Conor F. Madigan ’00
Co-Founder and CEO, Kateeva, Inc.
I stepped on the path to majoring in electrical engineering (EE) in 1985, when my parents brought home my first computer, an Apple Mac 512K. I was seven years old, and immediately I was fascinated by this seemingly magical device. Fast-forward 11 years to my freshman year at Princeton, and my fascination with computers had only grown. I then had in my head this idea that I should leave college knowing as much as I could about how computers worked, from the quantum mechanics of electron flow through silicon microprocessors all the way to the software engineering of operating systems. The only problem was that by then I’d also realized that while I loved computers, I also loved other things, like literature, art history, politics, and other fields of math and science.
After giving it some thought I decided to split the difference. I picked EE as my major, trusting my instincts and focusing on the subject I believed I loved the most, but I also committed myself to taking as many interesting courses outside my major as I could. I took an at times grueling courseload to accomplish this objective, but some of my most satisfying and illuminating courses were those I pushed myself to take just because they sounded interesting, like Renaissance art history and European literature. And these courses not only broadened my perspectives on the world, they also helped train my brain to think in different ways. These courses also helped me become a better communicator by training me to “speak” in the language of many different disciplines.
An unexpected left turn
It was during this intellectually thrilling time that I learned about an emerging technology for making television displays called “Organic Light Emitting Diodes” (OLEDs). I was first exposed to OLEDs as part of a research project during my junior year in the lab of Professor James Sturm, and immediately I was confronted with the task of tackling a field that demanded all at once an understanding of physics, materials science, organic chemistry, and electrical engineering. I took on this challenge happily, and quickly decided I wanted to make a career out of scientific research as a professor studying these kinds of interdisciplinary problems. I made a plan to get a Ph.D. after completing my degree at Princeton, and started to focus my coursework during my senior year accordingly. I stayed on this track through my Ph.D. (completed at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology), successfully executing a number of research projects and publishing a number of papers in top journals. I then continued to build my résumé with a postdoc in my graduate lab while I applied for faculty positions—and in the middle of my interviews my career took an unexpected left turn and I became an entrepreneur.
During my Ph.D. work, I’d collaborated with two colleagues on a technology for reducing the cost of manufacturing OLED TVs, and we were starting to get some interesting results during my postdoc stint. A year earlier a close friend and colleague had spun a company out of my lab, and I suddenly realized that maybe I could do the same thing. Today I am co-founder and CEO of Kateeva, Inc., and we are commercializing the basic technologies I developed with my colleagues at MIT in the form of revolutionary OLED manufacturing tools.
My job these days entails splitting my time between technology development, people management and culture building, recruiting, marketing, corporate strategy, sales, fundraising, public relations, and finance. It has been a phenomenal experience starting and running my own company over the last three years, and my Princeton experience, both my EE major and my determination to broaden my education with many non-EE courses, have served me well.