In today’s episode, I interview Keith Nugent. Formerly, a real-life rocket scientist who worked on satellites, Keith has moved into business leadership working with a technical outsourcing company, Ascendance (TM). The company also funds a non-profit called Judah that serves people who have fallen through the cracks or who are not served by other agencies.
Listen to the Interview with Keith Nugent
Images and Links for Keith Nugent
Takeaways from my Interview with Keith
Like many entrepreneurs, Keith, has a varied background in corporate America including technical skills, leadership, and customer facing roles.
When you have a passion for people, you can create businesses that also do good. Ascendance (TM) is a perfect example. I hear a lot about B Corporations, in larger, corporate discussions. It’s great to see a smaller, local business engaging in some of the qualities embraced by those organizations.
By positioning themselves as a business solutions partner, as opposed to a single, technical provider, Ascendance(TM) is able to help their customers grow and succeed beyond servers and systems.
Large Companies like, Harris Corporation, can facilitate innovation with funding programs that act similar to outside venture programs for entrepreneurs.
Transcript from the Interview with Keith Nugent
Kim: 00:01 You’re listening to Space Coast Stories, a podcast with interviews and stories from people and businesses on Florida’s Space Coast. I’m your host, Kim Shivler. Thanks for joining me.
Kim: 00:16 Hey everybody on the Space Coast. Welcome back to Space Coast Stories. Thank you for joining me. I’m your host, Kim Shivler. Today I’m interviewing Keith Nugent. For the first time I have a real live rocket scientist with me. Now I know we live on the Space Coast, so there are a lot of rocket scientists out there, but some of us don’t actually know what that means, I think. So Keith, what actually is a degree in rocket scientists in rocket science?
Keith: 00:47 So I think the correct name is aerospace engineering, but truly you can have a host of different degrees and ended up in rocket science. This is just the avenue that I took to get there.
Kim: 00:59 And you actually worked in satellites for awhile.
Keith: 01:01 I did during my time at Harris Corporation, I worked on satellites that are now orbiting the earth, which is kind of fun to think about.
Kim: 01:08 Oh, that’s kinda cool. So if you watch one of those movies, you know what the satellites are tracking the bad guys you have to be thinking, wow, I could have done that. Right. Very nice. Well, let’s go back a little bit to what, what brought you to aerospace engineering?
Keith: 01:24 Yeah. It’s actually interesting because I never intended to go that route early on, but uh, it’s been a fun and exciting route. I originally intended to be a pilot and, I started pursuing that and found that it was best to probably get a degree along with my pilot’s license even though I’d never really intended to get that degree. It was really more about flying planes because that was where my passion was and as I jumped into that, my trajectory shifted again and I found myself learning how to design and build aircraft as opposed to working on them as well as spacecraft, and that worked out really well in the end. I did not end up getting my pilot’s license, but it’s still something I’m planning to do and I kind of transitioned into that role of the engineer for a couple years.
Kim: 02:15 You actually have a bigger mission or you had a bigger mission when you first had the idea to become a pilot. You weren’t just saying, oh, I want to go work for the major airlines. You had a little deeper reason.
Keith: 02:26 That’s right. I had just fallen in love with this idea of being a missionary pilot. So you don’t need a degree for that. You really just need your pilot’s license. Uh, you need some funding and the right opportunity to go impact people around the world. And that was what got me looking at, you know, using my passion for aviation in a meaningful way. And so from there, uh, that’s where I kind of started my journey into, what does it take to become a pilot and get certified and all that goes with it. And so that’s really where I started. Um, the idea of flying commercially would, is also fun and interesting. But, um, that was kind of the passion point that got me kicked off in that direction.
Kim: 03:06 We have come a long way since then. So we’ve started in aerospace and you’ve worked at Harris, now you actually work for a company called Ascendance(TM) and you’re doing a lot more business and business development, not purely technical. What was that journey like?
