Entrepreneurs team up on Smart Grid

By Arthur Lightbourn


Thanks to being able to sell his $50 million engineering services firm 14 years ago, Marco Thompson has been able to do pretty much anything he wanted to do.

And what he wanted to do was to “give back”:

  • By helping other entrepreneurs become successful as he had been helped as a young entrepreneur,
  • and, most recently, by signing on as chief technology officer of Solekai Systems Corp., a firm started by the man who gave Thompson his first job out of college 32 years ago and became his friend.

Solekai, with a staff of 75 employees (65 of them engineers) is a “for hire” software engineering services company. Since it was founded in 2002, it has developed a reputation as an international leader in “Smart Grid” development and digital video engineering. Solekai’s offices are on Carmel Mountain Road in Sorrento Valley.
Thompson’s friend is Solekai President Martin Caniff, a Del Mar resident.

“This is our fourth opportunity to work together over 30 years,” Caniff said. “Marco has shown an ability to lead in two areas critical to the future of Solekai. One is keeping ahead of the curve on the technology that goes into complex consumer devices, and second is his understanding of large market shifts regarding technological changes over time.”

Thompson joined Solekai in his current capacity in January.

“What we do here [at Solekai],” Thompson said, “is we help our customers invent new products and bring new products to market.”

“We’re an engineering services company,” Caniff, 57, said. “We have two specialty areas that we really focus on. One is the whole digital video space, the set-top boxes for cable companies, satellite companies and other vendors ... The other part of the business is this new thing called the Smart Grid.”

Smart Grid technology allows utility companies, instead of sending out people to read customers’ meters every month, to record and report meter reading automatically every 15 minutes, giving the utility company more detailed and accurate data on power use throughout the day.

With that information, utility companies will be able to adjust their rates accordingly (higher rates for high demand times and lower rates for low usage times) and even, with a customer’s permission, turn a customer’s air condition thermostat down to regulate the power on the grid during high-demand summer hours.

Thompson said Caniff hired him in 1978, adding "(actually I was still in school) at a company called Megatek to work on what was then the world’s most advanced computer graphic systems.”

Thompson left Megatek, after Caniff left, in 1982, to join a computer work station company start-up called SYTE that folded after two years. In 1984, Thompson launched his own company, Doctor Design, an embedded engineering services firm that eventually did contract work for major corporations such as Samsung, Sony, Mitsubishi and Intel.

By the time Thompson sold Doctor Design to Integrated Systems in 1996, the company had grown to 250 employees. He stayed on as chief technology officer and brought Caniff in as president of the wholly owned subsidiary in 1999. The subsidiary was sold to Wind River in 2000 and subsequently to Intel in 2009 when Thompson ended 25 years with the firm he had started.

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