,” he says.
But the reaction he got from others was largely discouraging. Being an entrepreneur, they said, was too risky. Others said he needed to focus on more traditional career paths. “Most of what you hear is, ‘That will never work,’ or ‘You can lose a lot of money on that,’” he says.
During his sophomore year at NC State, though, Whiton got a chance to interact with some successful entrepreneurs who encouraged him to follow his dreams. “Mostly what you hear is discouragement,” he says. “Then you meet someone who says, ‘Absolutely, you can do that.’ I knew it, but I needed to be pushed over the edge.”
So when Whiton graduated in 2004 with a degree in computer science, he quit a job he had at IBM and set out to build his own company. “I made sure I didn’t have any alternatives to getting my idea going,” he says.
Eight years later, Whiton’s vision has become a reality. He was recently named as one of the Triangle’s top young executives in Triangle Business Journal’s annual “40 Under 40″ list for his work as founder and CEO of TransLoc.
TransLoc, based in Raleigh, develops Web-based systems to help transit riders know when buses will be arrive at their stops. NC State’s Wolfline was TransLoc’s first client, but the company now has 18 employees and clients all over the country. They include other universities, municipalities, hospitals and airports.
Success created new challenges for Whiton. Managing a company requires different skills than imagining and then building a company.
“One of my darkest days on the job was when the job changed from an innovative role to a management and operations role,” Whiton says. “The wind just left my sails.”
Whiton recognized that he needed to hire managers to oversee the day-to-day operations of the company he created. But he still pushes and guides the company to do more.
“If TransLoc does nothing more than what it does today I will be very disappointed,” he says. “There are still a few thousand cities out there whose riders have no clue when the bus will get there.”
Even with the success of TransLoc, Whiton continues to have ideas for other ventures. One is the Raleigh City Farm, where Whiton is the volunteer CEO. Raleigh City Farm is a nonprofit dedicated to turning unused urban spaces into local farms.
“We’ve got all these underutilized spaces in cities,” Whiton says. “Green spaces are nice to have in cities. Local food is good — less waste and more healthy.”