Rajesh Nair founded Degree Controls Inc (degreeC.com) in 1997 with David Gagnon in New Hampshire. DegreeC specialized in thermal management solutions for electronic products. It was started with a founders’ investment of $60,000 and bootstrapped to $15million annual revenues before accepting any additional investments. The customer list included all major telecommunication equipment manufacturers such as Cisco, Alcatel, Lucent, Ericsson, Nortel, Cienna, Huawei, ZTE, and many more. After seven years of continued growth and facing the market crash in 2003, Rajesh managed to turn the company around and bring in more experienced managers and the first round of funding. DegreeC acquired Cambridge AccuSense, Shirley, Massachusetts, where Rajesh was a cofounder before launching DegreeC and formed the sensor business unit. DegreeC also acquired IQS, a testing service company in Marlboro, Massachusetts, to create the testing division of DegreeC. It was later divested. 

DegreeC had different services and products. 

  1. Thermal engineering services, 
  2. AccuSense sensor BU, 
  3. AdaptivCool energy efficiency solution for data centers based on Rajesh’s patent, and 
  4. Thermal products that supplied custom electromechanical assemblies for thermal management of products in industries such as, networking, medical, military, and servers.

DegreeC manufactured all products at their factory in Milford, NH, USA, and Tecate, Mexico (closed).

 

In 2001 Rajesh and David received the Entrepreneur of the Year award from NH High-tech Council, and they were finalists for Ernst and Young Entrepreneur of the year program in New England in 2002. In 2001 DegreeC was judged the fastest growing company in New Hampshire by NH Business Magazine.

 

Nova Instruments acquired DegreeC in 2017.

 

Personal Learnings:

Even though Rajesh was involved in other smaller startups, the experience of starting and growing DegreeC was unique.

Rajesh started DegreeC on a strong hunch that he had for a few years while the industry was miniaturizing semiconductors and making products that are smaller and more powerful. The notion was that with increasing thermal density (Watts/cubic meter), the cooling of the product that guarantees its reliability would be a more significant problem. A phone exchange could lose 20,000 customers if a fan in a telecom gear failed, and the box overheated. Removal of the heat out of the product under all operating conditions was becoming hard for high-density, high-availability products.

Thermal design is where Moore’s Law met Murphy’s Law.

 

He learned to manage under crisis. DegreeC survived two critical market-crashes, in 2003 and 2008. In 2003 the company came close to bankruptcy. He managed to save the company by cutting down from 120 people to 40 in three weeks and restructuring the production facility and the product line, while maintaining the operation, raising new funds, and bringing experienced leaders. The company turned profitable in a year.

 

DegreeC is where Rajesh transformed from a designer and engineer to an entrepreneur who believed in finding and studying the problem deeper is a more critical part of developing effective and unconventional solutions than technology. 

 

Memorable Innovations:

  1. Dynamic distributed airflow system for data center that adapts to changing heat-load pattern. This patent was used to create AdaptivCool business unit
  2. Tortoise BAck heatsink design for uniform heat dissipation for omni-directional airflow. The design was never commercialized
  3. Microflow sensor measuring airflow for laptops (Apple). It was impossible to measure such low volumetric  airflow. Apple used it for the design of MacBook Air.