Keith: 03:24 Yeah, that was a, that was a fun journey really. I had a fairly almost 10 year career at Harris and during that time I did a lot of fun stuff. I had a lot of great experiences, a lot of really awesome opportunities that I got to take advantage of. I did start out very technical. I was doing a lot of analysis as working in satellites. Then as I transitioned into different roles and experience different areas of the company, I got to do more things in the technical realm and even starting to lead small teams, I found that I had a passion for what problem is this technology solving. So I pursued that a bit. I found great mentors. I asked them to instill in me all the information and knowledge that they could in their time and found a great response there and learned a ton of good stuff.
Keith: 04:14 And as I did that, I found that moving into more of like technical customer facing roles was a lot of fun for me and I learned a lot there. I learned a lot about what the customer was doing in their business models and then I kind of transitioned into the business development roles from that. I worked in that space for awhile and I enjoyed it, but found that I wanted again to learn more. So I moved into an operational excellence role within the company where I was learning about running massive company in an efficient way and also just helping to constantly improve the company no matter where you’re at. And so from that I had that passion for the technology for solving problems as well as running the business, moved into more of a innovation management technology management role to where I was now directly influencing some of the technology development choices we were making inside the company and some of the early seed funding that the projects would get. So it was quite a journey to get there. But it went all the way from highly technical business development to solving problems and developing new technologies for solutions in the market
Kim: 05:26 And for those of our audience who are a little more technical and they also have the business side, they’re thinking about seed money. This is actually within Harris that you seed or are you funded different projects as opposed to working with outside venture?
Keith: 05:40 That’s absolutely correct. So instead of doing any external funding at the time we were setting up essentially a path internally where innovators in the company could find small bits of funding to the test projects to test out innovations very quickly in a low risk manner, and then the ones that really showed merit and align well with a business opportunity would get either more funding or they might get onto a path to be included in the next generation of a program or a larger scale development. So we were bringing in a really effective approach to be able to innovate quicker in a large scale company where there’s a lot of good technology going on.
Kim: 06:25 And where do you go from there to now you’re in Ascendance(TM) which is a smaller company, correct?
Keith: 06:31 It is, it is a smaller company. So I had a fantastic role at Harris. Had kind of opportunity there internally though I realized that I was really passionate about the entrepreneurship route, so I decided to go ahead and make the leap and jump out of Harris. Had a few folks tell me I was absolutely crazy and they’re probably absolutely right. But in the end I really wanted to pursue that route and learn a bunch of stuff from the entrepreneurial route. So the opportunity that I left for was actually for a small company that we were jumping into to try to help them turn around the company for awhile, and uh, I got some good experience there. And product management and business development again, a whole host of little different things and saw the life of a small company was something I definitely enjoyed. But then moving into Ascendance(TM), it was really more about what’s the purpose behind what we’re doing. And so when I started originally the conversations there, we had found that we’re again talking about, okay, what is the business going to do? And one of the main whys was to be able to actually fund a small non for profit. And so if you tie that back right, I’ve always had this passionate about what, who am I impacting, what are we doing? And so the entrepreneurship type route, small company connected with the not for profit, it all just fell into place and made sense.
Kim: 07:57 Tell us a little bit then about what Ascendance(TM) actually does and then we’re going to move on and look at what you do with the nonprofit piece.
Keith: 08:03 Absolutely. So Ascendance(TM) at its core is really a technology company. We solve a lot of technology challenges, but it’s how we do it that’s different. So instead of pushing a product or a solution, we’re really trying to be strategic partners for all the companies we work with. We want to sit down and be an extension of their own team, understand what they’re facing, what their challenges are, and then help them bringing back again, that kind of operational excellence. The innovation, understanding the technology and really put together something for them that helps them solve those challenges without, you know, uh, consuming a lot of their time and energy because we want them focused on what they do best and what they’re passionate about and we make all the rest of it easy for them.
Kim: 08:51 For people who maybe aren’t as big picture, they’re thinking, okay, I get that he helps me with technical things. Let’s take a case story. What if I’m coming to you, what might be a problem I’m going to bring to you as we work together that your going to be able to solve for me?
