Steven Hong had achieved success as a venture capitalist in Silicon Valley after getting his Ph.D. at Stanford. However, when he and his father, Lang Hong, (associate dean and professor of electrical engineering at Wright State University), had an inkling of the idea, which ultimately became Oculii, he was drawn back to the Midwest.
“As a young kid, there was nobody I looked up to more than my dad,” Steven Hong says. “He was my mentor and guiding light, academically and professionally.” When he and his father had the idea to launch a startup, he embraced the opportunity to come back home and build a business.
When they initially sought seed funding for the new venture, the feedback they received was that a tech startup needed to remain in Silicon Valley to be successful; that it wouldn’t work in Ohio. The Hong duo found quite the opposite to be true. “As we grew and looked for talent, we found incredible talent in Ohio and in the Midwest — and over the last three years, as we have organically grown, the decision is looking even better,” Steven Hong says. Now, they look at being in Ohio as an advantage. From his years in California, Steven Hong understands all too well the intense Silicon Valley culture — over concentrated and competitive, which can sometimes generate unwanted effects.
Lang Hong came from China for a job in 1984 and has been in the area ever since, and his son was raised here. Both love the area and its quality of life and affordable housing.
“There are so many things within a short drive from here. We go on four-hour hikes, go up to Lake Erie and Michigan — there’s just so much space,” Steven Hong says. “My Silicon Valley apartment is small. Here I have more room.” He jokes that when he and his dog are ready to leave Ohio and head back to his California apartment, the dog balks and pulls on his leash because he knows he’s leaving his big backyard.
Being raised in the area and even going to Beavercreek High School, Steven Hong feels it’s a great area for his next stage of life. “Just like my dog likes it here, my future kids will like it here,” he laughs. “I had a great childhood here, playing outside with my friends — it’s a great place to have children and raise a family.”
His father agrees that the family bond and hometown roots have contributed to their success. “It’s very rewarding working with my son,” Lang Hong says. “I cannot ask for more. We exchange ideas 24/7. We have the same objective, the same goal. We sometimes have a different opinion, but we always come to a consensus.”
Oculii develops hi-resolution, high-performance imaging radars for a variety of autonomous systems — such as self-driving cars, drones, and even robots. “Anything that needs to perceive the world around us in three dimensions accurately and robustly can use the sensors we develop,” Steven Hong explains.
Up to 30+ employees now, the company continues to expand and is even building a new facility. With wide-open spaces conducive to growth, the determination of a father/son team and access to talent across the Midwest, it’s safe to say even more great things are on this startup’s radar.
This article originally appeared in ColumbusCEO Magazine, August 2019.