N12 Technologies CEO Brad Berkson (BS ’85) has big expectations for the Cambridge, Massachusetts, startup he joined in 2013 as a board member and the company’s largest investor. A pilot and expert in aerospace and defense strategy, Berkson saw untapped potential in N12 products.
The company’s NanoStitch material is installed between plies during production to reinforce weakness in composite structures. Berkson helped raise more than $23 million in critical startup funding last year to expand operations. N12 serves some of the most powerful players in the aerospace industry such as Boeing and Airbus along with manufacturers of golf clubs, hockey sticks, automobiles, race cars and wind turbine blades.
“We’re developing nanotechnology to improve mechanical performance, reduce weight and improve the strength of carbon fiber composites,” Berkson said.
His leadership at N12 is enhanced by the experience he gained as director of program analysis and evaluation in the Office of the Secretary of Defense. He advised Secretaries Donald Rumsfeld and Robert Gates on alternative weapon systems, the development of defense program alternatives and the cost effectiveness of defense systems.
“It’s one of the most interesting and rewarding jobs I’ve ever had,” Berkson said. “What I did at the Pentagon was very impactful and purposeful. We did things that people’s lives depended on — if not now, then in the future.”
Fascinated with military history for most of his life, Berkson connected with his DOD colleagues and admired their level of professionalism. He was awarded the Department of Defense Distinguished Public Service Medal in 2009.
“Public service is an important part of life and not appreciated by a majority of people,” he said. “The government employees I worked with were willing to die for the mission.”
After completing his TU petroleum engineering degree, he worked as an Exxon senior project engineer in California, Alaska and Houston, Texas, before pursuing a master’s in business administration from Harvard University. Berkson learned early at TU that a balanced foundation of technical science and strategic business courses would serve him well in industry. In college, he got his hands dirty as an oil patch roustabout in the swamplands of Mansfield, Louisiana, but also became savvy at managing spreadsheets and office personnel.
“It’s important to understand the different equations of a technical challenge and bring people together and give them a meaningful purpose,” Berkson said. “You figure out how it matters and make it matter. If you have too intense a focus on one thing, it can leave you missing the big picture.”
Berkson said his undergraduate experience introduced him to the different talents, temperaments and convictions of his peers and taught him how to communicate effectively in a group dynamic. The brothers he met in TU’s Sigma Chi fraternity are lifetime friends, and 30 years later many of them support Berkson by investing in N12.
“In many senses, my TU friends are my family,” he said. “The people you meet in school and relationships you form at the end of the day are lasting and more important than any particular class. They are truly valuable.”