Keith: 09:08 Absolutely. And so I’ll give you kind of a few examples. Very early on. Companies are working on transitioning from a simple website to one that’s got a lot more capability. It’s got a lot more integrations. Um, it’s got a portal built in or they’re getting, their online store really worked out and they’re starting to find that their original solution needs a lot more help and it’s costing them time. So we’ve done a lot of work there to help folks get their sites fully functional, integrated, pushed out the door and off their plate in terms of they don’t have to think about it so much on the more, uh, IT technical side, you could have things anywhere from computers and servers that they’re trying to be managed to the telephony side where you’re actually finding that you’re on an old system that’s not integrated with what you’re doing and it’s just not effective for the business you’re trying to run and you, spend more time troubleshooting your technology than working on your business. So at times it’s as simple as putting together a solution where the technology seamless and in the background, whether it be with the computers or with their server or whatever it be. So it’s enabling what they’re doing as opposed to distracting from what they’re doing.
Kim: 10:17 And if it’s not technologies that is everything here, a pure technology play or do you help with other things too?
Keith: 10:22 It’s not. And that kind of goes back to that original, you know, our core, we are technology, we use technologies and a lot of places. But that’s not what we’re pushing. So a lot of companies are really focused on trying to grow. One of the ways that they do that is by reaching new customers, reaching new clients, getting their branding out there. So we help with the marketing piece as well from that standpoint. There’s a, there’s a big technology component to it, but they don’t really want to worry about that. They want to make sure their branding and messaging is on point and that it’s getting out there. So in the background, we have a lot of tech that helps do that, but it’s the making it simple by integrating that with their website, helping them to just reach the folks that they’re trying to without it being a big cumbersome technology challenge for them.
Kim: 11:08 And what size company is your target market?
Keith: 11:11 We are really passionate about helping small and medium sized businesses grow. So we’re talking anywhere in the light, you know, 20 employee range to a couple hundred is really the sweet spot, if you will for us. But um, we found great clients, you know, on either end of that that. So it’s not exclusive, but that’s really where we’re focused
Kim: 11:30 And I know that a lot of times when I talk to people particularly about tech and outsourcing things, they get caught up in, in not knowing am I ready for that. And so giving them a little bit of, of, of a picture of exactly what you do and, and what size audiences you serve most often helps them know what they need to be looking for.
Keith: 11:50 That’s right. And you know, when in doubt it’s always to ask questions. You know, I love having conversations with people, even learning about their company. Sometimes it’s a matter from that value first perspective of just connecting them to the right resource if they aren’t ready or if they need something different or possibly giving them an option and allow them to compare what they could do and their various routes they could take.
Kim: 12:11 Thank you for that. And yes, I can attest that that Keith is one of those people that if you are not necessarily what your needs are is not what they fit and he knows someone else, he has definitely going to connect you with that person and with that solution which is, which is so helpful. So it makes it worth a conversation. Any time. Let’s go on into the nonprofit. How does the nonprofit fit with Ascendance(TM) and what’s the purpose?
Keith: 12:35 Absolutely. Like I mentioned, one of the main whys for Ascendance(TM) is being able to affect people’s lives, being able to help them, not in just the business sense. We are helping folks run their business better and that is helping them in their whole company, but on the nonprofit side, we’re taking funding and funding the nonprofit from the company and what the nonprofit called, Judah, is doing is it’s actually helping folks in some of the hardest hit communities around here. You’ve got very challenging life circumstances and situations going on. People can be caught in that by circumstance sometimes by choice. There’s a whole lot of challenges going on. One of the things that we do is we build real relationships in those areas. We get to know some of the folks and we find the individuals that are ready to make a change and they really want to change the path that they’re on the trajectory.
Keith: 13:33 And once we see that and they’re really ready to do it, we help them to change their path. And that takes many forms because every story is individual. Every person has their own challenges and what they’re dealing with, but a lot of times what we see is, um, you need to have the basic needs met. Of course, if someone’s really trying to get out of something, they’re usually trying to change their location, entirely. So food, clothing, housing is a big deal at the very beginning. And then moving from whatever the situation might be, whether it be addiction or crime or abuse or anything like that, into the next phase of life. Often a, a, a training or education piece is really crucial to allow them to gain and learn new skills and abilities that then open up opportunities for employment for them to start making their own way and you know, figuring out life in a totally different situation. So we are helping folks in that early phase and what we’re really doing is focusing on anyone who’s falling through the cracks. There are some fantastic organizations in our area and they are doing a wonderful job for the people they’re serving and they can’t serve everyone and that’s by design because you can’t be everything to everyone, so the folks that may be falling through the cracks at the moment, those are the that were intentionally trying to reach out to and build a path for.
