OCAST Internship helped launch successful career, venture for Embeddetech founder
In a large corporate conference room, Jonathan Torkelson held up a dusty green circuit board with dozens of soldered wires and components crudely protected by a wooden sheet.
Torkelson held the original prototype of an electronic fishing reel that he built almost 20 years ago as an OCAST intern for Tulsa-based fishing equipment company, Zebco.
The prototype’s simple construction seemed to symbolize the humble beginnings of Embeddetech, the contract engineering firm that he founded in 2003 while still an electrical engineering student at the University of Tulsa.
Torkelson points to the experience he gained as an OCAST intern as instrumental to his professional success. He managed to earn both his electrical engineering bachelor’s and master’s degrees in four years at TU while maintaining a 4.0 grade point average, but emphasized the internship program as the crucial bridge to the career he wanted.
“I had an amazing education the University of Tulsa and loved all of the theory, but engineering students often graduate without feeling like an engineer because they haven’t gained real-world experience by applying the theory,” Torkelson said.
“The OCAST internship gave me soldering skills, circuit board design skills and software development experience,” he said. “And I had great mentorship.”
The OCAST Intern Partnership is a popular initiative of the Oklahoma Center for the Advancement of Science and Technology (OCAST). It is a cost-share program with a mission to help retain the best and brightest students in Oklahoma after graduation.
Embeddetech was founded with a vision of becoming the contract engineering firm that it is today. It employs 12 people, including nine engineers, in addition its founder, and two OCAST interns.
“Our company does everything from custom printed circuit board designs, to deep neural network artificial intelligence applications, to electromagnetics compliance testing,” Torkelson said. “We write software for microprocessors. We write mobile apps and desktop applications. So, pretty much we do it all.”
Immediately after graduating, Torkelson moved to Huntsville, Alabama to do missile defense work, but decided to move back to Tulsa to continue working on his consulting business. And Embeddetech has found no shortage of meaningful high-tech work in Oklahoma.
From acoustic sensors that save lives on the battlefield, to electronic devices that help support failing hearts, the list of Embeddetech projects goes on.
More recently, Embeddetech has focused its expertise on its own new cutting-edge platform.
The company developed a software platform called Virtuoso that allows software developers to simulate hardware by dragging and dropping virtualized components to create fully functional virtual environments. These environments allow systems to be tested much earlier and more comprehensively, saving organizations time and money.
These potential savings caught the attention of one noteworthy organization, the United States Space Force. The Space Force identified digitized modeling and simulation as such an important need that it was selected as the topic of a focused accelerator program, which is designed to discover and accelerate companies with technologies that are deemed important to national security.
The Space Force Catalyst Accelerator, which is funded by the Air Force Research Labs, is an intense program covering 12 weeks. From around original 60 applicant companies,16 companies were selected to pitch their technologies to a live panel, and from those eight were invited to join the accelerator.
Embeddetech was one of those eight selected for the most recent Space Force Accelerator. Here is how the Space Force news release about companies selected for the Accelerator described Embeddetech and its Virtuoso and Montage platforms:
“Embeddetech, Inc. (Tulsa, Oklahoma) -- Virtuoso and Montage provide no-code and digital economy infrastructure, respectively, creating a momentous leap forward in composable software development workflows. These platforms provide superior benefits to a wide range of diverse markets and technology categories, including modeling & simulation, digital twin, digital transformation, DevSecOps, RPA, IoT and Enterprise Integration, and much more. Virtuoso and Montage create a completely new paradigm for how software solutions with complex requirements can be effortlessly composed.”
“It’s perfect timing for us because we are just bringing Virtuoso to market,” Torkelson said. “We see that it’s going to be huge benefit to the Department of Defense, in particular the Air Force and Space Force because they have a really high emphasis on digitalization of everything. It’s really perfect for what we do.”
Nearly two decades removed from his role as an OCAST intern and now seeing a big potential role for Embeddetech with Department of Defense initiatives, Torkelson continues to embrace the intern program, this time from an employer’s perspective.
“I’ve interacted with the OCAST intern program from all sides,” Torkelson said. “I was an OCAST intern and it was a great experience. Then one of my customers had two interns; after the internship was over, they hired one of them and I hired the other. And now we have two OCAST interns at Embeddetech.”
Today, Embeddetech employs four former or current OCAST interns.
Embeddetech engineer Nick Vinyard is a former OCAST intern who said the internship provided insight for him into Oklahoma companies and employment opportunities.
“It’s really great exposure to companies that are building cool products in Oklahoma,” Vinyard said. “I thought it as a great experience.”
As for the original Embeddetech OCAST intern – Jonathan Torkelson – the fishing reel he showcased to a visiting team from OCAST is a visual reminder of the impact the program can have.
And the Zebco Bite Alert fishing reel is still available in stores today.
“The OCAST internship was life-changing, absolutely life-changing,” he said.