Kim: 14:55 And you also, again going back to the connector, I know that you, when you find someone that is a good match for some of these other nonprofits, because we have an amazing nonprofit community here on the Space Coast, part of what you do is, is work with them to get them into where they need to be. Correct.
Keith: 15:13 That’s absolutely right. And so a lot of my time I do spend connecting with other nonprofit leaders and individuals and those organizations who are passionate about what they do, um, so I’m actually building up that network directly and finding the folks that are going to be just a great resource for people that we find that do fit within their community. And then when we’re able to connect the folks who have the need and sometimes they’re just not aware or they don’t have the transportation to get there because transportation is something we do, we help them get there and get connected and get plugged in which benefits that individual directly and allows them to connect with a community that’s doing really well inside the organization. So that’s something that we focus on as well as just building those relationships, building that network because we see that our community is going to benefit the most by all of the organizations really contributing in their specialty at their best capacity.
Kim: 16:07 And do you happen to have maybe one story that just jumps out that was a good success? That you were able to help somebody that had maybe fallen through the cracks?
Keith: 16:17 Absolutely. I think one of the most compelling ones, one of the ones that makes me, you know, get out of bed every morning and want to jump in and do this day after day because this is challenging, is there was a, there was a young lady walking down the side of the road in a bad area of town late at night who just should not have been. There, was literally in distress, was not even fully clothed. I mean we’re talking about a very serious situation where something was wrong here, you know, we were able to connect with her. It had been a very bad situation where she had been left in this area just abandoned by her boyfriend at the time or whatever he was and had had no keys, no phone, no nothing. We’re just left to fend for herself, had been picked up by the wrong group of people, held against her will for a few days and had managed to escape that.
Keith: 17:07 And now had her plan was just to walk a few states north to her home. And that was the only plan she had because that was all she had. So that was a very challenging situation of course to build any trust in. I mean in that situation, I wouldn’t trust anybody either, but through the course of the next few hours, kind of a day timeframe, we were able to connect and often show that like, hey, not everybody around here is like that. Able to learn where she was trying to go, what she was trying to do, able to get connected with actually her folks, her parents back home, make sure that they were waiting at the bus stop so that when we got her on the bus that there was somebody there and that she could get home safely and she did. And so that’s an area where, I mean had it not been for that opportunity, who knows what would have come next. And so those kinds of opportunities to help someone to really impact a life are kind of out there all the time. And that’s what we’re doing. We’re finding them and helping those individuals.
Kim: 18:08 Thank you for sharing that. Yes, that’s a very unique story. So you’re doing a lot of different things that that maybe would not have fallen under what we often think of for charity work.
Keith: 18:19 That’s right. That’s not a particular fit into any charity, necessarily, in having not been from this area. I don’t believe the young lady would have even known the resources that may have been here and the timing is sort of critical in this case. So that on the street presence I think is what made the difference in this sense.
Kim: 18:37 Thank you so much, Keith, for being with me here today. Tell everybody how they can get ahold of you.
Keith: 18:43 Right? So we’d love to have you guys connect with us. We have a website for Ascendance(TM) at ascendit.io, there’s also a website for Judah. If you care to check it out. It’s Judahcm.org. Also love to connect with you on Facebook or LinkedIn.
Kim: 19:01 Thank you. And we will have all of those links in the show notes so you’ll be able to find those on Space Coast Stories. Thanks again for joining me for this episode. Next week, we’ll have something else exciting coming about. I’m your host, Kim Shivler. I’ll see you next time. Bye.
Kim: 19:28 Join us next time for another episode of Space Coast Stories. You can find the show notes and other information at SpaceCoastStories.com. The views of the guests on this show are their own and don’t necessarily represent the views of the show owners, host or company. Thanks for listening to Space Coast Stories.